From wintry Winnipeg to the beaches Down Under — Red River College grad Cliff Olson has certainly gone far with his training in hotel management.
A 1981 alum of RRC’s Hotel and Restaurant Administration program, Olson has enjoyed a long career in the industry, and now works in sunny Melbourne, Australia, where we caught up with him for an email interview.
RRC: You’ve worked all over the world, but where were you born?
Cliff Olson: Born in Winnipeg, but moved around Manitoba all through childhood, as Mom and Dad owned hotels in many areas.
Sounds like you’ve got the hospitality industry in your blood. What prompted you to come to RRC?
Yes, I grew up in hotels, and had been working in hotels and restaurants since I was 13. In high school I completed a two-and-a-half-year food services course. Afterward, I was looking at universities and colleges for a hotel management program. I went on a tour of the RRC campus and knew immediately it was where I wanted to be.
What stands out in your mind from that time?
I remember the instructors and coordinators were people I respected. They could talk about real experiences that I found helped me to learn.
Did you feel you were well-prepared for your field?
Absolutely, and I still use the things I learned. For instance I was never that interested in maintenance, but from the teachings I at least know enough about refrigeration, electrical and plumbing to understand what’s what in the real world. The accounting was invaluable and because of it when I went to work, I understood profit and loss statements and balance sheets. And the psychology was a great eye-opener, and helped me understand more about life.
What was your first job after graduating?
I graduated in 1981 and immediately got a banquet manager’s job at the Carleton Club, which was an excellent place to learn and work. I worked six days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day, and I thought it was fabulous!
Where else in the world has your training led you?
After that I bought a hotel in Carmen, then sold that and moved back to Winnipeg, then on to Regina, where I was GM of the Best Western and Sheraton hotels. From there I was head-hunted to Perth, Australia, by an Australian company called SPHC (Southern Pacific Hotels Corporation). I worked for them for the better part of 10 years as a GM in Melbourne, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Zealand, and from there I joined Outrigger Hotels in Hawaii, where I worked for almost 10 years as well. I was GM in Kauai, then Oahu at the Reef Hotel on the beach in Waikiki, before being promoted to vice-president and moving to Guam, then back to Australia.
That’s quite the career path! Where are you working now?
Currently I live in Melbourne, Australia, and work as a regional general manager at AHS Hospitality, the region’s largest outsourced housekeeping company. I’m responsible for 55 hotel contracts in Victoria, Tasmania, and Northern Territory, and have approximately 2,000 staff in my region.
Is it true you even convinced your son to trade Melbourne’s weather for our winters so he could follow in your footsteps and enrol at RRC?
My son is studying Business Information Technology, and he thinks it’s great! I am proud he chose RRC — it must mean he thinks they started me on my career right!
Click here for more information about RRC’s Hospitality and Tourism Management program.