Petra Starčević
  RIT Croatia, Class of 2001
  Hotel and Resort Management (IHSM)

  Employment:  BTA Food & Services Group (BTA Croatia)

  Job title: Human Resources Manager


Petra, tell us a bit about yourself and your RIT Croatia experience. 

I am the first generation that enrolled at RIT Croatia (at that time it was ACMT) in 1997 and the first generation that graduated in 2001, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management (Hotel and Resort Management).

The academic, professional and life experience that I have acquired in the 4 years of studying at RIT, and consequently, working for some of the biggest (and best) international and national companies, greatly helped build me as an individual and open every door in my professional and personal life. I signed my first employment contract with Walt Disney World before even graduating and have never been "between two jobs” since. I have been continuously employed since graduating in June of 2001. I don’t think this is because I was lucky. I graduated from the best possible university that you can graduate from, which didn’t only contribute to my academic knowledge, but which also prepared me for my first job, assisted me in finding that first job and lent a hand to safely enter the real business world.

Your CV is filled with very rich HR experience – what attracted you to HR?

Even as a child, I had the opportunity to travel a lot and even then I liked the idea of working in the hotel/hospitality industry, but I also wanted to be a teacher (my family members are either teachers or doctors, so teaching was kind of a natural path for me). However, until I started working as a trainer in the learning and development department at Walt Disney World, I wasn’t sure how to combine both.

The job of a trainer at Walt Disney World has steered me on the path I am on today, and opened doors to completely new and unexpected things and opportunities. When my contract with WDW expired, I had the option of boarding one of, then two, Disney’s cruise ships as a Guest Service Supervisor or one of Carnival Cruise Lines ships as a corporate trainer. Although the position was much more demanding, and the working conditions a bit less attractive than those offered by Disney, I still decided to continue my career in the HR department, division for Learning and Development as a trainer (I guess that was when I was bitten by the HR & training bug J). I boarded my first ship in June of 2002, spent over two years onboard, and then I continued my career in Human Resources in Croatia. From then on I have worked in Human Resources for several major hotel/hospitality companies such as Adriatic Luxury Hotels, Hilton WorldWide, Starwood Hotels and Resorts and currently BTA Food&Services Group at Zagreb International Airport.

I am a person who believes in lifelong learning and I know that with each new day something new is learned. There are, of course, good and not-so-good life lessons and not everything is always perfect, but that’s why there’s always tomorrow. You can tell when a person loves her/his job and appreciates it. Whatever you do, it is important that you love what you do. It doesn’t matter how many times you changed your college/university major or career. What counts is that you have found something that you are happy doing. Then your job isn’t work anymore.

I have, honestly, found my perfect job!

Which trends in HR do you see developing in the future, especially with Generation Z entering the work force?

At the beginning of my career in HR in Croatia, the HR department as we know it today was just in its beginnings. The former personnel department slowly began to transform into the "real” human resources management department. In addition to the registration and deregistration of employees to relevant health and pension institutions, and dealing with basic employee needs, this department began to deal with candidate search and selection, onboarding, employee motivation, learning and development, employee satisfaction assessment, etc. Today, the human resources management department is no longer a secondary service, but a strategic partner to the executive board and an equal partner to all departments of the company.

In the past couple of years, but especially with the corona pandemic, a lot of business is being done on-line and remotely. Unfortunately for HR, we are losing the "human” in "human resources”. Human resources is a very personal field of business and since on-line is the new normal, HR is also trying to connect being personal while being on-line. And the future? We should expect several changes and new trends developing in HR in the future such as establishing work-life balance as a norm, offering flexible workspaces and working hours, embracing leadership from Millennials and Generation Z, using HR technology as a standard, etc. Companies will have to embrace the opportunities Gen Z will bring to modernize the workforces. With their ideas of diversity, equality, innovation and care, they will shape how organizations will function and manage for years to come as leaders, managers and team members. And all of us, that are a bit older, will have to adopt in order to keep up.

HR technology has become dominant. It has dramatically changed the way how people management works. Since Millennials and Generation Z are the biggest group of people in our workforce today and these generations grew up with access to the internet and mobile devices, HR technology is no longer a preference, but a necessity and must. We will have to adopt to virtual reality to supplement processes like recruitment and on-boarding, management, employee motivation, learning and development, etc. as the workforce becomes increasingly distributed and virtual.

Are you still in touch with some of your classmates?

Yes, of course. With some classmates and other alumni I am connected privately, with some through various business endeavors and with some via Facebook, Instagram and similar social media apps. We are a very close and connected group of people that were classmates once, but became friends for a lifetime. Some of us are even family (my husband is also an RIT alum).

Thinking back on your days at RIT Croatia, what is your favorite memory?

I have so many great memories that it’s hard to pick one. But one of the memories I like to talk about when I meet with fellow classmates and alumni is how Dubrovnik was so different when we came there in 1997 compared to what it is today. Overcrowded is an understatement. (Actually it was an understatement before corona started).

In 1997 and in the next couple of years, we had the town to ourselves. Dubrovnik was for the people from Dubrovnik and for us, whom they accepted as friends and family. We used to play soccer on Stradun. You could walk the City walls for free and as many times as you’d like. You could enjoy the music of the sea on Porporela and walk up and down Stradun a hundred times a day without feeling like Waldo from the book "Where’s Waldo?” where you have to find the poor man in ridiculous crowds and different scenarios. (Crowds are good. Crowds make money. But when it gets overcrowded…. That’s a whole different story.)

So, I guess my favorite memory of RIT and Dubrovnik is Dubrovnik itself.

How important is quality education in dealing with unexpected and challenging times? How has RIT Croatia specifically, prepared you for this?

Quality education is of vital importance in dealing with unexpected and challenging times. History makes it very clear that when people are not sufficiently educated, dialogue ends and consequently, democracy fails. Our collective prosperity depends on the humanity’s ability to prepare generations of global citizens who have the access to skills needed to work productively, participate democratically, have wisdom and live happily in networked ways. This is what quality education provides.

Adequate education, always prepared citizens with the values, intellectual frameworks, mindset and attitude required to actively participate in the political system that shaped their lives and guaranteed their freedoms. Freedom was always the foundation of democracy. And democracy is the foundation of freedom. That is why quality education is important. When dealing with unexpected and challenging times, but when in peace and harmony as well.

Of course, this is not a simple issue. It is the frame of mind an individual is forming in the environment he/she is growing up and living. Quality education involves preparing youth, not only to be economic resources that can strengthen their companies, cities and countries, but also to be thoughtful citizens who can imagine creative and ethical solutions for the new challenges we face. Unfortunately, many people are not prepared to partake in the changing world. They don’t have adequate education and they lack workplace skills, social skills and the technical know-how. Unfortunately, they lack the things needed in today’s world which, quality education, such as RIT, gives you.

So yes, quality education is of such great importance when dealing with challenging times and RIT prepares its students for it.

In regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, do you see the changes that are occurring as a threat or opportunity?

Change is always a threat to the foolish and weak. But if you embrace change, take advantage of it and use it as best as you possibly can, change can be the greatest thing that has ever happened to you.

We are currently in a very unthankful and challenging situation, but we have to be conscious enough to understand that now is the time to regroup, gather all the little pieces that we lost along the way, take a deep breath and start over… even better than the first time. It’s said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but now, I think, is the time we got that second chance. And those that use that chance wisely and accept change will succeed. 

In regards to the illness itself, we have to be careful in everything we do. This is a serious illness, but if we take all the necessary precautions and learn how to live with the disease, we will be fine. 

What is your message to our current and potential students?

Choosing RIT as the next step in your academic and personal life is the best decision you can make. You will be so content in the next couple of years while studying and you will be proud of yourself for a lifetime.

RIT Croatia. Different from Day 1.

We are the right takeoff for your global career.

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