Marina Braica (Varvodić)
RIT Croatia Class of 2007
Tourism, Hospitality and Service Management
Employment: Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago
Job title: Assistant Director of Sales
You grew up in Chicago, where you finished both elementary and high school. Tell us a little bit more about how you decided to return to Croatia to continue and pursue your education at RIT Croatia (formerly known as the American College of Management and Technology)?
I always wished to return to Croatia to have the opportunity to get to know my family roots, refine my Croatian language and to spend time with my family. RIT Croatia proved to be a great opportunity for me-not only because the degree program interested me, but also because I had the opportunity to study in English in Croatia.
You spent your childhood in the United States. Was it hard for you to adjust to living in Croatia when you enrolled at RIT Croatia? How did you handle your peers and everyday activities that you had to perform in Croatian?
At home we spoke Croatian and we always went to Croatia for our holidays. I have to admit that in the beginning it was quite hard for me because I had to learn how to read and write in Croatian. My roommates helped me a lot, which I returned by helping them with their English. For my academic obligations, I did not have any trouble because all of our classes were in English and there were a lot of international students.
If you had to make a decision about where to study, would your decision today be the same as it was in 2002 when you enrolled in RIT Croatia?
Yes, I wouldn’t change a thing! It was a fantastic experience for me that helped me become independent and grow up. When I compare myself with some of my friends who stayed in the United States, I have to admit that I see a huge difference. Croatia and RIT Croatia helped me widen my perspectives and introduced me to a new way of living.
In your opinion what are the benefits of studying at RIT Croatia?
I consider it a big advantage that the professors are truly experts in their fields. Throughout their careers they not only taught at various universities, but have significant experience through their work in their industries. I would also like to emphasize the "student to professor ratio” which to me is very important because every student receives plenty of attention and support whenever needed. Professors, staff and even the dean are always been available to us.
Tell us a little about where you started your career after graduating.
After studying I began working at a real estate agency in Dubrovnik. After a couple of years I decided to move back to the States and continue my career in the hospitality industry.
How come you decided to return to the United States, specifically in Chicago?
While I was still working in Dubrovnik, I was offered the opportunity to go back to Chicago and start my career with the well-known hotel chain (the Marriott) as a sales manager. I had always wished to work in the hospitality industry, so I did not want to miss the opportunity. In 2011 I had another opportunity- the opening of the first Radisson Blu Hotel in the States, which I eagerly accepted. I have stayed in Chicago all these years. I did not choose Chicago because I grew up there, but because I had these great opportunities that developed my career. All of these opportunities opened up new possibilities for work in the rest of the world, especially in Europe, now that Croatia has joined the EU.
You managed to develop an impressive career in tourism. A few years ago you started working as a sales manager, and now you’re one of the key figures in the sales department (Assistant Director of Sales) at the well-known hotel chain Radisson Blu. Can you tell us what the key to your success is?
It is important to never stop learning. RIT Croatia laid a good foundation so that everything I have learned through a variety of courses allowed me to understand how things work. But of course in practice it is all different. There were difficult situations, but I never gave up and I have always exploited the situation in which I could learn something new. Sometimes you have to have patience; we do not immediately get all the opportunities we would like. You need to work harder for better opportunities-if you give more of yourself than expected and if you’re open to advice, you are on the right track to move up quickly.
Could you in a few sentences say more about the company you work for?
Radisson Blu was formerly the Radisson SAS Company, which still operates today an airline company -SAS (Scandinavian Airlines). In 2009 they changed their name to Radisson Blu. Today, the Radisson Blu (or Carlson / Rezidor Hotel Group) is the second largest hotel company in Europe. In 2010 the Carlson / Rezidor Hotel Group expanded its business in the U.S. market. In November of 2011 the first hotel opened in the United States, specifically in Chicago, the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel. Since then they have opened two more hotels in the state of Minneapolis and Philadelphia. The aim is to open another 4-5 hotels.
In regards to tourism as an industry, you have experience in both Croatia and the United States. Can you tell us what you think are the greatest similarities and greatest differences of tourism in the United States and Croatia?
I would say that the tourism industry is the same everywhere. Regardless on which continent or country you are in, selling services to tourists and groups, doing reports, plans and budgeting is in the job description so there is essentially no difference. The only difference is that the hotels in downtown Chicago are bigger and host various events and conferences throughout the year. For example, the largest hotel in downtown Chicago has over 2,000 rooms and over 21,000 m2 for meetings, conferences and events. Given this, I’m more focused on larger groups of customers, from 250 to 400 people. But selling is selling.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
In the next five years I see myself as a director of marketing and sales. After that, my goal is to get to the position of a regional sales director for luxury brands. As I have dual citizenship and a dual degree (thanks to RIT Croatia) I can work anywhere in the world.
For the end, do you have a message for the younger generations? What would be your message for high school students deciding to study and enroll? What, in your opinion, is important in making this decision?
The most important thing is to be open to all possibilities. There is no need to be afraid of new challenges and unfamiliar things. If in the moment of making your decision you do not know exactly what you want to do in the future-that’s ok! That’s why I like RIT Croatia (former ACMT) it allows us to study different directions and at different locations. Many of my colleagues are now working in different industries, from IT, finance, human resources, marketing and sales- we truly are profiled in a variety of industries.