Petra Starčević
RIT Croatia Class of 2001
Tourism, Hospitality and Service Management

Employment: DoubleTree by Hilton Zagreb
Job Title: HR Manager


Petra, you graduated from RIT Croatia (formerly known as ACMT) in 2001 and were a part of the first generation to graduate. You attended the tourism management program, and during your studies you conducted your mandatory co-op in the U.S., in Walt Disney. How much did those experiences enrich you and help you find a job after graduation?
-The academic, business and life experience I gained during my four years of studying at ACMT and later working for one of the biggest (and strongest) American and international companies, substantially helped with my employment.  Working for Walt Disney World also directed me to my career today- human resources, considering that for the first six months I worked in the guest relations department at the position of guest relations coordinator, and for the next six months as a training manager in the department of human resources management and training.
Considering that in my last year of college I signed a one-year contract with Walt Disney World, and later had jobs lined up one after another, not a single day since graduation was I "in between jobs”. I have been in continuous employment since 2001; however, I would not call myself lucky. I graduated from the best college, which not only provided me with academic knowledge, but helped me find the first job that I could put on my resume, from which I could safely move on to the real business world.

At work do you recall some of the lessons you learned during your studies, co-op and classes?
- Throughout my life (private and business) I often remember some of the lessons I have learned throughout my studies and often use them in my life, but if I had to choose one… plain and simple- "The customer isn’t always right – but they are always the customer”. (Prof. David Miller)

If you could go back in time, would your choice for your profession be the same or would you decide upon another industry?
- It would absolutely be the same college and the same industry! Not in one moment during college nor after graduation did I suspect that I made the wrong choice. I always knew that I wanted to work in the hotel industry, and to be educated for that industry. ACMT (today RIT Croatia) was and stayed my first and only choice.

You have over ten years of experience in human resources. You were positioned as the Director of Human resources in the hotel chain ALH (Adriatic Luxury Hotels) and now you are working for the world renowned hotel chain Double Tree Hilton at the same position. Could you elaborate more about these experiences?
- Even as a child I had a lot of opportunities to travel and even then I liked the idea of working in the hospitality industry, however part of me wanted to become a teacher. (It’s a family trait!) However, until I started working as a trainer at Walt Disney World, I wasn’t sure how to combine the two. Being a trainer at Disney directed me to the path where I am now and opened the door to completely new and unexpected things and possibilities. When my contract with Disney expired, I had the option to embark on one of the two, then Disney Cruisers as a guest service supervisor or on one of the Carnival Cruise Line ships as a corporate trainer. Even though the work was much more demanding, and the working conditions were worse than those offered by Disney, I still decided to continue my career as a trainer (I guess I was bitten by the HR and training bug) and in 2002 I boarded my first ship. I spent a little over two years on the ships, and after that I continued my career in Croatia.

My first job at the Adriatic Luxury Hotels was at the position of manager of the HR department in the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel, which was then in its opening stages. Back then I was in my early twenties, and the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel was the largest domestic private investment in tourism in Croatia until then and frankly, what did not kill me made me stronger! (Hahaha) In the first year of its opening the hotel accomplished excellent results and today is still among the leading hotels. Later I was promoted as the Director of human resource management of the Adriatic Luxury Hotels group and was responsible for four hotels in Dubrovnik, one hotel in Rijeka and a travel agency. A few years later, wanting to go back to my home town (Zagreb) I briefly left hotels and started working in the Central Agency for the funding and management of EU projects, as well as in several EU projects as a consultant for human resources. In 2012, I started working as the director of human resources at the hotel DoubleTree by Hilton in Zagreb, which is a part of the Hilton Worldwide group.

I am a person who believes in lifelong learning and I know that with every new day I learn something new.  There are of course, easy and tough life lessons and not everything is perfect, but there is always tomorrow.  If a person loves his job and enjoys it, it shows. And frankly, I found my perfect job!

How much has the HR field changed since your professional beginning to today?
- Since my return from Disney and Carnival Cruise Line, the department of Human Resource Management, is as we know it today, in Croatia it was it its initial stages. The former personnel office has slowly transformed into the Department of human resource management. Apart from registration and deregistration of workers, the department started working on candidate selection and recruitment, employee motivation, training, assessment of employee satisfaction, etc. As the department added new functions, I grew as well. I have grown both personally and professionally.

Today the department of Human resource management is no longer a supporting service, but also a strategic partner of the director, and all the departments of the company.

What are the three most important things an HR professional should apply in his or her work?

  1.  They should know that respect cannot be learned nor given; respect must be earned.
  2. Have respect for every person, regardless of their position in the company and address everyone in the same manner.
  3.  The HR department is a mirror of the company; be an example to others.

The human resources department plays an important role in the success of a company because it is responsible for the selection process and elects the best candidates. In your opinion, what do you think are the basic qualities required of employees who will contribute to the greater success of a company?
- I believe in hiring people who have ‘something’ in themselves. If a person wants to work with people, he or she must really love it. Those are qualities that you gain throughout life, like decency, a kind of humility, respect for self and others, and etiquette. Anyone can learn a computer program, how to clean a guest room or how to serve guests drinks. It is something that is very easy to learn and today there are incredible training programs for this. However, one needs to know how to be a human being.  And if they do not, they will never learn.

I personally would always rather hire a person with less or no experience if they have that "something”. Everything else that they will need to know they will learn here.

What are in your opinion the biggest mistakes that companies make when it comes to human resources?
- The biggest mistake that companies make when it comes to their employees and teams is that they don’t understand (or forget) that they are as strong as their weakest link.

Likewise, one should start from the beginning. You cannot know exactly how tedious or difficult a person’s job is if you have not spent at least some time in that workplace.

What would you advise young HR professionals who are at the beginning of their careers?
- All kinds of thing- these are my TOP-10:

  1. When something is difficult, tell yourself: I KNOW THIS, I WANT THIS AND I CAN DO THIS.
  2. Everything takes time. It will all fall into place at the best moment, quite possibly just when you least expect it.
  3. Have patience
  4. Be proud of yourself
  5. Learn- in college, at work, in the city, on vacation. Never stop learning.
  6. There is no giving up
  7. You should know that respect cannot be learned nor given; it must earned.
  8. Please respect every person, regardless of their position in the company and address everyone in the same manner.
  9. The HR department is a mirror of the company; be an example to others.
  10. You do this job only because you really love it.