In this week’s Hot Seat sits an inspiring local woman who has booked major successes in the corporate realm. She tells us all about her journey to success, inspiration and work-life balance.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Lela Simmonds. I’m half-Irish, half-Nevisian, and was born and raised on St. Maarten. I’m the Business Development & Marketing Manager at Port St. Maarten Group where I’ve served in various capacities over my nine-year tenure. I also serve as a Supervisory Board member at N.V. GEBE – a role I recently took on towards the end of 2021.
I have a 19-year-old son, which seems to surprise people at times, and a puppy daughter. I love yoga. I recently started training (gym) and thoroughly enjoy the combination – I try to maintain a weekly five-day alternating routine. I’ve found incorporation of this new habit to be tremendously beneficial to my personal- and work-life.
I enjoy observing people. Yes, I know it’s a strange share and I thought it was strange when a lecturer in college mentioned it as a hobby of hers, but I understand the fascination now. Advocate for mental health, pro therapists/therapy, which still is relatively taboo in the Caribbean, but I believe much needed.
How did you get into business development and marketing?
Career Growth afforded me the opportunity to get into this particular field. I did one year of Fashion & Branding but decided to change directions and I obtained my bachelor’s in international hospitality and business management, which had a relatively broad curriculum.
After interning with a yacht provisioning on St. Maarten, and hotel management in the Netherlands, simply trying things out, which is what I discerned internships to be, opportunities to sample fields in order to make a decision on a direction, I was assigned with some other classmates to a project where we were responsible for assisting with a segment of an award show and I decided large scale events is what I wanted to do. Fast forward, I moved back to St. Maarten in 2013 and started with the Port in Cargo Operations.
Looking back, I was actually still exploring and figuring out what I was really passionate about and so I was excited to dive into this unknown field where I believed the skills I obtained and thus had at the time such as managing processes and coordinating various tasks to meet objectives could be applied. I fell in love with the Port and the Maritime Industry and all its facets! It wasn’t a thought, it was a feeling – and I believe following your gut and that feeling is very important.
My role within Cargo had an extension to cruise via provisioning and eventual project coordination, through the evaluation process of the organization and management’s observation of my output, I eventually shifted more to Cruise and the Commercial side of the organization. Some people know exactly what they want to do from an early age. I didn’t. So I was (as I call it) fluid, open to change and open to opportunities.
I was asked once by a mentor a few years ago where I saw myself in five years. I found this challenging at the time to answer as it felt so specific and fixed. I knew where I wanted to be from a global perspective, but hadn’t gotten specific on that professionally. It made me think and it made me get clear on my direction and what I wanted. Where I am now aligns with where I want to be on my current five-year timeline.
I think homing in on your direction helps to be more intentional with your process of growth and so I’m grateful to that individual who still continues to drop gems my way every so often. Conclusively, how I got into business development and marketing was being open to opportunities, getting crystal clear on this being the area I was going to specialize in and ensuring I sharpened (and continue to sharpen) the skills required to execute the scope of responsibilities.
What is it like to be a relatively young woman in the corporate world?
If I had to describe it in one word, it would be “amazing”. Let me elaborate: It’s a challenging yet exciting time to be in the corporate realm – whether you’re young or older. I think being younger possibly allows for more agility and adaptability as things are constantly changing and change rapidly in some areas.
I’m relatively young, but not THAT young – so at this point, I’ve learned a lot about myself, who I am, what I represent and what I stand by, how to speak up, but also when to stand down. I think as women, we at times feel the need to match men – I don’t. I simply want to be the best and truest representation of myself at all times, strive for excellence and deliver quality work.
To be honest, I don’t per se see sex or age in business. A statement I think needs some clarification is that I’ve been asked what women I look up to in business, but it doesn’t matter to me if it’s a woman or a man. It’s about the character, the leadership/people skills observed, the work ethic, level of knowledge, etc., and whether they align, resonate, or inspire me.
If you were not in this field, what career path would you have pursued?
At this stage, I couldn’t imagine being in any other industry or field to be honest, except for that one year of Fashion & Branding that I mentioned. If I had to imagine another life, it would probably be something related to that in some way, as it’s still something I have a great fondness for; but quite frankly, I still apply it presently professionally and personally.
What is your favourite part of your career?
I enjoy the diversity. I love being stimulated with new challenges and new experiences and my path thus far has allowed for that many times over. I also enjoy the fact that I work for an organization that serves the destination which provides me with a level of fulfilment and purpose in what I do. Being of service to the greater community is definitely one of my favourite parts of my career.
How do you balance work and personal life?
Honestly, since college from internships to my transition into real business, I was conditioned to place heavy attention on work and being dedicated to it. When I started at the Port back in 2013, it took the disruption of Hurricane Irma in 2017 to prompt me to take my first real vacation. This was never required by the organization, but it was the expectation and dedication level I bestowed upon myself – maybe because it was observed growing up in my parents. I was work-focused with the exception of the parental duties which at times I felt I stumbled through.
However, over the last few years, I’ve realized a level of balance is very important. How I currently maintain my work and personal life balance is by learning to be more present, improving my time management and being more intentional with what and who I give energy to. There may be things that happen that throw this off, but I just reset and start the process over.
What would you advise your younger self, or other people looking to get into a similar profession?
I would have to pass on that “where do you see yourself in five-years” method. I wish I had given it consideration earlier, but I believe everything happens at exactly the right time. To other people looking to get into a similar profession, I think having a true understanding of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses is essential – this combined with acquiring the relevant skills and always staying on top of new developments and the changes within your respective field is key.