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As trailblazers go, few women have blazed a more courageous trail than Janet McNab.

Two decades ago, she left the comfort and security of her home and career in Australia and went to Sheraton Nanjing in China, a move she describes as a “hardship posting”.

“In those days the notion of a female wanting to go to Asia was not normal. Back then the hotel was owned by a tobacco company so our meetings were all with 10 people smoking away. You couldn’t see a thing.

“It was quite a shock to the system but it’s also one of my strongest memories because it was so positive for me. It changed me in such a humbling way because I realised the world was actually quite a big place.

“It changed me personally and professionally for the better.”

A self-confessed self-motivator, Janet’s career in hospitality began in 1988 when she joined Sheraton Brisbane in an entry level admin role. Her career flourished until at age 35 she did an MBA in Strategic Management while the hotel’s Director of Sales and Marketing.

“At that stage I was in a director’s role but I wanted to move overseas so I thought how was I going to differentiate myself in what was still a very male dominated environment.

“I thought the only way to do it was to make my CV more relevant when employers were looking at it as just a piece of paper on a desk.”

Looking for that next step up the corporate ladder, Janet applied for jobs abroad until in 2002 she finally landed that executive assistant job at Sheraton Nanjing.

What followed was an illustrious 20 years in Southeast Asia where, most recently, she held the role of multi-property Vice President at the 4,001-room Sheraton Grand Macao and The St. Regis Macao.

Asked to pick a career highlight, Janet responds with trademark honesty.

“Every role I took had pros and cons. But I always took the next role understanding that it was the next step on the ladder. I didn’t really go sideways because I was quite ambitious.”

Lured out of retirement, Janet is now General Manager at the five-star Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park, the company’s original property in the city (Marriott have four female General Managers in Sydney and seven in their Australian portfolio). Janet is looking forward to the challenge of leading the flagship hotel.

“It’s in an iconic location and she’s a beautiful old grand dame in the hub of the cultural centre and retail area. My plan is to highlight that but also add a bit of volume to it.

“Let’s build up the experience for our guests and let’s build the workforce to be really good at what they do.”

Her experience has already paid dividends with the hotel’s new restaurant, Sydney Common, earning an award for its cuisine in the first month of opening. Janet has also reinstated monthly ‘GM Cocktails’ so she can listen and learn from her guests.

“I think there’s an authenticity about travelling in Australia that you don’t get in other places in the world.

“You want to maintain that DNA that we have here as a country, but you want to make sure that it’s done with polish. And that polish is definitely something that I want to focus on.”

Another key area of Janet’s focus is taking part in the Marriott ‘Women in Leadership Programme’ run by her fellow female General Managers in Sydney. She says she has been welcomed with open arms by this “wonderful and dynamic group of leaders”.

“The notion of the program is that as senior leaders we can start to help those that are up and coming. We can help build their confidence and build their appetite to be able to lean in, sit at the table and answer questions.

“I think the opportunities are definitely there – I don’t think it’s a closed market at all – I just think sometimes by nature some women are less confident than others.

“We can help mentor them and develop programs and events that build this fraternity of women from the top down and from the bottom up. I think that’s a great thing to do and it’s nice to be able to give back.”

Asked whether enough is being done to promote women in leadership roles in Australia Janet is comfortable with the balance in her own industry…but does sound a warning.

“I think we’re very lucky because our industry, Hospitality and Tourism, lends itself to excellent careers for women. We just have to be very careful that it doesn’t become perceived that the pendulum has swung too far the other way. It’s all about balance.”

That’s something Janet has found since returning to Australia, balancing her work at the hotel with her other passions, such as cooking, running and spending time with her husband and dog.

“In Macau I worked six days a week because the business was 24/7. That’s why we came home. I’m very thankful to the Australian work ethos because it’s allowed me to get a bit more balance in my life.”