Alumni Interview: Charles Barbier on Launching a Career in Sustainable Luxury Hospitality

26 Jun 2017 | by Les Roches


Charles Barbier Les Roches Switzerland alumnus


Name: Charles Barbier
Nationality: French
Campus: Les Roches Bluche, BBA in International Hotel Management, 2015
Current job: Assistant Operations Manager at Soneva Jani, Maldives



Just one year after joining the Graduate Development Program at Soneva and at the age of 24, Les Roches alumnus Charles is already Assistant Operations Manager at Soneva Jani. Located on the Noonu Atoll in the Maldives, this luxury resort boasts spectacular design, hugely spacious and innovative over-water villas, privacy, exclusivity, wonderful cuisine and exceptional service.

But that’s not all. Anyone who knows about Soneva will be familiar with the brand’s ethos of “intelligent luxury,” sustainability, and social and environmental responsibility. When it was time to apply for jobs and graduate from Les Roches, Charles remembers, “I was immediately attracted to [Soneva] because they talked about sustainability and innovation as being part of their DNA, and this is so meaningful to me and taps into my own core values.”

Committed to Sustainability

Sustainability was a topic that Charles began exploring while studying hospitality at Les Roches. Together with a small team of Les Roches students, he even won an award at the Innovation Summit of The Hague Hotel School for an Innovation & Sustainability concept.

Charles first learned about Soneva’s commitment to sustainability at an industry fair on campus. He says, “I decided this was the one resort company I really wanted to work for, and I applied to join their GDP (Graduate Development Program). I had several interviews via Skype with their Chief Talent Officer and their Director of Talent Development, and when I was accepted I couldn’t have been more excited!”

Diving Headfirst into New Opportunities

From the beginning, Charles took a proactive role in shaping his future career journey. Soneva was planning to open a new resort later that year, so Charles asked to be part of the pre-opening team. He knew that handling the pre-opening would be tough, but that it would also be an opportunity to learn an enormous amount very quickly.

“I was prepared for what to expect by Sara Ballinger, who was the Director of Talent Development. She and I agreed my development program objectives together and she remained my coach and mentor when I needed her. From day one, my journey with Soneva was truly amazing! I loved bringing guests to Soneva Jani to show them the resort through the stages of construction. I enjoy the interaction with guests, showcasing not only what is obvious at Soneva but also what goes on behind the scenes, such as the sustainable practices, the ethos and the environmental protection initiatives.”

Being part of the pre-opening team was hard work, but Charles was ready to roll up his sleeves and get the job done.

I learned how to open a resort, from purchasing fixtures, furnishings and equipment to resourcing, budgeting and training.

The new resort opened to huge global acclaim, and after just one year at Soneva, Charles was promoted to Assistant Operations Manager at just 24 years old.

Career Growth and Entrepreneurial Ambitions

Charles’s career journey so far has been both challenging and enriching. “I love to travel and experience new countries and cultures, and have been trying to learn Divehi (the language of the Maldives). One of my highest points was when I was able to bring my Mum here to Soneva Jani, and she was so overwhelmed and so proud. I arranged a private beach dinner for her and she cried because it was so special. That is what we do at places like Soneva: we create incredible, inspiring and enduring memories.”

Although he has already accomplished a lot in just two years, Charles is determined to take his career even further. “My first goal is to become the youngest GM in the luxury hospitality industry, and my second goal is to open my own hotel based on sustainable practices. It will be pioneering in that it will be the first to be producing and not consuming energy.”

Meanwhile, to recent hospitality graduates, Charles recommends keeping the following three ideas in mind:

  1. Patience — it will come; play the long game, and don’t make a nuisance of yourself.
  2. Determination — but keep your goal clear and don’t give up!
  3. Teamwork — never be arrogant enough to believe you can do it all without any help or without helping others.
Les Roches


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