In the heart of the Highlands Meander nestled between beautiful rolling hills, you will find the beautiful Gooderson Kloppenheim Country Estate Hotel – and its general manager, the gregarious Francois Roux.
Born in Griekwastad in the Northern Cape, he is a country boy at heart and spent the first six years of his childhood on the farm Naauwhoek. The family moved to George and he matriculated at Outeniqua High School before moving into the hospitality industry – a sector about which he has become increasingly passionate over the years.
“The hospitality industry chose me,” he explains, adding that he loves the fact that no two days are the same. It is also a fascinating melting pot of traditions and cultures.
Pots and pans are definitely his thing as he started his career as a professional chef. “Ever since I was a teenager, I experimented with food. It was my hobby, my passion and my way of learning. By the time I graduated high school, I knew hospitality would be my future. From that point on, everything fell into place,” he smiles.
He qualified from Birnam Business College, now HTA, in Randburg – showing his single mindedness and strong work ethic right from the start. ”Whilst working in various hotels as a trainee, I faced daily challenges. A lot of trainees enjoyed the night life and didn’t take their careers seriously – which is why they failed. I believe the reason I got through everything was sheer determination.”
His first job was at Karos Wilderness as a “want-to-be” Chef – or orientation trainee – between 1992 and 1995.
By 1999, he was working at Sun City. He moved on to working on cruise liners for six years and with the last two being with Silversea Cruises. Then he found himself on dry ground again as part of the Protea Hotel group where he managed a number of properties, including the Imvubu Lodge in Richards Bay for 5 ½ years.
Roux joined Gooderson Leisure in May 2011 as executive chef at the Drakensberg Gardens Golf and Spa Resort. But he wasn’t confined to the kitchen for long. “Peter Muil taught me well and moved me out of the kitchen to be his Assistant General Manager in 2012.”
Since then he has gone from strength to strength firmly upholding the Gooderson values which he believes perfectly complement his own. “Gooderson, as a company, believes not only in the product they offer, but also in their employees. We value ‘Good Value, Good Fun’. I thrive in this type of environment,” he says.
He was appointed general manager at Kloppenheim Country Estate January 2014 after being with the company for just three years.
Looking back over his career, Roux says he believes that one of the most important things a professional hotelier can have is a positive attitude. “Many years ago, I learnt the most important lesson from my training manager and mentor, Fani Jacobs. He me to look at each day as a new opportunity to be your very best! He told me that you have to set the goals as high as possible, be honest and work with people that share your passion.”
He says he has certainly done that with input from “brilliant managers” pointing the way to his success. His fondest memories are meeting Nelson Mandela, working with Jennifer Lopez and speaking to celebrity chef Michel Roux.
But it doesn’t end there and, says Roux, a favourite quote from the movie The Bucket List where the character Carter Chambers said “You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you” sums up the teamwork that has been central to his “Gooderson experience.
“Every staff member here is proud to be part of the Kloppenheim Family. Guests who are here for business or leisure often comment on our friendliness, professionalism and attention to detail. This is only possible with an awesome staff. Personally, the rewards I receive from our guests are priceless. Have you ever had the honour of experiencing someone getting engaged, meeting newlyweds, those celebrating anniversaries or just people coming to stay for a romantic break-away?” he asks.
But that does not detract from the fact that he believes that the service industry remains one of the most challenging of all. One of the chief challenges has been the huge changes that he has experienced firsthand along the way. “Globally, the hospitality industry has changed with new technology. Now, you can book a hotel room on your smart phone, check in via the internet. But one thing is for sure, technology will never replace friendly service. Fine Dining has been replaced with fast food but I still strongly believe in giving people tasty food that is good value”
On a more personal note, one of the biggest challenges he has faced whilst building his career in the extremely demanding hospitality environment has been making time for his family. He has also sometimes had to sacrifice time that he would have loved to have spent doing the things he enjoys most – action cricket, spending time with nature, going to movies, spoiling loved ones and just sitting back and enjoying good coffee and chocolates.
The coolest thing in his home, he says, is his extensive collection of cookbooks – but, rather than haute cuisine, his favourite meal comes from close to home – a good old South African braai with krummel pap.
Ask him who his hero is and he answers “Jesus”, describing him as an “awesome person” who has been on the cover of Time magazine 27 times.
His father has also had a huge influence on his life. “I appreciate how my father always takes an interest in his children’s lives. He is still there to support us. In every aspect of my life, my father continuously pushes me to excel. Whenever I feel like giving up or have a question or a concern, I know I can always call on him for advice. His strength seems to be unbreakable during hard times and is extremely determined to accomplish anything he sets his mind to. I admire how he stands up for what he believes in, his open mind, compassion, understanding and great sense of humour. He always knows how to put a smile on my face.”