Rebecca Thorn’s Rise from Fish and Chips to General Manager of Hotel Indigo Tokyo Shibuya
Overcoming Challenges and Shaping the Future of Shibuya's Newest Gem
Hailing from the North Island of New Zealand, Rebecca Thorn, the General Manager of Hotel Indigo Tokyo Shibuya, shares her captivating career story with us.
Rebecca’s venture into hospitality all started at a local fish and chip shop which eventually evolved into an impressive 17-year tenure with the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). From her homeland’s Queenstown to the Australian cities of Adelaide and Melbourne, as well as time in the UK and Fiji, she embraced diverse roles in the service and hotel industry. Now at the helm of Hotel Indigo Tokyo Shibuya, which opened its doors in August 2023, Rebecca reflects on her remarkable experiences, showcasing her passion for hospitality and the exciting chapters that lie ahead.
How have you personally grown or evolved through your various roles and responsibilities in the hospitality industry?
Through my 17-year journey with IHG and working across diverse cultures and countries, I feel that I’ve grown immensely, shaping who I am today. In this job, you learn about the important things in life, all of our guests have a reason to stay with us, and through them, we in turn can experience the highs and lows of life. Through our guests, we are lucky to witness some of life’s greatest moments, from birthday and anniversary celebrations, weddings and family reunions, to the pure joy of people experiencing and discovering new places for the first time. Despite the occasional challenges, I am grateful to feel part of the incredible moments. This exposure has grounded me and built up my resilience. I’ve become a calm person, thanks to these experiences. I continue to grow, and the learning never stops, which is something I truly appreciate.
As one of very few female General Managers in Tokyo’s hotel industry, how would you describe your leadership style and the principles that guide your decisions?
My leadership style is primarily democratic—empathetic, collaborative and empowering. I believe in involving the team as they bring everything to life. I also adapt to various leadership styles when needed—strategic, visionary, pacesetting and transformational. While I have my natural style, I recognize the importance of adapting to individuals’ needs too. There are times when making the final decision is necessary, and I don’t shy away from it. Leadership can sometimes be lonely and tough decisions must be made, but at the end of the day, I weigh the priorities and benefits, and strive for balance.
In your career, have you encountered any significant challenges, especially as a woman in a leadership role? How did you navigate and overcome them?
In the early days, there was a lack of representation for female leaders and I didn’t see people like me in top roles. It’s different now, but I still deal with being in the minority. Imposter syndrome was a struggle but I’ve learned to overcome it. People are often surprised I’m a General Manager, and it happens a lot. There are still challenges, like microaggressions and gender stereotypes but I see it as an opportunity to drive positive change. I make sure to attend industry events, even if I’m the only woman, to contribute to that change and support others.
What advice would you offer for aspiring women leaders in the hospitality field based on your experiences?
Believe in yourself; a great career in hospitality is not only possible but amazing. Don’t hesitate to apply for opportunities—even if you don’t feel fully ready. Have confidence and put yourself out there! Diversify your skill set, stay true to yourself and don’t try to be someone you’re not.
Don’t hesitate to apply for opportunities—even if you don’t feel fully ready. Have confidence and put yourself out there!
Women don’t need to fit into an old-school masculine leadership mold. You can be kind, soft, vulnerable and still be a leader. Be unapologetically yourself!
Can you share a particularly memorable or rewarding moment from your career or life journey in Tokyo?
Opening Hotel Indigo Tokyo Shibuya stands out as a truly unforgettable experience. It was challenging, eye-opening and required hard work. It made me feel vulnerable at times yet incredibly satisfied. It was a career highlight, especially as it was my first pre-opening, something I hadn’t done before.
Another significant moment was leading the team through the COVID-19 pandemic and emerging successfully on the other side. That was when I first arrived in Tokyo back in 2019 after taking on the role of Assistant General Manager and later Acting General Manager in 2022 over at the InterContinental the Strings Tokyo in Shinagawa. The team’s resilience and success during that time were remarkable, and I’m grateful for the lessons learned.
With Hotel Indigo Tokyo Shibuya being your first pre-opening, did you run into anything unexpected?
When we were about to open the hotel, we had a pre-opening party with over 200 guests. Just minutes before it started, the fire alarm went off due to some barbecue smoke. It felt like a disaster at the time but it was fixed in five minutes. It was a testing moment, but my team was responsive. The party turned out incredible, and now we can laugh about it!
How do you balance your professional responsibilities with your personal life?
Balancing work and personal life is crucial for me, and I take pride in doing it well. Last year was different due to the hotel opening, which consumed a lot of my time. I usually set boundaries to relax and unwind, as I want a healthy separation between work and personal life. I try my best to prioritize my health and maintain a balanced lifestyle as it sets a good example for my team too.
What hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?
Outside of work, I’m very active and love hitting the gym and going hiking. Reading and traveling are also top on my list, and spending quality time with friends is important to me too. I often travel to Karuizawa and Hakone, and I’ve explored various other places in Japan, including Osaka, Hiroshima, Okinawa, Nikko and more. I also have a creative side and enjoy activities like painting, drawing and pottery.
Looking ahead, what are your professional goals and aspirations for the future, both for yourself and Hotel Indigo Tokyo Shibuya?
Looking ahead, my professional goals for Hotel Indigo Tokyo Shibuya are deeply intertwined with creating a vibrant celebration of all things Shibuya. I envision our hotel as the employer of choice, known for providing a fantastic work environment where the team can thrive, grow and contribute meaningfully to our guests’ experiences. Diversity, equity and inclusion are paramount to me, and I’ve worked to create a culture that celebrates these values. From gender-neutral uniforms to an inclusive setup in our facilities, I aim to foster an environment that welcomes everyone.
Beyond that, I’m eager for the hotel to become an inclusive space for both guests and our team. I aspire for it to be a bustling and popular destination that people genuinely want to visit. It’s crucial for us to embed ourselves in the rich culture of Shibuya and give back to the community. Working collaboratively with the neighborhood is a key aspect of our operations.
It’s crucial for us to embed ourselves in the rich culture of Shibuya and give back to the community.
On a personal note, I plan to continue focusing on my well-being in 2024, emphasizing holistic health and mindfulness. After a significant professional year in 2023, I aim to strike a balance, ensuring I’m present and at my best for both myself and those around me. The excitement for what lies ahead is palpable, and I’m ready for the challenges and successes that the future holds.
Savvy Spotlight is a monthly feature introducing foreign and Japanese women at the frontline of what’s successful, contributing, cool, unique and interesting in the city. If you have anyone in mind you would like us to interview, leave us a comment below with your recommendations!