Célia Pronto is the Managing Director of Love Home Swap, an award-winning, members-only global home swapping platform, that allows travellers to explore the world through the power of sharing.
In addition to her current role at Love Home Swap, Pronto is a Non-Executive Director at moto hospitality, South East Water and Samworth Brothers, an ambassador for Women on Boards and advisory board member for social enterprise MarketingKind.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I started out a world away from the travel industry working in traditional marketing at Unilever, before being bitten by the digital bug in 1999 when I joined an online share dealing platform looking to launch in the UK. It was love at first “byte” – and all my subsequent roles have been in the digital space, working in sectors as diverse as travel, restaurants, logistics, hospitality, automotive, leisure and E-Commerce. I’ve also been fortunate to have worked across different types and sizes of business – everything from VC-funded start-ups and Private Equity backed businesses to international corporates, which helped me understand where I fit best.
Around 15 years ago I realised that my passion lay in helping businesses embrace the systemic changes being brought about by the digital revolution, and since then I’ve focused on helping them do just that. Today I’m thrilled to be leading the amazing team at Love Home Swap, where our mission is to transform the way the world travels.
I am a huge believer in building brands from the inside out, with organisational culture and a supportive environment in which people can thrive as the absolute foundations to organisational success.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I wish I could say I had a masterplan, but I didn’t! There have been times when I tried to set out career plans, but inevitably the opportunities that came my way ended up taking me in unexpected directions.
As I progressed in my career, I decided that instead of having a specific career plan, what worked better for me was to focus instead on framing what the next step, or even success, looked like – what would it feel like, what sorts of activities would I be doing, and what the culture around me looked like. This really helped me to be open to new opportunities I may not have previously considered, but equally to be clear when they didn’t align too.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Despite being born in a country which shortly after my birth experienced a 19-year civil war that subsequently saw my family lose everything, I am proud that this has never held me back from being ambitious and tenacious.
I’ve faced challenges ranging from being made redundant three times in a row (at one company I found out by being locked out of the office!) and being told I was “too digital” to be employable by a recruiter to experiencing sexual harassment and even bullying in the workplace.
Where you come from does not determine who you are or how successful you will be; that is up to you.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Without a doubt, the teams I’ve built, and the success they themselves have gone on to achieve in their careers. Seeing them fulfil their potential and doing what they love will always be my biggest achievement.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Determination and, if I can add a second, resilience.
Despite all the ups and downs, the things that didn’t go to plan, the unexpected surprises, the need to pivot in a different direction – it has always been sheer determination and resilience that has carried me through.
Alongside these, my amazingly supportive husband, who has always encouraged me to do what I want to do and be who I want to be, has always been the unsung hero who picks me up, dusts me off and reminds me to be determined and resilient when I need it!
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I was never fortunate enough to really have a mentor for a very long time, which is probably why I am so passionate about the power of mentoring! I see it as a personal responsibility I have as a leader to give back and support those coming up behind me, particularly women, and to lift as I climb.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
A friend of mine uses the adage of “you can’t be what you can’t see”, which I firmly agree with. It starts with proactive sponsorship and advocacy to get more women into leadership positions, but equally a responsibility for those leaders to make themselves more visible to give younger women someone they can look up to and recognise someone who looks just like them. Unless we normalise amazing women doing amazing things in all sorts of industries, sectors and jobs, I’m not sure we can ever really achieve true equality.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Everything will be ok – things will work out the way they are supposed to and your path is your own. Trust yourself, trust your instincts and trust that you will do the right thing for you.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
At Love Home Swap I would love us to keep spreading the message of home swapping as the best way to unlock unforgettable, unique experiences through the power of sharing. The stories I see from our community, the lifelong friendships discovered and new experiences unlocked are something I want more people to be able to access.
From a personal perspective, I want to continue serving as a role model for younger women and inspiring them to push themselves forward and be all they can be – no matter what the obstacles or challenges in their way might be.
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