Celebrating Thomson’s Women Leaders for International Women’s Day

Written by Thomson Safaris

judi on rover in crater in 1981

Happy International Women’s Day! Female leadership has been a pillar of Thomson Safaris’ success ever since Judi Wineland co-founded the company in 1981. Today, over 90% of leadership positions are held by women, both at Thomson Safaris in the U.S. and Thomson Safaris LTD in Tanzania.

Let’s meet some of these women leaders and hear about their success below!


judi with maasai women at eastern serengeti nature refuge
Judi Wineland, Co-founder of Thomson Safaris

When Judi Wineland started her career in travel in the late 1970s, the odds weren’t exactly in her favor. The adventure travel industry was in its infancy and completely male-dominated. She led the charge anyway, founding several companies on her own before creating Thomson Safaris in 1981 with her husband, Rick Thomson.

Under their leadership, Thomson Safaris has thrived–today, it’s one of the most prominent names in Tanzania travel, and has even been named a World’s Best Safari Outfitter eight times. Judi’s trailblazing efforts have earned her numerous awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

Judi has held the door open for women leaders after her, championing their recruitment and training in both the U.S. and Tanzania. Moreover, she is a founding member and active board member of Focus on Tanzanian Communities (FOTZC), a non-profit dedicated to community-requested projects, including female entrepreneurship training.

“Tanzania has given us so much,” Judi said. “I hope to continue to give back as much as I’ve received.”


president ina steinhilber
Ina Steinhilber, President

Ina Steinhilber joined Thomson Safaris in 2003 as a sales and marketing assistant; today, she’s president of the company and beating heart of its day-to-day operations. For all the spreadsheets, numbers, policies and strategies she coordinates, she believes her success starts with the people.

“To be a healthy, profitable company, you need a bit of humility.  You must realize that you’re nothing without the people who make everything happen,” Ina said. “Ensuring we have an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome, respected and valued, and ensuring they have the tools they need to grow and learn–that’s what matters and that’s what makes us all successful.”

Even though Ina has had great female mentors during her career at Thomson, she has still occasionally encountered old-fashioned male perspectives outside the company. Her advice to aspiring women leaders in situations like these? “Don’t apologize,” Ina said. “Don’t question your gut. Your opinion matters!”


general manager rose ngilisho
Rose Ngilisho, General Manager of Thomson Safaris, LTD

Rose Ngilisho made history by becoming Thomson Safaris LTD’s first-ever Tanzanian woman General Manager. A Chagga woman and mother of three, Rose serves as one of the first and only Tanzanian woman business leaders in the country.  Her 23-year tenure at Thomson Safaris LTD has been marked by many accomplishments and has earned her the respect of anyone who has ever worked with her.

Her courage in the face of Tanzania’s male-dominated culture, paired with her resilience, work ethic and collaborative spirit, have helped her break gender barriers and build trust with her colleagues.

“They say it’s tough for a woman in a man’s world,” Rose said. “I say it’s fun. Get out there and make the impossible possible. Make it fun.”

[Read the story of Rose’s career here.]


angela woods manager of guest services
Angela Woods, Manager of Guest Services

With a background in community building, Angela Woods’s interpersonal expertise is exemplary, and her joyful attitude is infectious; she plays a pivotal role in the Thomson office, ensuring all team members and guests feel seen and supported.

Back when Angela was considering a career switch to Thomson Safaris, she made a pros and cons list. At the top of Pros? Two names: Ina Steinhilber and Judi Wineland.

“I’ve been so lucky to have female leadership throughout my life, especially at Thomson,” Angela said. “Building rapport with women like Ina and Judi helped me build rapport with the team. It makes everyone feel good about what they do. Guests don’t always see it, but it makes things better for them, too.”


cesca panzariello general manager
Francesca Panzariello, General Manager of Thomson Collection and Thomson Family Adventures

Growing up, Cesca saw lots of men having incredible travel experiences on TV–Anthony Bourdain, Rick Steves, Bear Grylls–and wondered why she never saw women with that level of freedom.

So, she became the change she wanted to see–first as a solo female traveler, then as a travel professional.

Under the guidance of role models like Ina and Judi, Cesca has skyrocketed, becoming General Manager of Thomson Collection and Thomson Family Adventures at the age of 27–one of her proudest achievements. She has learned from women leaders like them how to cultivate a calm environment where anyone can ask questions, make mistakes and learn from them.

“Becoming GM has showed me that all the time and effort people invested in me was worth it,” Cesca said. “Having women I admire place trust in me is a great feeling. I never knew I could grow this much.”


manager of operations shamim
Shamim Issa, Reservations Manager

Shamim joined Thomson Safaris LTD in 2006, where she quickly became the first female Head of Reservations in company history. Now, she leads by example, demonstrating resilience in the face of obstacles and building a strong sense of community within the team. She believes working with diverse teams and communicating openly are the keys to her success.

“Men usually hold the top positions in Tanzanian tourism, and generally, they do not believe women should be leaders,” Shamim said. “This only makes me more determined to break barriers and inspire change. I encourage other women to believe in themselves and freely express ideas to make workplaces better for everyone.”


camp manager elizabeth
Elizabeth J. Nangay, Serengeti Camp Manager

Elizabeth is the first female Camp Manager in the history of Thomson Safaris LTD. When she joined the team as a camp crewwoman, she quickly built a rapport with her colleagues, serving food to guests, preparing hot showers and making beds. As Camp Manager, she continues working closely with the team, actively listening to their ideas and delegating responsibilities equitably to ensure all camp activities run smoothly.

“I believe happy guests start with the efforts made by the people—chefs, guards and safari crew,” Elizabeth said. “I believe in ensuring we are living harmoniously with the environment, its animals and its vegetation.”


kilimanjaro operations manager grace
Grace Kimaro, Kilimanjaro Operations Manager

Growing up Chagga, a group historically residing on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Grace Kimaro has a lifelong relationship to the mountain–her backyard.

“I saw trekkers going up the mountain, and I told myself, ‘I will make sure I do this work when I grow up,’” Grace said.

Today, she’s the first woman Kilimanjaro Operations Manager in the history of the company. She loves working hand-in-hand with porters and guides to ensure their needs are met and that they’re happy. While she still occasionally struggles against the common belief that women can’t lead a team of men, she never shies away from the chance to prove them wrong.

“A woman in a role like this should be strong, confident and skilled,” Grace said. “She should never be afraid of trying—and failing. Every task is hard, but it gets better.”


Celebrating Women Leadership at Thomson Safaris

Thomson’s commitment to empowering women is over four decades strong. Here, we proudly present more of the exceptional women leaders driving positive change every day at Thomson Safaris and Thomson Safaris LTD!

Sharon Sangiwa, Manager of Guides and Vehicles, Thomson Safaris LTD

Joel Cody, Director of Sales and Marketing, Thomson Safaris

Ali Riley, Creative Director, Thomson Safaris

Carolyn Hardy, Sales Team Lead and Senior Trip Consultant, Thomson Safaris