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Unlocking GM Potential

Here’s how can be a better leader, or craft one for your hotel.

Friday, December 06, 2013
Steve Pike
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Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley once defined leadership as “unlocking people’s potential to become better.”

Had he not been a Princeton-educated Rhodes Scholar, star NBA player with the New York Knicks and Democratic contender for president of the U.S., Bradley would have been an excellent resort/hotel general manager. He understands leadership.

From a broad perspective, a hotel GM’s job hasn’t changed much over the years. The job is to lead the property’s staff and make sure the hotel’s daily operations run efficiently. Drill down a bit, however, and it’s much more complex, thanks in large parts to today’s technology and social media.

“The role has always been about communication, but the ways we communicate continues to evolve,” said Jim Mills, general manager of the Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa in Houston. “I spend a lot more time doing emails than I ever thought I would.”

As GM of the Houstonian, Mills sees his role as being the communications bridge between the property’s members, guests, and staff and ownership.

“We actually talk about that a lot – balance being our guiding principle,” Mills said. “You have to make good decisions about meeting the needs of each of those groups. I have to try to navigate that and set some parameters that answers the needs of each of those groups and allows the business to be sustainable.

“A lot of times it comes down to resource allocation, whether it’s going out and getting the correct resources or moving obstacles so people can get results that the business needs. Sometimes you’re a salesman and sometimes you’re trying to hold the team – and guests - accountable. Sometimes you have to tell guests they’re not acting properly. That’s very important because you want your team to understand it’s about walking the walk and not talking the talk.”

Abdullah Vural, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Avon, Colo., agrees that balance is key.

“Ownerships are more and more involved in the day-to-day operation of properties like ours and you want to make sure you are representing them without sacrificing brand standards,” Vural said. “The most important skill of being a GM, however, is that you have to be a great leader. You have such a diversity of employees working for you with different backgrounds, different ages, different needs and you have to find a good way to 'lead' them individually and as a team.”

Very few responsibilities of a GM, Mills said, are that individual’s alone.

“I’m accountable for the actions of the entire team, but I don’t clean rooms or cook meals,” Mills said. “Some of the job is just walking around and keeping your eyes open and listening; some of it is being available for people to come and tell you their story – whether they’re a guest or a member of your team.”

Some of those stories aren’t pleasant, particularly when unhappy guests take to various social media sites, such as Traveladvisor.com, to express their opinions.

“If it’s a negative review - one to three stars – I always respond,” said Eric Waltz, GM of the Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach, Fla. “Even if it’s four stars out of five, I might respond. But I respond to all the negative reviews. And my front desk manager responds to all the positive reviews.

“The computers and the social media have changed some things, but guests still want to want to be taken care of. I don’t think that ever will change.”

Said Rick Medwedeff, GM of the Marco Island (Fla.) Marriott: “At the end of the day, my primary focus is that we’re able to deliver an incredible experience to all to our guests in the hotel. That’s a critical part of every GM’s mindset.”

Just as critical, Medwedeff said, is the working experience for a hotel’s employees.

“As a collective it’s to up to a GM to make sure we create a great environment for our associates,” Medwedeff said. “I know I can’t personally take care of the 3,000 guests in the hotel, so I rely heavily on associates who work here. My role is to make sure they have an environment they feel great about, so they want to come into work and love the job they do.”

Creating a positive work environment, said Jenifer Cutter, general manager of the Downtown Courtyard by Marriott in Grand Rapids, Mich., is of “severe importance” in the role of GM.

“Making yourself available to your entire hotel team,” Cutter said. “Sometimes this is as simple as being visible during busy times and offering assistance when needed. It’s vital that a GM be well informed on daily tasks and have a hands-on knowledge of each department to be able to assist those teams. It is just as important to foster a favorable and inviting relationship with all hotel staff, creating an open-door policy so that items can be communicated and corrected with ease.”

In other words, making sure the leadership on all levels is in concert in how important it is to create positive work environment and that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care – that’s the GM’s job,” Mills said.
Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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