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Going Above And Beyond

Hospitality Veteran Looks To Give Back To Front-Line Employees With Grants

Wednesday, May 08, 2019
Steve Pike
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Following a rewarding, 25-plus year career in the hospitality industry, which culminated in the sale of her consulting company, Masterplan, Inc., to Creative Group, Mary Jo Blythe knew it was the beginning of her time to reward others.

As a specialist in the luxury sector of the meeting and events sectors of the industry, Blythe served on the Advisory Board of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, as well as the boards of several other hospitality industry companies, so her passion ran deep.

Thus, in late 2017, Blythe--who splits her time between Chicago and Vail, CO--began putting together The Above and Beyond Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those hospitality employees who have dedicated their lives to serving others.

The Above and Beyond Foundation seeks to recognize and reward outstanding individuals employed in the hospitality industry by providing grants to help them attain their personal and professional goals and better their lives.

“I couldn’t find anything that existed on a sort of grant basis that existed in the hospitality industry," Blythe told Hotel Interactive®. “There are a few things that are need based, I was looking for something that would reward outstanding people in the business – people living paycheck to paycheck and who don’t have many financial opportunities to boost their lives."

In developing the Foundation, Blythe enlisted the help of hospitality industry executives such as Thierry Kennel, regional vice president and general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Denver, and Craig Reed, chief executive officer of Auberge Resorts Collection, to sit on a 14-person Board of Directors. Kennel also sits on the Board as a Foundation co-founder.

“Mary Jane is a good friend of mine," Kennel said. “One day she came into my office and had some ideas of wanting to give back to the industry and all those hard-working folks on the front lines.
I thought it was a wonderful idea. Our front-line employees are very giving people. The industry is tough. They are giving and never really taking anything. So we came up with this idea of a service industry award for employees who consistently go above and beyond to deliver the customer experience."

The Foundation, Blythe said, raises all of its funds internally through the Board of Directors. To be eligible for a grant, an employee must complete one full year of employment prior to applying. Applications must be submitted by a senior manager of the employer and received by: March 1, June 1, Sept. 1 and Dec. 1.

Each application is evaluated and winners selected by The Board of Directors through a blind submission. Grants are awarded within 60 days of application due date or at the convenience of the employer. The monetary award of $10,000 each, Blythe said, has to come in the form of a grant, as the money can’t be looked upon as tied to a recipient’s property or destination management company.

“It’s enough (money) to change their lives," Blythe said.

To date, Heart of Hospitality Award grants have been given to front-line employees at Swisshotel Chicago, Four Seasons Vail, Four Seasons Denver, and Fudale Destination Management in Las Vegas. The most recent recipient (this past March) was Peter Ohala Otieno, a team member at Fairmont Chateau Whistler. The Foundation is working with properties in the Dominican Republic and Bahamas for grant awards later this year.

There are no “strings" attached to the grant, Kennel said.

“A lot of people in this industry are trying to further their education, personal needs, a child’s needs or medical needs," Kennel said. “So instead of (the Board) trying to figure out a need, we let them choose what is most valuable to them.

“Our Board members are sincerely caring people folks. We’re always looking for sponsors and anyone who wants to donate to the Foundation."

Each award recipient, Blythe said, so far has stayed on their jobs, and in some cases, have received promotions.

“We are looking for kind of the lifers in the hospitality industry who are the faces behind the scenes making it all happen. We want them to be role models for their colleagues – people who have embraced the spirit of hospitality and chosen it the rest of their careers," she 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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