Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thank You

To appreciate the good, you have to experience the bad.

The Charleston Marriott will be my fifth Marriott property. Prior to that (where hotels are concerned), I worked for Millennium-Copthorne and an independent. The best job (as far as enjoyment and camaraderie) was on the River Thames in England – it didn’t pay squat, but I had more fun there than anywhere else. I’ll come back to that on another entry.

As far as hotels – I’ve worked at a unionized property, where I was not allowed to cross-train or pick up shifts in other departments (the theory being, I was taking work away from others, even though they didn’t show up for their shifts – which they were allowed to do a few times a year per contract). Had there been a strike, I would not be allowed to return to work, and would likely miss rent. Mandatory deductions were taken from my already-Lilliputian paycheck. Yes, I will spew an entire blog on hospitality unions here very soon, but not today.

I worked at an independent property attached to National Historic Landmark, (the Inn was for-profit, and the Landmark was non-profit). So I could pick up banquet shifts and other sundry duties for 40 hours over at the Landmark, and 40 hours at the Inn, and they were not required to pay overtime. In fact, the operations director admitted this advantage to my boss, who – being my friend, later relayed that information to me. It was a stunning place to work, with a rich history and full of the best scenery one could ask for on the drive in. On the drive in mind you, at 5am (Spanish moss and live are only so nice at 5am). It was even nicer to see when one left, at around midnight some days.

Within my Marriott properties, I’ve had a variety of experiences. My first one was a boutique property than enabled me to cross-train in every department except accounting and engineering. We had a very close-knit group there – I lived with several of them. But then came the next Marriott property. I won’t go into too much detail, but it wasn’t always the most positive experience, though I adored our General Manager. Following that were nearly three years of probably my least favorite job of all time. To say communication was lacking and half the team were living in the mid-eighties would be an understatement. Morale was never more than slightly above that line that causes people to walk out and return later with weapons.

Then came Greenville. I won’t go into detail as to how I got there, (as I have in previous entries), but that’s irrelevant here.

When I first arrived in Greenville I immediately liked most of the people I worked with. However, after a few weeks, one of the team members exhibited signs that – well, that perhaps that they were not quite the right fit for that particular position. However, eventually they were – um – (I have to be careful here – but think doves at a wedding). After that happened, something amazing occurred.


The team had solidified. A new event planner was brought in as I was promoted, and she turned out to be not just a perfect fit for the department, but someone who is quickly becoming a good friend. Another sales manager was brought in as another coworker was promoted to our director, and those changes could not have been better. We gelled as a department better than I have experienced since the time on the boats in England – maybe a little more so. We’re a solid team, and it shows.

Outside of our department, we have a stellar front office, a talented banquet team, and a banquet manager who can run circles around any banquet manager I’ve ever known. This guy is truly gifted. Then there’s the kitchen, who has stepped up their game and their menus with a new Executive Chef (that started the week before me) who is the most even-keeled, mild-mannered, pleasant, (if a little sarcastic) culinary talent I’ve seen. I have never once seen that guy yell or lose his cool in front of others. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I’ve never seen it. And let me tell you, this food is amazing. It will lay to rest any preconceived ideas you may have about hotel food.

The restaurant staff is among the best I’ve worked with. It’s no wonder our scores are through the roof.

In a previous property, I worked under a General Manager who was a walking iron fist. He talked to people as if they were children, He humiliated department heads in front of their subordinates, and talked incessantly about how he studied other leaders, read books on leadership – (who, Machiavelli?) He bordered on completely dehumanizing at times, and voiced his political beliefs whenever he felt like it, in front of whomever he saw fit (Managing People 101 – don’t do that). He would yell at you with veins pumping in his forehead, and praise you in front of others when he found it politically advantageous. It was all very transparent, to pretty much everyone. It wasn’t respect he got from his team, it was fear. I saw two Executive Committee members in tears. I saw the most qualified, creative Event Manager with whom I have ever had the pleasure of working, nearly pull her hair out. It was a bad situation. To top it off, we rarely if ever made profit, and our guest satisfactions scores were consistently abysmal.

Let me compare that to the General Manager in Greenville. His door is literally always open, and when it’s closed, it’s for a meeting – and only for that amount of time. I can literally walk into his office and start talking away (a bad habit of mine) and he stops what he’s doing and listens. He’s respected across the hotel, and when he speaks, people listen. He commands the respect of the team by letting his feelings on a given situation be known without making anyone afraid of him. He gives constant feedback, both negative and positive, and in a way that lets you know that he truly understands the pulse of the hotel and the mood of the team. He is completely in touch, in every way. He’s open to new ideas, and solicits the creativity of the team and utilizes their input whenever possible. And here’s the thing – there’s no iron fist here, no one feels belittled or humiliated, and our satisfaction scores? As I mentioned before, they’re through the roof.

My department head, the Director of Sales, is incredible. She is a bit high-energy, perhaps a tad (see: majorly) ADD. She will text me at bizarre hours of the night – if I don’t respond, she doesn’t get upset, but she does look for a response around the time she thinks I should have woken up. This woman is working 24/7, and never asks anything of anyone that she isn’t prepared to do herself. Best of all, she’s become a friend as well. She is one of the best mentors I’ve had, as she truly understands the various nuances of her department. She has helped me to develop and foreword my career, and has done so as both a teacher and a peer. She is charismatic, has a wonderfully dark sense of humor, and genuinely cares for each member of our team. And if I have feedback on an opinion on which I differ? She listens to it, as she listens to all of us. Although we all understand that ultimately the big decisions are hers, we have never once felt as if we didn’t have a say in a given matter. We can give her our honest and frank opinions, and not feel that she will retaliate, and still have respect for her as our boss. Having managed a team, I can tell you that it is a rare and delicate balance – the difficulty of which those who have never managed people can never truly grasp.

Our controller is another great. This is not your typical bean counter. In fact, I’ve been living with him and his partner pretty much since I got here, and have gained two friends in the process. This is the first controller with whom I’ve worked who actually understands that he works in the hospitality industry. If you need money for something, he will ask the right questions, and then find a way to make it work. This is such a welcome change from the act of congress I used to have to wait for to get, say, pens. To top it off, I’ve never seen his door closed if he’s in the office.

The food and beverage director is as approachable as they come, and very much knows his field. He’s easy to work with (as long as he’s kept in the loop), and clearly has the respect and admiration of his team.

The housekeeping department is the friendliest, most cheerful group of rooms staff I’ve ever worked with. Along with the uniquely talented and colorful personalities of the housekeeping director and chief engineer, the rooms department is not the gloomy and downtrodden place I’ve seen in properties past.

I enjoy driving to work. I enjoy being there. And while I’ll never have a position that I enjoyed quite like the boats, this has been a very close second.

This property bent over backwards to keep me here when I was planning to return to Charleston several months ago. And though 2009 was probably one of the (if not THE) worst years of my life, the people at the Greenville Marriott got me through it, whether they knew that’s what they were doing or not. I lost a parent, I lost a partner. But as I get ready for my last full week before my transfer to Charleston, I realize now more than ever what I’m losing as I leave.

If the Charleston team is half as tightly-knit and talented as those in Greenville, I’ll be a lucky man. Back in the city that I love, but missing the colorful characters at the Greenville Marriott.

Thank you guys. I’ll miss all of you more than you know.


Evil Twin's Wife said...

My brother works in restaurant management - I know he puts in lots of hours. But, he loves it. He's very outgoing and loves people. I couldn't do it, so kudos to you for doing such a great job!

Doc said...

Sounds like you have had some great experiences there...

Anonymous said...

Hey Will,
Nice comments about your banquet manager. Are you sure you're not talking about me? HA!

DickDeadeye said...

Having worked for the CACVB, I can tell you - it's a mixed bag. Some of the nicer DT hotels run like Swiss clockwork, others are lucky to have a manned front desk at check-out.