Voice of the Super Moguls
The American author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” With this in mind, we spoke directly to many of the Top 100 “Super Mogul” General Managers across the United States, as well as GM-ready “Rising Moguls,” who are Assistant GMs or property-level directors.
These property leaders have risen through the ranks in different markets, come from diverse backgrounds, and are extremely humble individuals who nonetheless have passionate viewpoints substantiated by data, on what’s required for hospitality to win back talent. It doesn’t come as a surprise that most GMs believe the industry is at an inflection point and is in dire need of transformation. What surprised is the contrast between their views and those of hotel real estate investors, lenders, analysts, and the industry C-suite, who believe the current hospitality labor model or human capital model is unassailable and will fully recuperate from “another industry cycle.” These real Moguls of hospitality have courageously shared their personal struggles and specifically where they believe the industry needs to change to win back talent. Here are a few of their stories.
Lead by Example and Build Trust One Employee at a Time
Chris Adams is a Top 100 Hotel GM in the U.S., situating him in the top 0.01%. He is the former Area General Manager for Embassy Suites, Greensboro, North Carolina, and has been in the hospitality industry for more than four decades, working for brands, management companies, and independent hotels.
Adams is the embodiment of the American dream and testimony to the industry’s economic role as an engine of meritocracy. He worked his way up from being a housekeeper in limited-service hotels. “I started out as a housekeeper and through some wonderful opportunities and mentorship, I’ve been able to work across several brands around the country in several positions. I continue to find this industry fun and no two days are the same. I’ve had the pleasure of maintaining people on my team over the years. Trust and engagement are two important attributes for leaders. Our actions and what we do speaks volumes. People look to us to see that we are consistent and that we’re genuine.
A lot of times people will stay a part of something if they can trust and rely on us and if they see that their leader is whom they say they are by their actions. Don’t talk about it, be about it!”
Winning Back Talent
Adams believes the industry must break the mold and seek new talent pipelines from non- traditional sources and adopt a more flexible labor model. “I’m seeing individuals who may have been in another industry and have decided to give hospitality a try and that’s encouraging as we look to bring up and raise up the next generation of talent. For individuals who may have been stay-at-home moms or dads and have decided they may want to get back into the workforce, we have worked toward more flexible schedules so that individuals [like these] can have more work-life balance. And balance is key. Individuals are trying to do more with less and to be able to get them time off to spend time with family or maybe to pursue a college degree is something we’ve focused on.”
Build a Culture Where People Aren’t Afraid to Try
Julian Tucker is the General Manager of Andaz West Hollywood, California. He has over 25 years of hospitality experience including resorts in the US and in the Caribbean. He started his career at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee in the security department and was promoted to Director of Security before becoming Executive Housekeeper. He was subsequently Front Office Manager at the Hyatt Regency Chicago followed by serving in several department head roles and then Director of Rooms. Tucker’s community outreach affiliations include working with the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce on a task force to bring more Black people business opportunities to the area.
Winning Back Talent
Tucker believes the service style of the hotel is closely tied to the personality of its brand. “The word ‘Andaz’ means ‘personal style’ in Hindu and our company’s promise is to care for people so they can be their best. I work to create a culture that allows people to be people, but not robots. We’re not looking for people to be perfect, we’re looking for people to be their best. With my team, there’s not anything that we’re not willing to try. We may try something, and it may not work and that’s okay. We’ll learn and we’ll find the best way to move forward. That approach creates an environment absent fear that people want to be a part of.”
Tucker sees evidence of a long-term structural shift in the labor markets. “We’re seeing a shift in the way we look at work and the way we work. There’s a stigma that a person in operations can’t work from home, but a lot of times it’s the ability to have an administrative day where you can take care of some of the things that you wouldn’t normally and still have the flexibility to be at home with your son or daughter or get some errands done.
We’ve used this as an opportunity to broaden our scope as far as the talent we’re seeking and to encourage people to see that we’re doing some cool stuff that could really be helpful in terms of the work-life balance that everyone is seeking.”
Go Outside The System To Get Paid Your Worth
Danny Williams is a Top 100 Hotel GM. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality from Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. While he is classically trained, his career story is quite different from a single employer “franchise player,” but according to our research, more commonplace both in the pathway to becoming a GM and a multi-employer career thereafter, especially in full-service resorts.
Williams possesses an in-depth understanding of hotel and resort operations acquired through real-world operational experience with leadership roles with several of the world’s leading hospitality organizations including Marriott International, Starwood Hotels, Wyndham Hotel Group, and Bluegreen Vacations.
Winning Back Talent
Williams believes the system run by the big brands and operators doesn’t reward exceptionally high performers. “I pride myself in being a customer-focused, bottom-line driven manager with a history of creating a superior sales and employee culture. And although I’ve had a track record of strong margin growth, I discovered while working for the big management companies that for anyone to be compensated commensurate to their contributions, you’d either have to leave or build your career around luxury brands.”
One of the most valuable insights we gleaned from Williams, is the fact that independently managed hotels are more likely to pay General Managers their worth – in part because they don’t have to abide by the pay scales and rules of brands and larger management companies. Our research validated this fact, especially in the luxury resort segment where independents can be more profitable than brands. Indeed, it was by leaving the brands and working as a GM at independent luxury hotels that Williams was able to get paid anywhere near his worth – Mogul hospitality’s estimate of his annual economic contribution to the hotel’s bottom-line performance and valuation.
“I’ve seen little change with big management companies in the past 30-plus years and there has to be a better way for rising talent to be paid their worthwhile growing and building their hospitality industry expertise.”
Willingness to Learn is the Most Important Attribute
Tamas Vago is General Manager at Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. He grew up in Hungary and worked as a dishwasher earning $50 a month while studying to get his degree in
Culinary Arts. He worked his way up through every role in the kitchen and later became Chef at Kempinski Hotel Corvinus in Budapest, Hungary. He moved to the US, worked as a chef in New Orleans, then spent some time in Nicaragua. He later became Executive Chef for InterContinental Chicago. Tamas has amassed 20 years of experience in all aspects of food and beverage, operations, and hotel management.
Winning Back Talent
Vago believes his food and beverage experience provided a solid foundation for his professional growth. “After being at a flagship hotel, I thought I was done but I wanted to get out of the kitchen and learn a bit more, so I became Assistant Food & Beverage Director and later at the same hotel I became Director of Food & Beverage. In my career, being a chef was my comfort zone so to go to the other side seemed crazy, but you learn so much more. In the kitchen, you’re always complaining about the waiters but in F&B you have to take care of the whole thing. It gives you a completely different perspective.”
He goes on to discuss how he leverages his relatively unusual path to GM through the kitchen into best practices in his hotels. “Now as a leader, of my existing team, the most important thing is to have a development plan for employees who are likely to burn out.
I ask myself if we have a plan for them for what they could be and what they want to be. Some of them may want to be a hotel manager, so I’ll put them in Food & Beverage if they don’t have F&B experience.
What happened for me, and I respect the first GM who was one of my mentors, is that he did something that is unusual. You don’t normally take people out of the kitchen as sous chef or executive chef and put them up front, but I do that with my team because I trust them, and they do an amazing job already, so why wouldn’t I give them the chance to learn another trade and enhance their experience?”
Above all, Vago believes in not just hiring for attitude, but specifically a single key attribute. “One of the biggest issues in the industry is retention because if you lose the talent, there probably won’t be anyone to replace them. Before you’d get 10 – 15 resumes but now I’m lucky to get two. Now I look at not just the experience but the candidate’s willingness to learn. If I find someone who might not fully have the lodging experience I’m looking for, but I can see that there’s the raw talent behind them then I’d hire them and train them.”
The business cycles and socioeconomic factors impacting the hotel industry keep him on his feet and reflect his commitment to lifelong learning and professional growth. “Something
I’ve learned is you need to treat all your team members like family. You must have trust, you have to be firm, and you have to double-check things sometimes, but it always must be that way so that your team can count on you and that you can count on them. The slogan that I always use is, ‘Always look ahead and never give up.’ In our industry, there are always detractors like a pandemic, and no matter how much of an experienced GM you are, you are in a situation where you don’t know everything, and you always have to look at what’s out there and how you can excel. Never look back and always look toward what’s ahead of you.”
Time for Hospitality to Get back to the Fundamentals.
Leo Johnson (his name and identity have been changed to protect his privacy) is a luxury hotel General Manager in Texas with 15 years of experience in hospitality. He grew up in a suburb outside Dallas and graduated from a hospitality school in Houston. One of his first roles in the industry was as a bellman at a luxury boutique hotel in Dallas. Johnson climbed the front office and room director ranks all the way to hotel GM in 10 years of working in 4 hotels across the U.K. and became an expert in filling the gaps by recruiting housekeeping and front-line talent from Mexico and Latin America. He now oversees a team of 500 at an independent luxury boutique property that is affiliated with a hotel chain for its reservation system (“a soft brand”) and hosts VIP events for government leaders and celebrities from around the world. As a Hispanic American, he is active in local organizations and non-profits and has his hotel team engaged in community work addressing the migrant crisis on the border and takes pride in helping his associates become bilingual quickly and give back.
Winning Back Talent
Johnson believes that corporate teams, especially in human resources and branding, should focus more on training and development and less on talent marketing and public relations. “If there is one thing, I could change to help our industry, it’s not more human resources-related PR or marketing hype. Instead, we need to go back to the fundamentals. We need better
training and learning tools and platforms. I was fortunate to be mentored by some great European hotel General Managers in the good old days. Today, people jump around a lot from place to place every few years for more pay and opportunity. I don’t blame them.
Many owners believe management is a commodity you can outsource to any third-party manager. With all the growth and franchising, there is a lot of lip service, but few brands and real estate owners really invest in people.
These days, my peers spend more time and money replacing furniture and fixtures than developing talent. Companies as big as Marriott outsource all their recruiting below the General Manager level and rely too much on headhunters. Immigration is also a huge bottleneck, and the H2 Visa caps make no sense. That’s why [at the time] we have millions of unfilled jobs in the U.S. hospitality industry.”
Give Employees A Voice
Terrance Fredrick is a Super Mogul (top 1%) director of sales and marketing at the Hyatt Andaz in West Hollywood, California. He started out as an ambitious young bellman who loved serving customers and the energy and pace of working in luxury hotels. Like many of the minority elite talents we discovered, his career path was not institutionally chartered: he found an unlikely mentor who noticed his unique talents. After he inquired about promotion opportunities, he was motivated by a senior sales and marketing leader who told him he couldn’t do the senior leader’s job. This diplomatic “put down” motivated Terrance to seek advancement and get into hospitality sales. Later, once he saw his drive and determination, and passion for hospitality, this same hotel executive became a good mentor of Terrance’s. Terrance is the Director of Sales & Marketing at the Andaz West Hollywood, a Hyatt- managed hotel that is a top-tier market performer in terms of guest satisfaction. He continually brings a can-do attitude and contagious optimism to his work and to the way he leads his team.
Winning Back Talent
Fredrick believes what sets Moguls apart – and is essential for the industry to win back talent
– is an inclusive leadership style that treats every employee as a human capital asset. “I want to create a safe space for everyone. Maybe we’ve all been in those positions where you didn’t have a voice.
So how does it feel if we’re leaders and we give people voices, and that we actually give people the ability to think on their own and do their own thing? How much further, could we have been in our careers if we’d had that opportunity earlier in our [journey]?”
A Path to GM is Not Always Visible
Tanya Smith (her name and identity have been changed per her request) is a Super Mogul (top 1%) director of rooms at a full-service hotel in New York City. She is college educated, bilingual, AHLA GM certified, and she’s spent the past eight years working in hotel operations for four different properties in New York City. Tanya began her career as a front desk agent and was promoted to rooms director at one of the major third management companies where she manages a team of 25.
Her goal is to move up to General Manager of a full-service hotel in a major city. Tanya’s ultimate dream is to one day oversee a portfolio of lifestyle and luxury hotels. As a single mother and a minority, she is also struggling with the costs of living in New York City and is open to relocation ideally with an operator that has a track record in promoting minorities to General Manager. She has relatively low visibility on social media and has yet to be discovered by recruiters.
Winning Back Talent
Smith is concerned that her current employer offers little room for career advancement, especially for minority women, due to its leadership and the power of the union, which places
preferences on longer-tenured employees. “I love working in hotels but feel like I’m at a dead end. My General Manager values loyalty and runs a tight ship focused on hitting the numbers and meeting the owners’ budgets. Our human resources director is focused on administration. I don’t want to jeopardize my current role by looking for another job, yet my employer hasn’t built a path for me to move up to Assistant GM or GM which is what I really want. Our internal job board is risky since all my peers and my employees could possibly see that I’m looking for a new job and that wouldn’t be good.
I’ve tried the external job boards and it’s hard to stand out while maintaining my privacy. I wish there was a better way.
I’d prefer to work in an organization that really gets that hospitality is about people. I need a way to share my job skills and background with hotel hiring managers so they can learn about me, and I can research the opportunities.”
Change Starts with Better Compensation for Housekeepers
Monica Rodriguez (her name and identity have been changed per her request) is a Super Mogul (top 1%) director of housekeeping at a full-service branded hotel operated by a third- party management company in Miami, Florida. Her family immigrated from Cuba three decades ago, and she grew up in South Florida. She manages a large team of housekeepers, where most are first-generation immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America. Many of her team members are single mothers who support their households and work multiple jobs, relying on their hotel employment for healthcare and medical benefits.
Winning Back Talent
Rodriquez believes compensation is the root cause of the industry’s labor shortage. “If there was one thing that I’d change to make our industry better, it’d be more pay and recognition. Why can’t our housekeeping staff be paid more, including a bonus if the hotel meets its budget? Also, due to the labor shortage, our staff are working even harder in housekeeping,
cleaning more rooms in less time. Before the pandemic, customers rarely commented unless they saw an imperfection or a mistake. Guests are angry at the service cutbacks, and it takes longer to clean their rooms if they opt out of daily housekeeping.
Guests don’t know who we are, and they seldom leave tips because there are no apps or tools for them to do so. Today, with our housekeepers doing 30% more work for only 10% more pay, we have the largest number of job openings and the highest level of turnover that I’ve ever seen.
It’s increasingly harder to attract people to work in hotels as housekeepers – they’d prefer to drive Uber, or clean vacation rentals or luxury homes. We need a new approach and that starts with recognition and higher pay.”
Social Impact is How We Win the Talent War
Ann Kaplan (her name and identity have been changed per her request) is the Super Mogul (Top 15) GM of a branded full-service in New Orleans, Louisiana. She grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and started her career in Food & Beverage during her college years. After working as a server, restaurant supervisor, and manager, she worked for 7 years in room director roles before becoming an assistant GM and eventually being appointed a hotel General Manager. She has known for her social impact-related initiatives and for her work housing and feeding locals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Winning Back Talent
Kaplan prizes diversity and inclusion and believes it results in better service. “Every general manager will tell you that bringing people together from different walks of life, countries, ages, and different languages is very empowering and it brings the hotel to life. The more diverse our workforce is, the better it serves our guests.”
She believes the ultimate solution to the labor shortage and loss of talent to other industries is
for GMs to hire people dedicated to community impact. “A key aspect of this business is giving back to the community like providing internships to inner city youths or providing shelter to people impacted by natural disasters.
The hotel is the heart of the community. How many other industries can claim this? If I could change one thing in the hospitality business, it’s to create a director-level role focused on local community social impact.
Purpose attracts talent. We need people from outside the industry to bring in their innovative ideas on how we can make a local impact, which in turn will attract younger generations of talent that are purpose-driven.”
We Need a Talent Marketplace is Break the Glass Ceiling
Tanya Navarro (her name and identity have been changed per her request) is a Super Mogul (top 1%) Rooms Director at a full-service hotel property in New York City, NY. She’s spent the last 12 years working for four different hotels in the Tri-state region. She started as a front desk agent and was eventually promoted to front office manager and subsequently Rooms Director at a branded full-service union hotel in Times Square, Manhattan.
Navarro oversees a team of 50 including the front desk, guest relations, housekeepers, and event sales & marketing. Tanya is a bi-racial mother of two and lives in a rent-controlled two-bedroom walkup apartment in Brooklyn. Tanya says it’s hard making ends meet, and with the pressures of her job, she doesn’t always get to spend as much time with her kids as she’d like.
Winning Back Talent
Her next goal is to be the GM of a luxury hotel in a major city on the East coast. She’s been taking online courses and has completed certificates in revenue management and marketing in hopes that this will show the leaders at her employer, a 3rd party management company, that she’s serious about wanting to advance her career.
“I have reached a glass ceiling at my employer. We have high turnover in our teams and the powerful real estate owner calls the shots. My employer, a third-party operator, is always scrambling to meet the monthly budget and doesn’t invest much in training. Many of us would be willing to stay if we saw a path forward and we knew the time we’ve already spent at the property would be appreciated. We rarely see anyone from the hotel brand on the property and it feels like they compete with us because they operate their own hotels in the city and don’t share talent or opportunities.
As a minority woman, Navarro recognizes she is an outsider who must carefully calibrate her tactics with respect to career advancement and mobility. “The management company I work for has a portfolio of almost 100 hotels but it’s an ‘old boys’ network’ and is very hierarchical. During my last performance review, they told me I must serve at least another five years including rotations in several other departments before entering their program to become a Full-Service Hotel General Manager. But I think I’m ready now and I’m looking for someone to take a chance on me. I have not found much success on job boards. The job posts are asking for someone who is already doing the job and privacy is a big problem. It’s not possible for me to stick my head up and market my talents broadly in New York because everyone talks. If my boss knows I am actively looking, the consequences are generally negative, and a bad reference is career suicide. I’ve had to pay for upskilling with my own money and I’ve been networking with headhunters but that’s not much help.”
Food & Beverage is a hotbed for talent
Josh Stevens (his name and identity have been changed to respect his privacy) is a Super Mogul (top 1%) Food & Beverage Director at a branded luxury property in Austin, Texas. He started in the kitchen, worked his way up to Assistant Restaurant Manager, then became Food & Beverage Director where his responsibilities include the fine dining restaurant, lobby lounge bar, in-room dining, minibar, pool café, and special events. His new build
luxury hotel, the flagship of its brand, has become a destination hotspot due to the post- pandemic resurgence of festivals, conferences, and events, but he is struggling to fill job openings, especially in culinary roles, year-round.
Winning Back Talent
Stevens believes that while it’s not the most profitable department, food and beverage is what truly sets high-end hotels apart and that its talent acquisition should be the top priority. “I got into F&B because I love the art of cooking and creating food experiences. For every occasion or event, food is the centerpiece of the experience. The worst part of my job is when I can’t find enough good workers to make the food and beverage happen with excellence. A number of new hotels have opened here and when a big conference comes to
town, we’re all looking for workers. I’ve tried to hire and train within our existing staff, and I’ve tried recruiting from nearby restaurants but it’s difficult when our customers’ expectations for food quality, innovation, and presentation are so much higher. I know there are international talents, especially in Europe and Latin America that could be a good fit, but I need an easier way to find them.
I wish there was a better way to get access to fresh culinary talent outside the U.S. that wants to work in a high-end hotel and make a name for themselves. It’s an extraordinary opportunity.”