What are they
Area Vice President, Northeast Luxury Brands, Marriott International
What were your early years like?
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. My parents were entrepreneurial, always working in small businesses. And, my father spent his Army years in Japan, so we often talked about the importance of seeing the world.
When I was 15 years old, I started my own lawn-mowing company with a very good friend — and, actually, that company is still around today, though I’m no longer a part of it. Then after college, I took a job in customer service with Motorola. At the time, it was the biggest international company in the Chicago area, so I thought maybe it would lead to an opportunity overseas. In about a year, I got my wish and the company transferred me to China.
How was working in another country?
It was an awesome experience. When I got there, I worked on a project with consultants — and that was my introduction to consulting, initially from the client side. I liked that consultants were solving problems that really mattered to business leaders, and that they worked on such a wide variety of challenges. My early exposure to consulting is what inspired me to earn my master’s degree at Kellogg School of Management.
What drew you to Strategy&?
The people I met and the fact that I could be a generalist. First, I worked in the automotive and industrial practice, based in Chicago. Then I moved over to retail financial services, based in New York. But what kept me at the firm for eight years? My work evolved consistently, I had the opportunity to work with really cool clients, and I had mentors who helped me grow.
Why did you move on to Starwood Hotels and Resorts?
I was asked to rebuild and run Starwood’s internal strategy function, which was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. As part of my role, I was tasked with bringing new non-hospitality talent into the company, and of course, I hired a bunch of former consultants.
What do you look for when you hire?
I look for people who can adapt and who can become leaders. How will you deal with your boss, and how will people deal with you as a boss? It’s not strictly about previous experience. For example, as a consultant, I had gone to work with a produce distributor when I knew nothing about produce distribution. I went to work in Detroit when I knew almost nothing about auto parts. Then I went to run a bunch of hotels even though I had never worked in a hotel before.
How has your role with Marriott evolved over the past eight years?
What I think I’ve been able to do, with some good luck and some planning, is get experience at the corporate level of how to run a hotel company — the brand, the loyalty programs, and the systems — and also at the ground level of how to run a hotel. That’s a good set of [knowledge] to have.
After I had done internal strategy work for about a year, our CEO asked me to lead a three-year global digital initiative on improving the level of personalization in our guest experience — from when you book a room to your actual stay to when you leave. That meant improving our content capabilities, so what you see online is more tailored to you because you like beaches, for example, as well as digital innovations like a keyless app on your phone that opens your hotel door. It was a fantastic opportunity to understand the business of running a hotel company. But after that, I wanted to understand what was happening on the ground.
In 2014, I moved into an operating role, running all our hotels in New York and New Jersey: the Sheraton, the Westin, the St. Regis, and the W. Then we joined Marriott in 2017, and now I run our luxury brand hotels from Boston all the way to Charlotte: the Ritz-Carlton, the EDITION brand, the St. Regis, and the W. I have about 20 hotels across the East Coast.
What does the future look like for hotels?
Increasingly, hotels will offer even greater personalization to their customers, particularly those who participate in loyalty programs. More data means more customized experiences. I also think we’ll see traditional hotels competing with industry startups in the home-sharing space. For example, we recently launched the Tribute Portfolio Homes in London, which has had a promising start.
Any lasting lessons from Strategy&?
How to figure things out. How to gather and analyze data. How to communicate clearly. The power of observation and doing things firsthand, particularly in my type of role, has been critical throughout my career.
How so? What’s your leadership style?
People say I’m a good listener. I value my team and I try to give them autonomy. I tend to spend a lot of time making sure that I have the right players and setting clear goals. Then I let the team figure out how to achieve them. But I’m relentless about working hard and continuing to improve the guest experience. As Mr. Marriott, the chairman of our company, says: “Success is not final.” I think that’s a great motto.
I think it’s also very important to be empathetic and realize that people have lives beyond work. Oftentimes, that’s the most important stuff. Everyone doesn’t have to be best friends, but you have to be mindful if someone has an ill parent or a new child.
What are some of your personal passions outside the office?
I love travel and photography. I’ve trekked in a lot of places, all over the world. And once our children are older (they’re 6 and 4 now), I can’t wait to take them on a trek of the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal — an itinerary that I did many moons ago. I also love comedy. Not performing it, but being a part of the audience.
How would people describe you in a few words?
Thoughtful. Creative. Passionate. Rigorous. I like to get things done. I definitely get excited about new, creative, innovative ways to solve problems and make a difference.
What advice can you offer?
Take what you do really well, and turn it into a superhero-level strength. In other words, what are you going to be famous for? How do you want people to think of you? Focus on that.
This interview was conducted and edited by Jen Swetzoff, founder of Closeup, a content strategy and creative studio. She was formerly the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.