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New AH&LA chair focuses on education
December 6 2012

If there is one thread that weaves its way through Ron Vlasic’s roles as a Kimpton VP and newly appointed chair of the AH&LA, it’s education.

  • Ron Vlasic was inaugurated as chair of the AH&LA on 11 November.
  • The Kimpton VP is heavily involved in the company’s mentoring and training initiatives.
  • The AH&LA’s No. 1 priority is to serve as a strong voice driving legislation on Capitol Hill, Vlasic said.
By Patrick Mayock

NEW YORK—If Ron Vlasic could go back in time and bestow one nugget of wisdom to his 20-something self, it would be to be leverage the power of networking with senior executives.

“I didn’t realize that at first,” said the regional VP for Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC and newly appointed chair of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. The same is true for most millennials he’s observed. Though ambitious and thirsting for knowledge, this group can at times be passive in their interactions, sitting back and waiting for opportunities instead of going out and getting them.

That’s why Vlasic has invested himself in Kimpton’s mentoring program and urges fellow executives to do the same.

Ron Vlasic
Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC

“The millennials are there and willing to step in if you give them the opportunity,” he said.

The program matches the hotel operator’s young associates with its more experienced senior leaders. The goal is twofold: 1) to provide career enrichment to employees and 2) to help executives identify Kimpton’s most promising talent. 

Such mentoring also has helped some executives bridge the generation gap and buck prejudices about what some have called an entitled or incapable younger demographic.

In most cases, Vlasic said, such stereotypes are simply a result of inexperience.

“You were that green once before,” he tells fellow executives.

Constant educational
The educational component is further enhanced through the company’s Kimpton University, Vlasic said.

“We take our new manager trainees, put them into that classroom and teach them the fundaments of (profit-and-loss statement) reading or how to design a banquet marketing plan or customer service,” he said. “It’s pretty extensive. We teach them all those fundamentals on how we look at it and how they should be applying those tools to their job.”

But while the program provides the tools, Kimpton gives an incredible amount of leeway in their application, Vlasic said.

“We give (new managers) the freedom to develop and grow into their role,” he said. “… We’re really a hands-off operation.”

The risk of giving such a long leash has been well worth the rewards, Vlasic said.

“It’s a huge risk, and historically those risks have paid off in great rewards. By playing a bit more passive role by the senior leadership in terms of telling them what to do and allow those new managers in training to find their way, they learn rather quickly the ins and outs of the business,” he said.

Each manager’s individuality and creativity is also enhanced, which informs the unique character of the boutique brand’s more than 50 hotels throughout the United States.

And perhaps most importantly, it encourages high retention rates—eight years on average, Vlasic said. “We have extremely low turnover in the company.”

Continuing the agenda
In addition to serving as a driving force in Kimpton’s education and training initiatives, Vlasic is lending his leadership as chair of the AH&LA.

“Our industry moves fast and customer demands are constantly evolving, so it's crucial that we, as an association, stay on top of developing trends.  As chair, I will ensure the programs and initiatives provided by the association are what you, our members, want and need. You have spoken, and we have listened and are working on a strategy to take action and move forward,” he told an audience of top hotel executives during the AH&LA’s Inaugural Gala held at the Plaza Hotel in New York on 11 November.

A day later, while speaking casually at the rooftop bar of the Dream Downtown, Vlasic said his No. 1 priority as chair will be to continue the association’s position as the primary advocacy group for the hotel industry in the U.S.

“We have to be the strongest voice on (Capitol) Hill,” he said.

And again, those efforts include a fair amount of education.

“The most important thing is the continual education of the legislatures on the importance of tourism in the United States,” he said. “They often think of it as people on a vacation, but what it really affects is thousands of jobs, quite often in many states. And in many states it’s either No. 1 or No. 2 employer within that community.”

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