|The biggest challenge of running the 1,908-room Hilton San Francisco Union Square is managing the property’s people and personalities, said GM Michael Dunne.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—By his own admission, Mark Sanders finds it difficult to talk about running the Sheraton New York without sounding hokey. The hotel, which features 1,780 rooms, 59,000 square feet of meeting space and a separate upscale Executive Conference Center, is a stunning feat of operational efficiency supported by high-tech systems and platforms and engineering.
And yet Sanders, who serves as GM, says the single most important component of operating a hotel with more than 1,000 rooms is the people.
“The biggest key is surrounding yourself with talented people,” he said. “It sounds like such a hokey or cliché way to put it, but you need to have great people working with you to work at large properties.
“You can’t do everything yourself. It’s too large. It’s too big. It’s too fast.”
Many hotels with more than a thousand rooms are similar in this respect. There are 162 of them in the United States, according to STR, parent company of HotelNewsNow.com. The largest, the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, tops out at 6,198 rooms. An additional five in Sin City have more than 4,000 rooms.
But while they vary in size and style, each 1,000-plus-room behemoth requires a seasoned, confident leader at the helm—but that doesn’t mean he or she has to be the most knowledgeable in a given discipline or area of expertise.
“I don’t need to be the expert in everything, but I need to be versed and certainly participate and contribute where appropriate,” Sanders said.
More important are these leaders’ ability to identify talent, assemble the best teams and find a way to connect with each and every associate, said Sanders, who spent 15 years in the industry working within HR.
“You have a bigger team. It’s how the business mix works in the hotel. And then you make sure you tally your team to meet those needs,” said Michael Dunne, GM of the 1,908-room Hilton San Francisco Union Square in California.
GM of the Hilton San Francisco Union Square
“Granted, communication is easier at a smaller property because you can touch the hotel staff literally in a day. And with a 1,900-room hotel, we cover a thousand employees,” he added.
Dunne welcomes the challenge. He spends a few hours every day walking the property, spending time with his associates and checking in with guests.
Sanders does the same thing, arriving at the property each day around 6 a.m. to touch base with the overnight staff before they clock out and to welcome the day shift as they clock in.
“I’ve learned over the years that the personal interactions are important. It’s amazing how many people you get to know in a short amount of time,” he said about working at The Sheraton New York, which employs approximately 1,300.
Both GMs also attend meetings—lots of them—to stay abreast of each and every staff’s struggles and successes. “We do a pre-shift meeting in every department, so you try and attend as many of those as possible,” Dunne said.
Revenue managers meet once a week to talk strategy. The sales team meets several times a week to discuss future business. There are meetings with housekeeping, engineering, the front desk and more.
Hitting quarterly goals and increasing productivity along the way is fairly easy, Sanders said.
“We do our traditional labor and productivity reviews. We critique the week that was on Mondays, and we go ahead and forecast and project what’s coming up for labor and productivity schedules. We track that by groups and positions here in the hotel,” he said. Most of those processes were put in place by leaders in the 50 years before Sanders came on board. His role now is to keep a firm hand on the rudder and maintain margins.
The bigger challenge, he said, is “managing the different personalities,” as well as managing “the different work ethics” among teams and staffs, Sanders said.
“It’s different generations, different walks of life. … You’ve got a real slice of life where people are global that work for us, people are global that stay here. Age ranges—you run the gamut.”
“It’s just appreciating the different perspectives of everybody you work with and for,” he continued. “What is the ‘crisis du jour’ for the housekeepers is different than what’s going on in the kitchen. The person in engineering is working hard and their crisis of the day is different than what’s going on in sales or revenue management.
“It’s really a city within a city.”