NEW YORK—Zack Zahran is the consummate people person.
Ask the GM of the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel his favorite part of the job, and his answer is “people.” He loves the interaction, the warm welcomes and smiles. He loves making friends with new guests and catching up on years-long relationships with the old.
But with that love of people comes a deeper understanding of their needs, wants and the challenges that lie therein. It’s no wonder this GM gives nearly the same answer when asked what is the most difficult part of the job.
“Managing people is not an easy thing,” he said during a recent interview at his office in the luxury property located on Central Park South in New York.
Zahran, born in Egypt and having bounced his way from one high-end hotel to another before landing at the Helmsley, is speaking generally here. He at once means the management of the various departments and associates who keep the 46-floor hotel running as he does the management of each and every guests’ preferences to keep them coming back.
He has systems in place for each, of course. For his own staff, it’s a matter of delegation.
“You have to start with the closest members of your team”—heads of housekeeping and marketing and sales and revenue management and so forth, he said. Each has their individual team goals, which they communicate and manage within their own departments.
Zahran does not isolate himself in an ivory tower, he was careful to point out. On the contrary, he spends much of his day walking the floor, rolling up his sleeves and providing assistance where needed. That’s the best way to ensure things get done correctly.
“You have to be really hands on. … You have to lead by example by showing your assistants … what you do as a (GM) for them to practice that,” he said, speaking in a soft-yet-straightforward tone.
The goal is not to point out what’s wrong, but rather to point out what’s right, Zahran said. When employees execute on their responsibilities, their GM rewards them with praise. It’s that type of positive reinforcement that builds success, he said.
The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel embraces a more traditional, guest-centric approach to luxury.
The other side of the coin is more guest-centric. The Helmsley’s staff is obsessive about managing the expectations of each and every traveler that walks into their lobby, Zahran said.
“Every team is taking notes, thinking about guest, what they would like, preferences, needs, wants,” he said.
Guest A likes floor No. 34? Noted. Guest B likes a firm mattress but softer pillows? Noted. Guest C likes his room set at 75 degrees? Noted.
The smallest details are collected and housed in the property’s customer-relationship-management system to better serve that guest the next time they check-in—a process which keeps many coming back year after year after year, Zahran said.
“People sometimes are amazed of what we can deliver to them,” he said.
That large base of repeat business reaffirms what the hotel and its staff are trying to do—provide excellent service within the context of more traditional luxury, Zahran said. So many new brands or properties have come into New York with a swanky, hip or off-putting twist on the high-end hospitality experience.
The Helmsley takes pride in its old-school approach, Zahran said. The lobbies are awash in marble and polished brass and gold. The rooms feature comfortable, traditional furniture.
“This is a traditional luxury that will never disappear from the market. You will always need that,” he said.
And most importantly, guests will always need a luxurious sense of service.
“The most important part of all of this is the service you’re delivering, of how people perceive you as you come to the hotel,” Zahran said. “With the service our team is providing, that’s really what makes a difference. You can be a trendy hotel and have the best service or you can have the worst service. … but the people who are delivering the service is the most important part of every hotel.”
“I’m proud of the people we have.”