Michel Gehrig, VP of talent development for Kempinski hotels gives a Career Day presentation.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series exploring the evolution of the GM role within the hotel industry. For part two, see “Keys to profitability lie with the GM.”
GLOBAL REPORT—Possessing one of the most visible and integral roles in a hotel, a general manager can hone a hotel’s image as quickly as he can ruin it.
The job itself requires personality, efficiency, organization and leadership—but many say finding the whole package is as challenging as ever. To encourage employees to seek out this management role, companies are recruiting and training from within to create GMs that privilege loyalty and hard work as much as they do the bottom line.
“We do as much promotion from within as we can,” said Joe Smith of Greenbelt, Maryland-based Chesapeake Hospitality. Smith said the company still gets “hundreds of résumés each year of people anxious to take on the GM challenges.”
“Even within our own company, people are clamoring to reach that position. It has a lot of gravitas,” he said.
The best GMs and the easiest ones to promote “are the ones we grow in our backyard,” Senior VP of Operations Mark Van Amerongen explained about Dallas-based Prism Hotels & Resorts’ hiring strategy. Prism has 50 hotels in its portfolio that range from large resorts to small boutiques and from independent operators to brands including Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.
GMs, he said, “are the most important people in the company. I am less important in this organization than the GM in our hotels.”
Where to look
The executive team at Prism meets every Friday to discuss recruitment for any potential positions and identify their ‘A’ players that show management potential.
“One of the most important things we embody is that we always recruit,” Van Amerongen said. Vetted employees are then able to participate in the management certification program—a 90-day course that sharpens dormant skills and educates about policies and procedures.
That, however, is merely one facet in the company’s recruitment strategy. One of the best places to find a good GM, he said, is at other hotels. “We’re looking for the next superstar that someone has trained for us,” he said.
Besides headhunters, job websites and social media outlets like LinkedIn, Smith said Chesapeake has a “roving GM position” that is used in its 21 properties as a stepping stone for employees interested in becoming GMs. The position, usually one that lasts 90 days, develops the skills of aspiring GMs as they take the reins on certain project management positions.
Three years ago, Kempinski Hotels’ executive team decided to hold global Career Days that span from Munich to China and the United Arab Emirates to investigate a different approach to finding talent.
“What we said we wanted to do was not to attract GMs but actually the talent that hopefully becomes GMs with Kempinski,” said Michel Gehrig, VP of talent development for the Switzerland-based hotel company.
The company is seeking 12,000 additional employees—35 of which will be GMs, and Career Days help Gehrig and his corporate team identify those passionate and ambitious job seekers. From there, the talent is trained in a “truly amazing in-house training department,” which offers precise training plans, he said. “We push you and give you the opportunity to understand how to work housekeeping, front of house, etc. We cultivate this career path for you—we’re able to come very close to personalizing it for you.”
What to look for
First and foremost, it’s a people business, said Smith.
In today’s market, GMs have to “have tenacity,” he said. “You have to move beyond issues and problems. You have to be able to solve them and do it quickly. Whether it’s a guest service issue or a sales issue, you have to solve the problem.”
Most importantly, a GM can’t sit in an office all day, alienating themselves from the guests and staff. “They have to command respect, yet at the same time, respect all the team members at our property,” said Ash Patel, president and CEO of Mesa, Arizona-based Southwest Hospitality Management, which has 10 properties, nine of which the company manages.
Patel admits, however, that he does it find it challenging to source GMs in tertiary areas.
“Though we pay above-market wages, it’s difficult to find a GM” for rural markets, he said.
People have their niche, explained Matt Barba, regional director of operations at Charlestowne Hotels Hospitality & Property Management Services. With 33 properties ranging from branded to upscale boutiques, the Mount Pleasant, South Carolina-based company seeks GMs of all different background.
Charlestowne Hotels Hospitality & Property Management Services
There’s a “community of people” where economy and midscale branded hotels are in “their wheelhouse,” he said. “They like the structure of a brand or a franchise and that everything is dictated as to how it’s going to be.
“There are enough people out there in that sort of community that are happy to do that and don’t have aspirations with what’s involved with upper-end first-tier city hotels,” Barba said.
But there are people that eventually segue to the upper-scale hotels. “It’s a means to an end to pivot and get placed at a property in between so they can prove themselves,” he said.
And sometimes it’s all about mobility.
Finding a GM willing to relocate is the No. 1 most pressing challenge for Van Amerongen and his company. When he first started, he moved to 12 different cities to find a GM job, but that is a thing of the past with the next generation of GMs.
“We’re not finding that,” he said.
However, mobility is a job requirement at Kempinski, Gehrig said. The company has 75 properties in more than 30 countries with plans to double the portfolio by 2015, and “we need to make sure our GMs are driven by the fact that they understand there is two to three years opportunity” at a property before they move on, he said.
Making a GM happy
“It’s is harder to find a GM in today’s world,” Van Amerongen admits. “There are a lot of people that really enjoy being discipline-specific or being a specialist.”
But the GM doesn’t have the luxury of a 9-to-5 job.
“The GM gets called at 2 a.m. when there’s no hot water in the hotel. It has to be someone who really enjoys juggling many things and taking on the ultimate responsibility,” he said.
To ensure that their GMs aren’t discouraged by the 24-hour job, Prism offers an “aggressive base salary” and “partners with owners for an aggressive bonus program,” as well.
“We want to recruit and retain the most hungry and aggressive folks out there,” he said. “If our owners are making money, they’ll be happier. If we can share part of that with our GM, we all win.”