GM innovates operations to inspire staff
15 JANUARY 2016 7:11 AM
Tommie Van has had an illustrious career with Marriott International, and one thing he’s always focused on during his 25-year career is the people. That includes his staff.
CHICAGO—Midnight houseman. Catering services manager. Director of room operations. Front office manager. Director of operations. General manager.
Tommie Van has done it all during his 25-year career with Marriott International.
“One thing I’ve never forgotten is where I come from,” said Van, GM of The Residence Inn Chicago Downtown/Loop, which celebrated its grand opening in early November. “I think that gives me the opportunity to relate to every situation or circumstance (my staff) comes across, and they tend to like that.”
When Van transitioned into his new position as GM of the largest Residence Inn by Marriott hotel, he had aspirations to do everything at the property level “a little differently.”
“I thought with opening this hotel, I could start fresh and include all the things I wanted to incorporate into this hotel to really have it stand out and become the benchmark for all Residence Inn hotels,” Van said.
The first thing that came to mind? How Van selected his team for the 380-room, 100-year-old property.
On choosing his team
In Van’s housekeeping department, 98% of the team he hired had never cleaned rooms.
“That was done on purpose because we were rolling out a cartless program and other things that would have garnered pushback from some of the seasoned housekeepers,” Van said.
The cartless program allows housekeepers to carry a bag that looks like a piece of luggage, he said.
“I wanted to keep a clean and crisp facility,” Van said about the purpose of such a program. “I thought that I could eliminate the scratches on the walls, customers having to walk around the cart, etc.”
Hiring a housekeeping team with almost zero experience cleaning rooms allowed Van to properly implement processes that have materialized to overall higher guest satisfaction scores.
“As a result of some of the new processes, we’re probably in the top 40 of 680 (Residence Inn) hotels as it relates to cleanliness in rooms,” Van said, adding that the property’s overall guest satisfaction score with cleanliness sits at 84.6.
On the front office side, Van also did something different. He brought with him eight employees from his previous hotel, the Chicago Marriott Suites O’Hare, where he also held the position of GM.
“I didn’t know they would follow me,” he said. “I was fortunate that my prior team felt they wanted to work with me again.”
In most instances, GMs are handed a brand new front-desk team when they open a hotel, Van said. But having a seasoned team at the heart of the hotel was beneficial in helping the property have the “best hotel opening ever,” he said.
“Right now, we’re sitting at an overall satisfaction of 75.2, which is No. 3 in the Western division” of Residence Inn hotels, Van said.
During Van’s 25-year career, there was a common thread tying his advancements together: his ability to connect with people.
While holding a job as the catering services manager in training at a Marriott-branded property in St. Louis, a manager approached him with an opportunity.
At that time, Van had been asked to spearhead a new team for the property in the position of banquet manager. This meant he would handle food services in addition to overseeing a team of 60 (his previous team had 12 members).
“That was an eye opener,” Van said.
He went to his boss at the time and mentioned his reservations with not having any knowledge on the food-and-beverage sector.
Van’s boss replied, “I can teach you all about the food sector, but I can’t teach you how to treat people. That’s something you inherit, and you’ve inherited it. That’s something we want as part of our team.”
And the rest is history.