5 traits of success for an independent GM
12 DECEMBER 2014 10:24 AM
They might be nuanced, but significant differences exist between what makes a successful GM of an independent hotel and his or her counterpart in a branded property.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hiring a hotel GM could be the most critical decision an owner makes. The process is even more complicated when looking for the best GM to run an independent hotel, sources said.
“There are a lot of similarities, but there are also some definite nuances to what makes a successful GM of an independent hotel versus a branded property,” said Todd Moreau, executive VP of Pacifica Hotel Company. “In both cases, we’re not looking for a quarterback to simply plug into our system; rather, we want someone who will help design the offense and write the playbook. They need to be driven, enthusiastic, goal-oriented and highly competitive.”
Moreau and other sources listed five traits owners of independent hotels should look for in hiring a GM:
The task of a GM at an independent hotel is to create the property’s story for guests, said Tom Luersen, executive VP of operations for Destination Hotels & Resorts.
“At a branded property, the chain creates the guest expectations, and the guest knows completely what to expect,” he said. “At an independent hotel, those expectations are created on site, so we need someone who can create a guest experience that’s unique to that hotel. It means the GM is someone who walks the talk, who is literally in the lobby and not in the office.”
Moreau of Pacifica said independent GMs must take a step beyond what is expected of a leader at a branded hotel.
“We expect a little more creativity and someone who is going to take a lot of initiative. Instead of simply maintaining those brand standards and living within that box, the GM of an independent hotel must help create that customer experience and the personality of the hotel,” he said. “This includes looking for new opportunities to engage the guest, creating a culture that is unique, authentic and local. We do not want a hotel to fit into a box because we are selling experience over brand amenities, brand services, a brand room and a loyalty program.”
Keith Kefgen, managing director and CEO of executive search firm Aethos Consulting Group, said the best independent GMs are able to work in less-structured environments than what they would find at a chain hotel.
“Just because someone is extremely successful at Marriott doesn’t mean they will be successful at an independent hotel,” he said. “I look for a track record of success in that kind of leadership environment where the support systems aren’t nearly as significant as you would have in a chain.”
Independent GMs often need special skill sets to be successful.
“The independent hotels we operate typically have unique food-and-beverage outlets, so (GMs) need to be F&B centric,” said Rob Winchester, president and COO of Waterford Hotel Group. “Our independents are mainly between 50- and 100-room properties, so our GMs need to wear many hats, and F&B is one of them.”
3. Think like an owner
Calling them the “CEOs of their hotels,” Luersen said independent GMs need to “understand the hotel’s business model from a 360-degree level, meaning the viewpoint of ownership of the hotel as well as the associates and the guests.”
Financial acumen is also important, Kefgen said.
“A GM who is a great host but doesn’t have real strengths in the financial and rate management categories of the business isn’t going to be a general manager for very long,” he said. “They need to know how to maximize the top line to hopefully maximize the bottom line.”
4. Strong sales, marketing and more
GMs of independent hotels also need excellent skills in sales & marketing and, more importantly, pricing and revenue management, Moreau said.
“From a revenue perspective, instead of implementing the brand pricing strategies and fixed-rate structures and brand promotions, they must be an integral part of developing these revenue strategies and initiatives to position the hotel for success,” he said. “The GM must also understand the overall marketing plan of the property and independent brand positioning as well as ultimately execute that unique identity of the property while constantly looking for ways to add to that experience.”
At Destination Hotels, GMs sit in on daily revenue optimization committee meetings, Luersen said.
“In fact, they lead these teams, and they must have a strong sense of the analytics in their markets,” he said. “We also expect them to be engaged with the sales teams on sales calls and other activities. They must be the leader of the business in all aspects.”
5. Community involvement
At Waterford, which operates branded and independent properties, GMs are expected to be involved in community activities to raise their hotel’s awareness and drive business.
“Typically, an independent property doesn’t have all the resources and name recognition that branded hotels do, so the GM must be the one who is thoroughly involved in their communities,” said Judy Moran, VP of human resources at Waterford. “They’ve got to be part of things like the chamber of commerce and be present at any events where there is potential for business.
“They have to have a big personality and be outgoing,” she said. “They must be comfortable meeting people in the community so their name and the name of the hotel gets out into the community and associates want to come work there.”