Katie Baldassaro, GM of the SpringHill Suites Pittsburgh Bakery Square, discovered a knack for hospitality that led her to a management position where she empowers others to do the same.
PITTSBURGH—Katie Baldassaro got her start in the hotel industry “by accident,” but what began as a business that wasn’t really on her radar became a cornerstone of her professional career.
The GM of the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Pittsburgh Bakery Square recalled the fateful visit to a Fairfield by Marriott* in Cranberry Township, which is north of Pittsburgh. At the time she needed a new job after a salon she was running planned to move locations.
“I just happened to walk into a (Fairfield by Marriott), and had no intentions, never thought about the hotel business,” Baldassaro said. “There happened to be somebody behind the desk that I knew from high school who was there on summer break, and she grabbed my application and took it right back to the (GM), and that’s how I started. I was on the front desk and I absolutely loved it from day one.”
Since then, Baldassaro’s career path has stretched nearly 27 years, including the last 10 with Concord Hospitality. She pointed to her early years in the industry as very formative in her career development.
“I had a really good GM and really good assistant manager, who just saw that I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I’d come in on days off, help strip rooms, (and ask) ‘How can I learn this, how can I learn that?’ I just really wanted to learn everything and how it all connected to one. So certain days they would schedule me for even maintenance—I learned to go on the roof, fix a couple things up there with the maintenance chief. That kind of set me on my path.”
Now, as a GM herself inspiring and developing her employees at the 110-room SpringHill Suites by Marriott Pittsburgh Bakery Square, Baldassaro said her management style mixes both staff empowerment and a hands-on approach.
“My biggest thing is I don’t like to micromanage and I don’t like to hover, I want to be able to trust,” she said. “As long as you train them and you can trust them, and give them the empowerment tools they need, they feel better about themselves and it gives the guests a better experience.”
But Baldassaro added she stays active with the day-to-day of the hotel.
“No matter what’s needed, especially in a select-service hotel like a SpringHill Suites, if something’s going on, then I’m going to want to be a part of it,” she said. “Whether it’s we’re shorthanded somewhere; if I can’t find someone to do it, I’m covering it. That’s just the way it has to be, you definitely get your hands dirty. I wouldn’t have it any other way, I like it.
“To me that’s probably one of the biggest attractions once I did get involved in the hospitality industry, is that it’s different every day. I might have an office, but I’m really not in it, and I really like the fact that you’re constantly being challenged every day.”
Evolving guest service
Baldassaro made a point that the recently-renovated hotel gives guests more than what they expect from a stay, as guest service is key. Each morning a hot breakfast served in the lobby draws guests in, while at night the bar transforms the lobby into a social gathering place. And instead of maintaining its own fitness center, the hotel gives guests passes to an adjoining gym.
When asked about the biggest change she’s observed during her hotel career, Baldassaro said interactions with guests aren’t as frequent or as personal as they used to be before the internet, email and cellphones changed travel in numerous ways.
“I think the biggest thing is there’s not as much face time anymore,” she said. “There is to a certain extent when you have that small window when they’re checking (in) and checking out, or need something in their rooms. Everything now is web-based, everything is email; people can email you before you get there, they can do a mobile request before they get there, they can mobile check in before they come in, which makes check in quicker and smoother.”
In her first years working in a hotel, Baldassaro said she got to know guests a lot better.
“Before, when people checked in, you would end up knowing their kids, their kids’ birthdays, all those things,” she said. “Now people are going in their rooms, they’re getting on email, they’re checking their voicemail, they’re skyping, things like that where they can connect to their homes more, and with businesses, where before they didn’t have that so they’d have to come to the lobby. … Now our phone doesn’t ring for people; we used to have to take messages for guests in rooms. Now everybody has a cell phone.”
But the positive is that traveling has become much more “streamlined,” she added.
“I don’t know how we’d be able to keep up with that in today’s world though when I think about it, because everything has gotten so much faster,” Baldassaro said.
*Correction, 5 November 2018: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Fairfield by Marriott brand.
Editor’s note: SpringHill Suites by Marriott paid for meals and two nights of accommodations. Complete editorial control was at the discretion of the Hotel News Now editorial team; SpringHill Suites had no influence on the coverage provided.