Working for a Harvard MBA - The Effects of Asset Management on Our Ability to Attract and Retain Talent
By Frank Speranza President, Hospitality Talent Scouts Executive Search | March 15, 2015
The landscape of the Hospitality business has changed drastically in especially the past 15 years. We have shifted from "gracious hospitality" as a means to increase profitability to "analytics and metrics." It is simply not the same business that it was back in "the good old days." Some of the change was needed to raise the bar of our industry to a level of sophistication that it lacked, but some of it has just gone too far, forgetting what the hallmarks of Hospitality are all about. That is, people make the difference, and having the best people on your team is how you compete and are successful in this business. Human Resources professionals and Operators are caught in the middle and are pulling out their hair in a Catch 22 situation. How do we find the middle ground today that allows us to attract and retain the best talent and still meet the Harvard MBA/Asset Management expectations?
As I continue to tell people, I really have a very unique seat in our industry at this point in my career, and I truly love the perspective it affords me. Since I'm constantly interacting with leaders from all levels of the organization chart, from Chief Operating Officers to Front Line Property-Based Managers, from luxury hotels to select service, from big boxes to small boutiques, from branded to independents, I have the opportunity to really learn a lot and gain a wide perspective on what is really going on out there in the industry. I'm like a juror sitting in the jury box listening to eye witness testimony all day long and, again, from all levels of leaders in the organizations. After you hear the same things over and over, you know there has to be truth to it. But I have to tell you, there is a lot of new testimony that is getting louder and louder as I speak with folks and listen from the jury box.
It used to be that one of the biggest frustrations that Operators and Human Resource professionals had, and what I heard in the jury box, had to deal with ownership groups that had no experience in the Hospitality industry. We've all heard it: "You know what my whacky owner wants to do now!" "They know nothing about the hotel business." "I can't believe them." And oh, the many stories we all have to back up some of those statements. I wish I had 10 cents on the dollar for the value of every hotel that went back to the banks during the Gulf War/Savings and Loan Crisis and then again in the 2008 market crash. Not all of this was from owners who did not have a clue what they were doing, but there certainly was plenty of this that contributed. While you still hear this type of thing, there is a new complaint from Operators & HR professionals that is getting louder and louder on the streets of Hospitality. The testimony? It sounds like something like this: "We're not in the Hospitality business any more; we're all working for a bunch of Harvard MBAs, and it's all about the numbers." Is this true? Well, I don't think I'm going to burst anyone's bubble when I say that in business, it is all about the numbers. Another amusing part is how many calls I get from Operations folks who want to get into asset management. I guess the theory is if you can't beat them, you may as well join them. Anyone in a senior Hospitality position knows what I'm saying is absolutely true! Some of you reading this may have even called me about this!
Okay, before I tick off every Asset Manager and Owner that pays my salary, I'd better give some equal time to the other end of this spectrum. Let me tick off the Operators & HR professionals that pay my salary as well. If I keep this up, I'll be out of business! So I'll call out to you Operators and HR professionals and say, hey did we really learn nothing from the arrivals of the Harvard MBA Asset Manager on the scene? I mean, do we really think we can defend our position that we really had our Operations and HR practices that bolted down? Has not the Harvard MBA Asset Manager challenged us to really look through the granular data, and are we not better Operators & HR professionals today as a result of this new trend? Let's face it, it's not like we have been the most progressive industry on the planet. Think about it. We were the slowest to embrace technology-the airlines made us look like a bunch of amateurs when it came to revenue management. I would contend that it has not been until the last five years that we have actually gained some real ground in this arena. We let the tail wag the dog with the third parties that showed up in the dot.com era, and I could go on and on.
But I'll tell you where we really excelled and where we were always the envy of other industries. That is in Hospitality! What other industry does everyone come after to improve their customer service? You got it, Hospitality. My company has many non-Hospitality clients come to us paying top dollar to get Hospitality professionals to leave the business and join their industries. This is our competitive edge; this is our mojo as an industry. But I contend that many organizations are risking their competitive edge by letting young, inexperienced Asset Managers with no real-time experience in the business push the envelope too hard. Many have been given way too much power.
I think as an industry we are taking to many shortcuts, and in the long haul, I believe it's seriously going to come back and bite us.
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