Cheers, Niki! Next?

I read the recent HOTELS coverage of Niki Leondakis’ appointment as CEO of Commune Hotels & Resorts with interest. Ms. Leondakis’ move from Kimpton Hotels and Restaurant Group, where she had served as president and chief operating officer, to Commune, where she will take over as chief executive officer, ties together several areas of interest for me. These include social media best practices and the roles of female executives in hospitality.

I profiled Kimpton’s social media work in a blog post last year.  In speaking with members of Kimpton’s social media team while researching the post, it was clear that Leondakis had fostered a culture that allowed risk-taking and rewarded creativity on social platforms. That spirit has enabled Kimpton to realize significant benefits from its social programs and to engage with its fans in a meaningful way.

In heading to Commune after 20 years at Kimpton, Niki Leondakis joins a hotel group with a portfolio of 46 hotels formed by the union of Thompson Hotels and Joie de Vivre Hospitality. As a judge for HOTELS’ 2012 social media awards, the SoHo Awards, I also gained familiarity with a number of Thompson Hotels’ social programs. Thompson, in fact, would go on to win the 2012 HOTELS Magazine SoHo Award for Best Blog among hotel brands. It will be exciting, then, to see Leondakis’ impact on the social media program for Commune, and for the hotels within the portfolio. She’s clearly a believer in the power of social media and is taking the reins at a new hotel brand with an appetite for the same.

Her impact at Commune and within the hospitality industry will extend beyond social media, of course. In fact, the Niki Leondakis appointment alone already sends a powerful signal. It remains a disturbing fact that women CEOs within the hospitality industry are few and far between. In fact, the number of women serving on the boards of leading hospitality companies, or even in senior positions of operational leadership, are surprisingly low. 

Just days before Niki’s appointment, I was speaking with a respected executive recruiter, Ann Fastiggi, who heads the hospitality practice at Herbert Mines Associates (full disclosure, HMA is a client) in New York. Ann is passionate about this topic, believing that high-level searches would be even more productive with a broader pool of women in the mix. She has watched women rise within marketing, legal and even finance functions — but less often ascend to the very top posts in the industry. One of the reasons, Ann believes, is that GMs form a key component of the talent pool within hospitality. The industry tends to “reward” successful GMs by moving them frequently to new geographic regions, and women are sometimes less likely than men to accept the trade-offs of this lifestyle. For this reason, among others, there are simply less women with direct operational experience. This is true even after studies continue to indicate that among travel consumers, women make the majority of purchase decisions.

So here’s a toast to Niki Leondakis in her new role. Now, who’s next?