The hotel business — maybe second to “the oldest profession” in the world — has been around for centuries, and the art (and science) of being an innkeeper has been passed down from generation to generation. For this reason, does it surprise anyone that some of the largest global hotel companies started as family-run businesses?
I’m certainly no stranger to the idea of a family-run conglomerate — not my own — but, as people may have surmised at this point, I’ve grown up in a hotel-business family, both figuratively and literally, and I am now working in another close-knit family operation here at Gansevoort.
My father, Michael, who currently oversees the hotels and casinos division of Hard Rock International, has been a hotel development executive since almost as far back as I can recall, having started working at Hyatt a couple of years after my younger sister, Carey, was born. She is now a sales manager working in the luxury resort space in Arizona. My mother is the academic of the family, despite my dad’s historian-tight knowledge of random facts, so we got lucky and literally learned valuable lessons at home from a neurological researcher.
While it is well known that the Pritzker family of Chicago launched Hyatt Hotels, often having several family members working within the organization at any given time, it is a lesser known fact that, concurrently, two other families were represented within the organization (minimum three members) — Jerry, Barry, Larry and David Lewin; and my father (corporate office), my sister (guest service agent) and myself (restaurant manager).
This digression on family dynamics and learning is not random; in fact, they are intertwined, as we spent some of our formative years within the hallowed halls of Hyatt Development Corp. — one of its former up-and-coming junior deal guys, Steve Goldman, made light of an encounter with my sister when she was in the office at a young age, turning boxes over and making visits to say “hello” to people in the bathroom (sorry, Carey). If I didn’t know him so well, I would have been more embarrassed when he told the story amongst classmates prior to a lecture he was giving at Cornell while I was still in college.
The phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” couldn’t be more spot-on when it comes to my sister and me vis-a-vis my father’s pursuit of “the right way” — this was a lesson he learned from his parents, who, I presume, learned from their parents, and so on.
While not to suggest there are inherent advantages growing up around people in an industry that you may (or likely will) pursue as a professional career choice, the lessons that one is exposed to may not be realized for years down the road.
Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on how you view my “predicament” as the son of an esteemed hotel industry executive — people always ask me, “Why don’t you just go work for your dad at [fill in the blank organization]?” I never know what to really say, as the assumption is that a) I’m destined to just be the kid of the executive no matter what path I take in this field, b) my father wants to work with me (I happen to know that we’d make a great team, having worked together on independent assignments together), c) I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet without him or d) it just seems natural to the “outside” world that nepotism runs rampant in our industry, so the logical conclusion is that if you have a chance to work in the family business, take it and don’t look back.
At some point in the future, at an undetermined time, I’m sure he and I — along with my sister, her husband, our cousins and the rest of our extended family — will decide what, if anything, could be possible as a family-run business. We owe our closeness as a family unit to Leah Isolene Levy Shindler and the values her parents instilled in her and her nine siblings, which have been passed on now to three generations. She was raised in New Orleans to a sugar-business executive, for whom she worked both before enrolling at and during her time at Tulane’s business school — family businesses and nepotism don’t always need to run along gender lines.
Our industry has more family-oriented business than anyone really can count with an exactness, but the concept and practicing of family can be boiled down, for me, simply: Your family is in your heart, and you wear its crest on your chest and its values on your sleeve. My grandmother, who recently passed away after an exceptionally vivacious and fulfilling life, would probably not want to know that I have her maiden name tattooed on my body, but I can only hope that she would be thrilled to know I have literally put her family chain on my sleeve as a constant reminder of who I am and where I came from.
In the hotel industry, having a grounding is exceptionally important, as we are constantly dealing with and managing the expectations of others who are rightfully demanding in almost whatever circumstance (managerial challenges, sales-related client concerns, branding/licensing, franchise operations, international/global pressures, etc.), and you can only turn to your “professional family” for the support and guidance that can teach you how to cope better moving forward, a lesson that is expected to be passed on through mentoring, coaching, teaching, loving and living.
Just look at Paris Hilton … Conrad may not have been such a fan.