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Transferable skills or a huge risk?

We are often asked by our hospitality clients about the transferability of an executive’s skill set between industry segments (hotel to restaurant, for example). Generally speaking, most C-suite executives have enough gravitas, leadership experience and business acumen to transition from one segment to another. Additionally, hospitality segments are customer- and service-centric. But interestingly, most searches we work on tend to specify deep industry and segment experience. Why is that?

In my opinion, the major factor is risk. Most boards and owners want a proven track record and a low-risk profile. That means identifiable success and expertise in the niche they play in. It also tends to reinforce the status quo. Historically, industry outsiders have fared poorly in transitioning to hospitality or jumping from segment to segment. But that is changing.

We have seen a recent collection of successful transitions with the likes of Frits van Paasschen at Starwood and Mark Hoplamazian at Hyatt. Furthermore, private equity owners are putting a higher value on general business acumen and intellect over industry experience. What should industry executives do to ensure they remain competitive and transferable?

  • Get functional cross-training in operations, finance, marketing, human resources, revenue management and social media.
  • Get an MBA or a higher degree.
  • Get experience in both public and private companies.
  • Take a strategic planning role early in your career. It gets you exposed to company leaders and the strategic thinking process.
  • Work for a startup. There is nothing like being part of the creative/incubation stage of a company.
  • Embrace technology and how it affects customers and organizations.
  • Work in another industry even if it is on a volunteer basis. Broaden your horizons and your network.
  • Join associations such as YPO that expose you to other industry leaders, ideas and trends.
  • Find a mentor with broad leadership experience.
  • Join a board in another industry.
  • Create joint ventures with other industry organizations.
  • Keep an open mind.
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