How Carrie Harrington went from college grad to GM in 7 years

Harrington previously held leadership roles at the Le Meridien Philadelphia, The Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown and Westin Washington D.C. City Center.
Hilton Garden Inn Philadelphia Center City

When Carrie Harrington was named general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn Philadelphia Center City, it was the latest step of an impressively rapid rise in the business. Harrington earned her BS in hotel & tourism management and hospitality administration & management from The New York University Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism just seven years ago, and has put what she learned to good use.

“I was either going to be a coder or go into hotel management,” Harrington recalled. “I like people too much, so I decided I’d better pursue the latter.” 

Carrie Harrington

Her professors at NYU were “born in the field,” Harrington recalled. “They had all been—or continued to be—incredibly successful industry professionals and they leaned on their strong networks to teach the next generation of hotel leaders.” The most important lesson she learned at NYU was the importance of building and maintaining meaningful relationships with peers. “This is a small industry, after all,” she said. “Another lesson I learned is not to let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of the ‘good.’ I struggled with consistency because, in my pursuit of the most impressive PowerPoint presentation or the best paper in one class, I neglected my other deliverables. These failures were frustrating, humbling, and absolutely critical to my own personal and professional development.” 

Diploma in hand, Harrington took a position as a catering sales coordinator at the Westin Washington, DC City Center before moving up to the front desk and preferred guest manager at the same hotel. Moving north, she worked as assistant director of housekeeping at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown and director of housekeeping at Le Meridien Philadelphia. After a year as an operations manager at the Sheraton Great Valley in Frazer, Pa., she was named GM at the Hilton Garden Inn Philadelphia earlier this year. 

Lessons Learned

The range of properties provided another valuable education for Harrington. “I’ve yet to discover an insight that would apply to a five-diamond property and not an economy operation because it’s all about expectations,” she said. “Every person who walks through my doors—either through the front entrance or back by the loading dock—has a different set of expectations on that specific day. We succeed when we take the time to find out what they are, and adapt our interactions to maximize effectiveness.”

With every new position or new responsibility, Harrington learned that “good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” For example, when she first became an assistant director of housekeeping, she behaved like a “bull in a china shop,” in her words. “This tactic, understandably, inhibited my ability to establish good relationships with the 80+ housekeeping staff, and was counterproductive to actually getting things done,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t being effective and searched for help. When I found the Manager Tools podcasts, my approach to management changed completely and I felt an immediate difference. 

“At Le Meridien, with 16 room attendants on staff, I discovered the power of making a bed. On busy days when there was simply no one else to call in, I cleaned a board of rooms. If I didn’t have to clean any rooms, I’d set a goal to make one bed for each of my RAs. Being in the weeds with my staff and doing even small favors like making a bed for them established credibility and trust more than any fancy degree ever could.”  

Advice: If you are not currently doing weekly one-on-ones with your directs, start. 

Challenge: The most challenging situation for me will always be managing a new team that was previously led by a really bad manager who didn’t uphold or demand those same standards. Trying to undo the long-term damage that poor management can inflict on a workplace culture is difficult for everyone. 

Solution: The first day that I meet a new team or a new hire I give them a stump speech about honesty, kindness and results. I didn’t even craft most of the speech myself—like all the management tools I use, I just borrow the wheel that someone wiser than me invented. It has worked better than anything else I’ve tried.

Three Tips for Success

Maintain relationships: Relationships are critical because I rely on others to get things done. If people don’t like working with me, or if I behave in ways that damage goodwill, it’s hard to be effective.

Coach your people: Managers must also coach her directs to be better professionals, to take on increased responsibilities, or even to prepare for a totally different line of work. It not only gives meaning and purpose to what we do, but it also improves outcomes for them, for our guests and for the organization. 

Always be kind…even if it saves time not to be. Running rough-shod over folks, bullying and generally sacrificing courtesy and professionalism on the altar of results makes later work harder. It does not ensure the future success of the organization, which as a leader we agree to do by showing up and accepting a paycheck.