Diane Cudworth, senior project manager at procurement firm Canoe Hospitality, is set to attend Hotec Design, an annual conference presented by Questex Hospitality, the parent company of Hotel Management. At the conference, buyers meet one-on-one with hospitality-focused suppliers to learn about new products and services and to keep up to date on emerging trends.
Cudworth got her start in the industry as a temp at Arcoa, a hotel management company, where she worked in the data entry department before moving to its design and purchasing department and securing a permanent position. “It just happened to be an opportunity that was paying me what I needed to be paid,” she said of those early days. “I was trying to find my way into whatever industry would pay me enough to live on and it turned out that I really liked the design and purchasing people. So I was glad to work with them because they were a really fun group.” (That purchasing department later became RBA Purchasing and is now part of Millennium Hotels.)
Working in procurement in the late 1980s and 1990s was decidedly different from today, Cudworth recalled. “It was a lot of phone calls and manual processes, and there was some faxing and there was a little bit of [working] with computers,” she said. Orders were placed by phones and buyers—or purchasing agents—would write down what products were needed. “And then my role was to take that information and input it into the computer system, which was just basically a database of information. I don't recall if it was even connected to an accounting function or not in the early stages.”
After seven years with Arcoa/RBA Purchasing, Cudworth moved on to Benjamin West in 1996, joining the company when the team was just Alan Benjamin, another purchasing person and a designer getting into the furniture, fixtures and equipment side of the business. “I helped him get more involved in better software because I had that background with automating processes, and so we slowly grew the company,” Cudworth said. Over the next 16 years, the team of four grew tenfold and Cudworth took on new challenges and roles. “Sometimes I did projects independently, sometimes I did them as a team leader,” she said. She learned about hiring practices and business ethics while she helped develop and implement customized purchasing software.
The software she helped develop shifted FF&E procurement away from the phone calls and manual processes that took up so much of her early days in the field. “It gave us the ability to not only avoid repeatedly entering information in different ways, or making manual notes on things [but] it also helps with better communication through different departments because everything was connected through the software,” she said. The technology allowed the company to work on more projects at once and grow exponentially.
After 16 years with Alan Benjamin, Cudworth joined Martin Stringfellow in 2012 as a senior project manager—an appealing move given the company’s small size and her immediate connection with Stringfellow himself. “He really was a kind person that spent a lot of time with people individually, whereas when a company starts getting larger and larger, you rely on your managers to kind of do that for you. So it was a nice cultural change,” she recalled. She remained with the company for the better part of eight years until Stringfellow died in a car accident and the business closed—just as the pandemic shut down the industry in early 2020.
Finding a new position in a tumultuous economy is never an easy task, but Cudworth took on a job at Benchmark Procurement for several months before finding a better fit at Canoe Hospitality by the end of the year. In her new role, she helped guide the company out of the worst days of the pandemic and developed relationships with vendors around the world to help ameliorate the effects of the supply chain crisis. “We've been very upfront with our clients about what we're experiencing, and we continue to talk with them about some of the challenges that we're finding and how we can resolve the problem with the least amount of negative impacts,” she said.
Cudworth attended last year’s Hotec NA conference in Miami and signed on for Hotec Design this year. “The experience with Hotec was much more enjoyable than going to a large trade show where you're just exhausting yourself trying to go booth to booth to booth and maybe meet some of the people that you want to meet,” she said. “This gave you more focus and more time to sit down and just get to know people a little bit better.”