Jose Ortega’s journey to the leadership of Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort in California’s Napa Valley emphasizes the maxim that “slow and steady wins the race.”
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Ortega moved to the United States with his family when he was 13 years old. As an adult, he worked in construction before getting a job at the front desk of the Best Western Golden Key in Auburn, Calif., working his way up to night auditor and PM supervisor between 2005 and 2010.
During those years, he started a long-distance relationship with a woman in Monterey, Calif., and soon got tired of the more-than-three-hour drive between the two cities. Ortega left Auburn and learned of a chance to help open a new hotel in Carmel, Calif., right next to Monterey. In joining the team at Carmel Mission Inn, he went back to the role of front-desk agent again, but soon worked his way up to PM supervisor (again), and from there to shift supervisor—“either morning or evening,” he said—and on to night auditing, front-desk manager and then rooms-division manager.
Over his 10 years at the Carmel Mission Inn, Ortega learned a wide range of skills in his different roles. “I grew throughout,” he said. “You have to be able to be flexible to do all types of jobs. This includes housekeeping and restaurants as an example. Anytime they needed any type of help, I was always flexible with all those positions.”
At different times, he worked in sales, food and beverage and even in the one-room spa the hotel rented out to massage contractors. “I was able to learn all the positions … I never stopped learning and growing throughout the business, so I didn't see a need for me to move to another hotel.”
At the same time, he also oversaw night auditing at the Hotel Pacific in Monterey, and would sometimes go right from the night job to oversee the rooms division at the Mission Inn. The simultaneous jobs, he added, let him see how other hotels function, but he wasn’t interested in leaving the Mission Inn, which gave him the deeper education into the ins and outs of the business. “If there’s a day you don’t learn anything, that’s a day wasted,” he said.
In 2017, Kokua Hospitality assumed management of the Carmel Mission Inn and Ortega developed a good working relationship with the company. Last April, San Francisco-based Chartres Lodging Group acquired Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort, a mud-bath-focused wellness property in Calistoga that originally opened in 1952. Kokua was tapped to manage the hotel and invited Ortega to assist with the transition. “This was another opportunity for me to learn,” he said, “taking over another hotel, going from one ownership to another ownership, and I was all for it.”
His GM at Carmel Mission Inn approved, and Ortega helped oversee the transition of both ownership and management for Dr. Wilkinson’s. By the end of the transition, he was offered the chance to take over as the property’s general manager. “I couldn't say no,” he said. “This is another step into my career and to keep on learning.”
He stepped into his new role as a first-time GM in the middle of last year, and has been continuing to adapt to the new challenges. “I can't even count how much I've learned and how much I've grown just within [April] to January already,” he said. “And I know there's a lot more to learn.” To that end, after 15 years in the industry Ortega also is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, having already taken classes at Monterey Peninsula College and considering options for furthering his formal education.
As of press time, Sightline Hospitality (a new management company formed by the merger of Kokua and Filament Hospitality) was scheduled to begin a multimillion dollar renovation of Dr. Wilkinson’s in late March with a planned reopening just in time for the summer season.
“Having a career while you're going through school and [raising] a family is definitely the biggest challenge.”
“The way to do it is accepting at the end of the day there [are] going to be some sacrifices that need to be made. Sometimes this is the time that I'm with the family, the time that I'm at work—away from work—and how many classes I can really take at the end of the day."
Advice for GMs
“As a general manager, I don't like to see us as managers. We're more of a leader. And the best way that I can work throughout my job and make my job happen is to lead by example. When you lead by example, you're going to get the best results, hands down."
Secrets to Success
Never give up. "Be persistent."
Be reliable. "It's important to be a reliable person for your team to count on, for ownership to count on, for corporate to count on and for your guests to count on."
Leave some time for yourself. "Separate work from your personal life. That'll help out—in the long run—both your personal life and work as well as when you don’t bring personal things to work or vice versa. And this way you'll be able to live a better life, and when you're happier, you'd do a better job, too."
Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort
Opening year: 1952 | Rooms: 42 | Owner: Chartres Lodging Group | Management Company: Sightline Hospitality