Sometimes the best opportunities come at us out of the blue, and in the case of the Adelphi Hotel it was chance that led to the compilation of its current leadership team, which is comprised entirely of female hospitality professionals.
When Helen Watson left Beverly Hills’ Beverly Wilshire hotel in December 2016 for the small-town comforts of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., she wasn’t sure what to expect. She took a position as director of rooms at the Adelphi Hotel, a 32-room restored Victorian property built in 1877 and owned by Richbell Capital, but what she didn’t see coming was a request from the hotel’s ownership in January of this year to elevate her position to GM.
“It took my breath away,” Watson said. “I wanted to get out of the big city and go to a smaller town, but I was leaving a very secure job to travel 3,000 miles away. Then I was offered this big role, and it was a leap of faith but I went with the challenge.”
Watson joined Kate Sullivan, the hotel’s guest experience manager, who signed on at the Adelphi from hospitality organization Altamarea Group just two weeks prior to Watson’s arrival. The hotel was in the midst of a lengthy renovation that began in 2012 and ended in October 2017 when the property reopened. During this period, Watson and Sullivan traveled throughout the property with laptops in tow, making any available space into their office and adapting to the changing building around them. This tumultuous work environment was the first challenge the hotel’s new team had to overcome.
“We came from a very structured background, and here there was no structure,” Watson said. “So we built one.”
“It started with carving out consistency,” Sullivan said. “Figuring out where we could go on property to work every day, making a schedule for ourselves and organizing ourselves to have an office environment for just the two of us. The first couple of weeks we didn’t even know where to start.”
As the hotel’s renovation drew to a close, this process also necessitated the creation of a new team. In the end, the Adelphi signed on Connie Cook-Slocum as director of events, Amy Bonville as assistant director of rooms and Corinna Milazzo as CFO. One day, Watson took a cursory look around the property and noted how the property’s leaders were all women.
“This was not a conscious decision,” she said. “We recruited and interviewed everyone ourselves and built this team from the ground up, and it just sort of happened this way.”
While the number of women leaders in hospitality is gradually increasing, these women often face challenges unique to their gender when it comes to leading their properties. Watson said that in some cases respect that would rightfully be owed to a female leader may not be present at first and must be earned. Sullivan said that age is also a factor for many young professional women stepping into leadership roles. “This was something I had to work at managing in my early 20s as I led a restaurant in New York City for a few years, when some of my employees were older than I was,” Sullivan said. “My biggest takeaway was to show you work hard, show you can do the job and not be a bull in a china shop that just expects people to listen.”
Sullivan also said she urges her employees to always speak up for themselves. “There are a lot of strong personalities in this industry, and many women are afraid to add their two cents,” she said.”
“It’s an important time in history for women, with the #MeToo movement, wage equality and other discussions making headlines,” Watson said. “We’re all in the spotlight, and when I started out in my early 20s and became a manager at 25 I had a few things to learn, as well. For one, I learned not to take myself too seriously and just come along for the ride that is the hotel business.”
For Watson, developing a strong employee and leadership culture has been integral to the success of the Adelphi Hotel. She said a hands-on attitude and promoting open communication are the cornerstones of the hotel’s operations strategy.
“An open-door policy has worked for us,” Watson said. “This has to be a positive environment. It’s work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be awful. We come in every day happy and positive, and hope it trickles down from there.”
Watson said her goal was to hire like-minded people to her team to create a positive work environment. The establishment of the hotel’s current team is something both Watson and Sullivan are most proud of at the property, particularly because the process to reach this point was so lengthy.
“It was just the two of us for the longest time, us and the construction guys,” Watson said. “This place was all beams and wires, and now it’s a thriving, bustling beautiful hotel with great employees and guests. I sit in the lobby and get goose bumps.”