“You can’t go home again,” they say—but that’s exactly what Awet Sium did this year when he returned to lead the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa in Vero Beach, Fla. He made his debut as a general manager at the property, serving from early 2011 to late 2012. “It was funny—when I first arrived here, I told quite a few of the employees, ‘I was such a terrible GM back then!’ And everyone was like, ‘No, we're so happy to have you back!’” Sium said. “It's been wonderful.”
Sium’s interest in hospitality started as a teenager when he got a job working alternating days as a bellman and a dishwasher at Washington, D.C.’s, Henley Park Hotel. “The experience of doing that at a small little boutique hotel with 96 rooms really prepared me for an amazing career and [built] some of the best relationships that I've had,” he said of those early years. While working at the hotel, he studied business administration with a concentration in organizational leadership at Montgomery College and emerged ready to make his career in hospitality.
During his time at the Henley Park, Sium became close with Crawford Sherman, who was then-VP of Classic Hospitality and oversaw the hotel and several other properties in the area. Sherman pulled Sium aside one day and offered his protege a chance to work at hotels in the Caribbean. In 2004, Sium moved with his wife to Turks & Caicos, where he spent nearly two years as rooms division manager at the Parrot Cay Resort & Como Shambhala Retreat. From there, he became executive assistant manager of food & beverage at Grace Bay Resorts, Turks & Caicos. While there, he met a woman who said that her brother was “well connected” in hospitality in the U.S., and if Sium ever wanted to find another position in that market, he should reach out. And so it was that when the Sium family needed to return to Washington, he contacted the woman’s brother—who turned out to be Mike DeFrino, CEO of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.
Back in the U.S., Sium took over as assistant GM at the Kimpton Monaco Washington D.C. After holding the same position at the Monaco in Baltimore, the company tapped him to lead the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel. “It was the best place for me to become a GM,” he said. “I love this place. I love the people. I love the ownership. I love the dynamics of a condo hotel.”
After two years as GM of Vero Beach, Sium spent several years with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts as hotel and resort manager at properties in St. Louis, Boston and St. Kitts & Nevis. By 2015, he was back at Kimpton, and finally returned to the hotel where he first learned how to be a GM.
Now that he’s back at Vero Beach, Sium is eager to put the lessons he’s learned during his time away to good use. “I've become wiser in the process of understanding hotels and understanding relationships,” he said. More specifically, since leading other hotels in the U.S. and the Caribbean, Sium now has a stronger understanding of what true leadership means. “Leadership is really about being of service to my employees and understanding what they need and developing those talents,” he said. “I will spend more time with my employees than I do necessarily with my guests because our employees are going to have more impact [on] our guests than I will ever. And so that relationship with my employees is very, very important to me.”
Sium looks to support his own team members on their individual hospitality journeys. “I'm a big believer in being of service to your employees [rather than being] a manager who believes that the employee just works for you,” he said. “I find that the best success that I've ever had in this career was through my connections with the employees that I work with and in helping to develop them—as well as them helping to develop myself.”
Awet Sium's Advice for GMs
Your colleagues are by far the No. 1 thing that I think every manager needs to [take care of] because when you become a GM...we have a tendency to kind of do it on our own and think that we can handle it by ourselves. The reality is that a good leader inspires happiness and inspires quality work and focuses on the employees first.
Challenge: I've got a relatively big personality and I have a tendency to kind of push through things.
Success: As I've evolved, I've learned that there's a method to taking your time and thinking things through. Look at the impact on your ownership, your employees and your guests. Will it impact them positively or negatively?
Awet Sium's Secrets to Success
Be Driven: You need to be obsessed with excellence.
Communicate: In a normal 12-hour day, I'm probably spending roughly six to seven hours with my employees and colleagues finding out how everything’s going, walking the building, talking to employees. I try to walk the building about four times a day. A lot of people manage from weakness. I manage from greatness. I manage from what you do really well, not what you don't do well. Finding out what they really need is the primary goal, in my opinion, of being of service to an employee, to your colleagues and to your employees.
Be happy to come to work: You’ve got to love what you do. If you're here, you have to love what you do. And I love it.
Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa
Opening year: 2007 | Number of guestrooms: 111 | Owner: Heaton Companies | Management Company: Kimpton Hotels