Sometimes, the worst moments can be the ones that change our lives for the better. Not so long ago, Nora Gomez was an unemployed immigrant trying to support her family and improve her life. From there, a random gamble on a new job set her on a career path that brought her to the leadership of the Westport Inn in Westport, Conn., where she has been the general manager since 2014.
Gaining An Education
In 2003, Gomez was visiting the U.S. from Colombia, studying English and working as a secretary for a construction company when she suddenly lost her job. Seeking any kind of employment, she saw a sign at the Hilton Garden Inn in Norwalk, Conn., operated by New Castle Hotels & Resorts, seeking a front-desk agent. Thanks to her experience in administrative roles, she not only got the job but was quickly promoted to administrative assistant, a position that allowed her to demonstrate how well she could handle increased responsibilities.
“I did all the Hilton trainings and started enjoying this business,” she recalled. After five years in the role, she told her GM that she was ready for the next step in her career. The executive housekeeper at the hotel was leaving, so Gomez stepped in to the role and learned how to lead a department. “I felt the need to manage people, and got to see how would it feel to manage a whole department by myself,” she said. As she grew accustomed to leading a department, she took classes at Norwalk Community College, eventually earning her bachelor’s in business administration, securing her green card and becoming a single mom to her two children. “I was able to find the flexibility to be a mom, to go to school and better myself,” she said of the time, noting that not all companies (or industries) are willing to adjust schedules to accommodate both educational and parenting needs.
After seven years, New Castle acquired a Holiday Inn Express in Shelton, Conn., and began converting the property into a Hampton Inn. Needing an assistant general manager, the company leadership tapped Gomez for the role, and she took another step up the ladder. “I was managing housekeeping, front desk, HR, accounting, all the overall operations of the hotel,” she recalled. In the hotel’s first year, it earned a Lighthouse Award, a recognition Hilton bestows on the top 5 percent of Hampton hotels with high rankings in accommodations, service and quality. The property also reached the top of the city’s TripAdvisor rankings during its first year—a fact that still gives Gomez cause to smile.
From there, New Castle offered Gomez a different kind of opportunity—managing the independent Westport Inn after years of operating under brand standards. “It was very different to come to an independent hotel,” she said. “I had more liberty in terms of what I could do with guests in terms of customer service, more freedom to be better.”
Gomez has been with the hotel for four years, and December will mark her 15-year anniversary with New Castle. She has no plans to leave the hotel or the company any time soon. “New Castle gave me an opportunity to grow,” she said. “They assisted me with my education. They assisted me with my immigration status. They [helped] me to be a working mom. They give me support.” As a GM, Gomez focuses on providing the same support from her team that she has received from her company. “If my team needs me, I’m a phone call away,” she said, noting that she has taken calls at 2 a.m. from her staff. “I consider myself a mentor. I want [my team] to know how great the industry is, and why I fell in love with it. I tell them my story and how I started at the front desk and now I’m a GM.”
Her story still has many more chapters to go, and Gomez is taking steps to write them. A week after talking with Hotel Management, Gomez took an oath and became an official citizen of the United States.
Secrets to success
Have your team’s back: Make them feel like they have your support. They’re your team. Take care of them.
Hold your team accountable: If not, you have to do the job for them. If they’re here, they’re here to support you and help you and get the job done. You’re here to support them, but not to do the job for them.
Get things done: Don’t let your plate get too full. It just gets too overwhelming. You have to tackle stuff and get it done. Take care of your guests. They’re the ones that are coming back and recommending you and giving you reviews regarding the experience they had at the property.
Nora Gomez’s advice for GMs
Don’t be afraid to tackle stuff. Don’t be afraid to hold people accountable. They’re the ones who are working for you, otherwise you have to do the work for them. I was in my 20s when I became an executive housekeeper and I had employees who were twice my age. I learned to be respectful, be fair and be consistent.
Biggest Challenge: The Westport Inn is a very challenging property. There are tons of mechanical issues and things that we have to be on top of. You come in to start your day and all of a sudden the plans go to the end of the list because you have to manage your employees and handle guest complaints.
Solution: If something is presented to me, I take it as an opportunity to show what I can do. I take a second and go handle it, otherwise, it just comes back to haunt me. I cannot be at peace if I’m not handling stuff. I go into solution mode. We can’t cry. We have to solve it.