Named as one of HOTEL MANAGEMENT's GMs to Watch in 2016 for his work at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Portland Washington Square in Tigard, Ore., Scott Youngblood has spent his entire adult life in the hospitality industry. In fact, he launched his career at 14 years old, washing dishes at the Multnomah Falls Lodge in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.
The lessons he learned at the lodge paved the way for his career in hospitality. “Attention to detail was an early lesson,” he said. He also learned how important it can be to have a mentor who reinforces positive behavior. “Learning to ask questions and help others came early once the dishes were clean,” he said. In the kitchen, Youngblood would ask the rest of the staff what else he could do to help them in their jobs...and learn new skills in the process. In this way, he not only forged strong connections and built a positive reputation, but learned many aspects of hospitality that helped him later in his career. “None of it has been pure altruism,” he said.
During the following 32 years, Youngblood said, he has been given “a million lucky breaks.” He has worked in just about every facet of the industry—cleaning rooms, working in banquets, taking reservations over the phone, making sales calls and heading the back office. “A series of incredible mentors have seen potential in me even when I didn’t recognize it myself,” Youngblood said of his early years, citing the late Carol Verret and Evan Studer at Sunstone Hotels for supporting him as he rose from director of sales to general manager of his first hotel at 26 years old.
Youngblood continued to rise through the ranks, working with CSM Lodging, Interstate Hotels & Resorts and Remington Hotels. Now with Spire Hospitality, he has been the GM of the Embassy Suites by Hilton Portland Washington Square since 2014, when it was in need of an overhaul. “In the final quarter of 2013, the hotel was ranked 191 out of 210 hotels [in the brand] for service,” he said.
A renovation began in 2014, and Youngblood and his team moved that service ranking to 78 out of 215 hotels. “We were told that throughout course of the renovation, the guest experience would suffer,” he said. The team focused on making the guest experience “everything it could be,” and in spite of ever-present construction work, the metric kept improving. The renovation wrapped up in the spring with the hotel ranked 23rd out of 232 hotels in the brand for service, which Youngblood credits to both the planning and the execution of the refurbishment and to the dedication of his team. “The really smart and focused professionals here wouldn’t take a negative guest experience as acceptable,” he said.
The improvements are a result of his core philosophy: “Be able to process through stress as a challenge and not as a threat; to realize that the elements of a new job or new expectations, while scary, aren’t defining.” As each new challenge presented itself throughout his career—“moving to a new city for the first time, working on a new-build hotel for the first time, repositioning a hotel for the first time, reflagging for the first time, the first foray into luxury, the first convention-service hotel”—Youngblood learned to see each as opportunities.
“I learned a long time ago the importance of assuming responsibility as one can and earning it,” he said. “It’s essential that we take big bites, that we endeavor to take on not only what we’re capable of, but what we’re capable of doing for others. It’s essential to debrief after every success and failure. If something goes well, document how and why it went well. When something fails, learn from failure so the same outcome doesn’t occur again. You’ll be better equipped for the next time.”