Women & Leadership: Gail Mandel, Wyndham Destination Network

Wyndham Worldwide is enjoying a year of recognition for its responsible business practices. In March, the company was named one of the world’s most ethical companies by Ethisphere, an organization that defines and advances ethical business practices. This marks the third consecutive year and fifth time that Wyndham Worldwide has received the recognition. Then in May, the company was ranked among the top 25 of the Top 50 Companies for Diversity by the publication DiversityInc., which also included the lodging brand on the lists for Top Companies for Diversity Councils and LGBT Employees.

Here, HOTEL MANAGEMENT talks to Gail Mandel, the woman who heads Wyndham Destination Network as its president and CEO, about the role of diversity in the company’s business as well as the attributes that help all employees excel at work. 

1. How have you applied global diversity and local cultural competence practices to Wyndham Destination Network’s businesses and have they truly produced results?

I’m a true believer in the fact that there’s diversity on many different levels, including diversity of product offerings. We have unique vacation accommodations in over 600 locations and we believe our competitive advantage is having local associates who can be there to help customers while on vacation. We have 10,000 dedicated associates who speak 20 different languages and that diversity ensures we can communicate with our customers to give them their dream vacation experience because my dream vacation is completely different than yours. We all have very specific ideas of what works for each of us. The diverse backgrounds and levels of education among our associates plays into the fact that we can connect the right customer to the right vacation at the right time.

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I think of us as pioneers in the sharing economy and the fact that we’ve come together through an acquisition model has also brought our diverse backgrounds together. Since I took on this leadership role, our focus has been on leveraging that strength.

2. Could you talk about how you honed your networking skills and the role they’ve played in your ability to surpass the hospitality industry’s proverbial glass ceiling?

I think my work ethic has carried me as well as my confidence in my ability to communicate and in my ability to listen; listening is such a critical component to making an impact. When I joined the organization, it was with the best of intentions that I was looking for opportunities that would best serve shareholders and bring those opportunities and ideas forward in order to manage an open culture that allowed ideas to be vetted. Sometimes this results in initiatives that add significant shareholder value, but it’s also about a strong work ethic and respect for others.

3. With your bachelor’s degree from Pace University, you are proof that MBAs are not necessarily a requirement for women to arrive in the C-Suite. But what advice would you offer to women about higher education in general?

I value higher education. I was fortunate to have an exceptional on-the-job training experience when I took the role at HFS (the hotel franchise company that later merged with CUC to ultimately form Cendant Corporation) and given the opportunity to start the internal audit department once the company went public. I got an on-the-job MBA working for exceptional leaders and working for a company that’s willing to be innovative. Going back for an MBA has crossed my mind many times, but I work in such a dynamic environment.  

I think where you want your career to go is very personal and once I got to HFS, I was so intellectually stimulated by what was going on there that I couldn’t imagine something else could be more stimulating. I think those on-the-job opportunities are still there, but I also think there’s value in higher education. I see what an MBA has done for my sister and she’s made great strides by leveraging additional education.

4. You’ve had great mentors in your career. What makes for a good mentor and are you a mentor to anyone?

I think what makes for a great mentor is someone who actually takes the time to understand you as an individual and then help you to be the best that you can be. To me, authenticity is critical to anyone’s success. I was fortunate to have mentors who gave me direct feedback and sometimes feedback was hard to take. But you have to be willing to take it if you want to take the next step in your career and you have to find a mentor who’s willing to give it.

You also have to be self aware and wiling to accept feedback because you truly want to be a better professional, a better leader and a better coworker. We use a variety of tools in mentoring. I think anonymous 360-degree feedback is very helpful, but I also give a lot of one-on-one time to talk about what went well and what could go better and evaluate individual situations in trying to improve professional performances.

People can own their success. Whether women or men, you need to own your success and be authentic and kill people with confidence. If you do your research and your homework, you can go in with confidence. But it’s also about being a good listener and understanding people around you and understanding how you can make a positive impact.

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