Having good people by his side has helped this GM be ready for any challenge
Marc Langevin, the newly minted GM of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, returns to a resort that he’s seen through some rather tough times.
Langevin hails most recently from The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, where he also served as GM and oversaw a $40 million renovation. Prior to that, he was the resort manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman when it opened in late 2005, almost two years later than its expected debut, which was delayed due to damaging effects to the hotel from Hurricane Ivan. The storm caused an estimated $3.36 billion in damage and destruction to the island.
Being on site at the developing hotel during Ivan was actually a turning point in Langevin’s career. “[GM] Jean Cohen was off island and I had a short staff of about 30 people and I suddenly needed to go back to basics,” said Langevin, who was born in Paris and started his career with Club Med. “I was blessed to be there when it happened because it gave me a great opportunity to show my leadership style and to show how I could handle those issues.”
Likening the experience to the television show “Survivor,” Langevin said he and the team immediately needed to find water, food and then figure out a way to cook it. After evacuating staff, the “Survivor” mentality remained in place for Langevin when he was named interim operations director for the resort’s developer, meaning he would help to rebuild the hotel’s infrastructure. Instead of buying fine china and Frette linens for the luxury property, he was purchasing a truck for the construction site and securing building basics, such as concrete and wood.
“Instead of fine dining, we were cooking rice and beans for the workers,” he said. “We had to take away everything that was damaged and rebuild the hotel from scratch. Every day we were challenged with how to figure out solutions. At times like this, you don’t have room to feel sorry for yourself, you just make it happen.”
And happen it did. The resort rushed to reopen in December 2005 to honor Christmas bookings as well as winter group business that had been pushed back because of the hurricane. This meant foregoing the ramp-up phase that most Ritz-Carltons enjoy prior to their debut and throwing open the doors with a very public celebrity gala that included Sheryl Crow and Tony Bennett.
“We didn’t have a chance to fail,” Langevin said. “It was a strong forward climb that went very, very fast.”
That next challenge came less than a year after Grand Cayman opened when the position of GM opened at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas. Langevin’s GM at Grand Cayman, Jean Cohen, whom he considers one of his mentors, encouraged him to go for it, even though resort managers typically stay on for two or three years after a hotel opens to assist in stabilizing the environment.
“I remember having the conversation, ‘Jean, do you think I’m ready for that?’ and she said, ‘Of course you are,’” said Langevin.
Mentoring as a way of life
Langevin chose early on not to attend hospitality school (he chose to study engineering) and to instead rise up through the ranks of the hotel business—a move that led to his steadfast belief in working with those individuals who could guide him through his career.
He fell in love with the hospitality business through summer jobs in his youth and went to work for Club Med, whose formula at that time was to have its employees work at assignments for only six months before rotating them to another location. Langevin journeyed from Israel to Morocco to Italy, meeting every variation of traveler and employee possible.
“That certainly prepared me for what I am doing today,” he said. He eventually married his wife, Pamela, and they moved to Las Vegas.
The year was 1989, just prior to the city’s reincarnation as a mecca of uniquely themed megaresorts. There, Langevin met up with George La Forge, a legendary pioneer in the gourmet Las Vegas dining scene, who gave him a chance to work as a manager in the restaurant business. “I was crazy enough to see the opportunity,“ said Langevin.
“Sometimes there were challenging assignments but I always took the risk to accept them.”
Another move brought him to downtown Las Vegas to work on a start-up project called Main Street Station. While the project failed in the first six months, Langevin said the team that had been assembled then has grown high in the ranks of the Las Vegas hospitality industry.
Langevin moved briefly to a position at the Flamingo Hilton and then on to the opening team as restaurant manager of Treasure Island. Another move brought him to Bellagio, but the rising star had already met another mentor who would encourage him to conclude his 11-year stint in Las Vegas and move to California. The man was Erich Steinbock, VP of food and beverage for Treasure Island, who brought Langevin with him to the Beverly Hills Hotel as the assistant director of F&B for the famed Polo Lounge.
It was a big move for Langevin, but he trusted Steinbock.
“The relationship of mentor/mentee is certainly something to be nurtured and it’s something I cherish,” he said. “It’s always difficult to move from a different rank in the organization, it’s like climbing a mountain and there is no shortcut. Nobody is taking you to the top. You have to grow from supervisor to manager, and then from manager to executive and from executive to GM. Certainly the journey is always easier when you have someone whom you trust on your side, who will help you cope with some difficult moments and also challenge you.”
At the Polo Lounge, the everyday customers were Hollywood movie stars and producers. Thanks to his Club Med background, Langevin was quite comfortable having conversations with people from any kind of background. “It was again a very easy transition,” he said. Steinbach, however, then prodded Langevin to move to The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, while also working over the course of the year on a marathon of openings for the luxury hotel company in Boston, New York and Miami. But he took a job with Boykin Management Co., in a role that took him out of F&B for the first time and into the position of regional director of operations, working at Embassy Suites, DoubleTree and Hilton hotels, where his goal was to bring value to ownership of 15 hotels. It was during this time that Jean Cohen, who had seen how Langevin had managed through the troubled times in the industry following 9/11, invited him to work at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
A Nomad’s life
Langevin has done his share of packing up and moving to his next home at short notice. He advises that when faced with the task of transiting the globe for a hospitality career, it’s vital to have the right person next to you.
“And I am referring to my wife,” he said. “It takes patience and understanding, and decisions like that are definitely gutsy and risky and sometimes painful. My wife also had a career; she’s a dance teacher. I have kept dragging her around the world and there has been emotion and tears every time. But she has always been there for me and we also always made these decisions together.”
Rejoining Ritz-Carlton made sense for Langevin. “When I started to look at its famous credo card and service values, it was like somebody had written down my philosophies on a piece of paper,” he said, referring to the doctrine that includes the famous motto, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”
Caribbean life with a family
For Langevin, who has a 9-year-old daughter, living in the Caribbean is an easy choice because he’s always loved island life. He also loves the opportunity to really get to experience his guests’ lives while they’re staying at the resort. “My job is very exciting every day,” he said. “When you work in a city hotel you have so much transient business that you don’t really get to meet people. Here, I get to truly meet people and the customers at Ritz-Carlton are very interesting; they are very successful in their fields. If you add in being able to just jump in the water on Sunday morning with my daughter without having to drive to the beach, life is beautiful.”
Managing a beach resort does have its concerns, he admitted. “You have to worry: Do I have water, do I have electricity and do I have air conditioning? If you have those big three, you then have to then be sure you have warm water and a laundry that works.” His advice? “You certainly have to have creativity, a sense of humor and a positive attitude.”
Managing in the Caribbean also requires building relationships with those living on the island. “You don’t just gain their trust overnight; it takes time,” he said. “But the Caribbean people are so passionate; when they really do trust you it’s amazing how much they have to give. They have a sense of pride and a sense of culture and it’s very exciting.”
While Langevin was at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, he oversaw a $45 million renovation and repositioning. Now that he’s back at Grand Cayman, over the next two to three years he will spearhead a plan to rejuvenate the resort, which is one of the largest in the Ritz-Carlton portfolio. His work will include collaborating with designers to refreshen restaurants and guestrooms and to improve broadband.
Renovation projects appeal to Langevin. “Some general managers are very good at maintaining a resort; I like the creation part of it,” he said. “I feel complete when I am able to look at back and say, ‘There’s been some change here and I hope somehow I was a contributor.”
Langevin will also work quickly to immerse himself in the Grand Cayman hospitality community; while in St. Thomas he was a member of the U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Assn.
“Obviously we cannot be successful without the support of the community,” he said. “You cannot just live in the Caribbean without getting involved. We also need to ensure that the next generation understands hospitality.”
One message he wants to get across is that being in the hotel business is not just about waiting on people. “People sometimes think we are servants and that is not why I joined the business,” he said. “If we take pride in what we do all the time; our job is more than just that of servant. That’s why we call each other ladies and gentlemen.”