When Dawn Gallagher says she’s competitive, she’s not joking.
The chief sales and marketing officer at Crescent Hotels & Resorts likes to turn everything, from work to exercise, into a match-up of some sort.
“My husband would tell you that if I could compete with my toes I would compete with them but they’re connected to my body,” she said. “I like to do anything that’s competitive. I think it’s human nature to figure out what that competitive piece is. I have to work out every day. I think it helps the head as much as it helps the body. I always am competing with somebody on my team, whether it’s steps, exercise, minutes, whatever. I win half the time. I lose half the time. It just creates a fun environment. I think in today’s environment, it all blends together—work family and home family.”
Even being out of the office during the pandemic didn’t lessen her competitive streak. “I love Zoom and I love seeing people instead of just having a dark conversation, so seeing my team every night was fantastic,” she said. “What happened? What was the day about? Where do we go? And who had the best plank today? Who did the most pull-ups? We would have a competition of the week that just kind of broke us out of what we were going through; just gave [us] a different focus.”
Gallagher’s competitive streak is closely related to another of her character traits: determination. Gallagher was born in New Jersey but grew up in California with her mom and two sisters. During her senior year of high school, she moved to Maryland to live with her dad. After graduation, she went to the local community college, studying hospitality management, but wasn’t convinced it was the right choice for her.
“I spent a lot of time with a lot of different electives to figure out what was it that I wanted to be and when I got into hospitality marketing—I’ll never forget this class—I automatically felt this sense of belonging, like, OK, this is great,” she said. “This is fun and here’s my path.”
That decision to stay in the world of hospitality connected Gallagher back to her childhood.
“When I was growing up in California, my grandparents owned a small motel and we used to spend summers [there],” she said. “I remember racing around this poor housekeeper. I pretended like I was helping. I certainly probably got more in her way than she wanted. I don’t know if it came full circle but I definitely felt like I had immediate passion for it.”
Gallagher’s first hotel job was at the Phoenix Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., filling the front-desk agent and reservations agent roles to begin with, followed by reservations manager. Her next move was to open what is now the Westin Waltham Boston, then on to the Boston Park Plaza and then back to the D.C. area at the Omni Shoreham. She next joined Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, where she served as area director of revenue management and regional director of sales and marketing before moving on to Interstate Hotels & Resorts as VP of sales and senior VP of sales and marketing. Michael George, founder, president and CEO of Crescent, came calling in 2016, and Gallagher has been with the company ever since: “I’m in my dream job and couldn’t be happier.”
Gallagher attributes her success partly to those who have challenged and supported her throughout her career. “I had great people along the way that said, ‘Hey, I want to tap you for this job and I want to talk to you for this job,’” she said. “I had great people that believed in me, that made me feel like—wow, I am in the right role and I am moving in the right direction.”
Fighting for Others
Gallagher uses her position at Crescent and as an executive in the hotel industry to fight for those who might not feel like there’s a place for them.
“I’m a path to success and if I can make it here, you can make it here. Yeah, it takes hard work. It takes determination,” she said. “I will outwork anybody, period, but I will show you that there’s a path to be successful, and that you don’t have to have excuses about [how you grew up], what you experienced. Those are all in your path, but you can determine your future and so hopefully I bring that to the table to those that are questionable about it.”
This path to success is particularly valuable to women in the hospitality industry, according to Gallagher.
“I’m a female leader, a strong female leader. Some may say outspoken, some may not. But I want to make sure that young female leaders understand there’s a path and there’s a way to be successful as a working mom and that you don’t have to discount any other part of your life to be successful,” she said. “There are times in all of our lives where you’re going to be overcommitted—you could be overcommitted personally at times and you could be overcommitted professionally but nobody has this circle that is this complete half balance [of work and personal life].
“But you can show them that you can get the job done and you can raise great kids who understand that work ethic. More than anything else, there’s a path for you and there’s a path for successful females to get ahead in this industry.”