October 2, 2011
How to build a career in hotels and hospitality
John Murphy has one of those careers that makes others seethe with envy at cocktail parties. During his three decades in the hospitality industry, he's worked as general manager of the Salish Lodge and Spa, managing director of the University of Puget Sound, and an executive at several of the region's conference centers. In September, he became general manager of the Woodmark Hotel, Yacht Club & Spa at Carillon Point, where he oversees roughly 160 employees.
[John Murphy | Photo courtesy of The Woodmark Hotel]
I recently spoke with Murphy about what it takes to make it to the top of the hotel and hospitality field. Here's what he had to say.
Q. What experience is essential for aspiring hotel executives?
A. There's a saying that in order to be a general manager, you need to be an expert in at least three or four of the departments you're going to be responsible for. And for the others, you need to recruit competent advisors.
My experience was in food and beverage, finance, HR, and a little bit of the AV and IT world. I'd never run a spa until I got to Salish Lodge. But it's not unlike other pieces of the business. You just have to learn the nuances from an expert in that aspect of the business.
Q. Is a hospitality management degree mandatory for hotel executives?
A. It's extremely helpful, but it's not a requirement for all. There are some executives in our field that, with lots of hard work and great mentors, have gone up the ladder without having a formal education. [Note: Murphy, a former chef, has both a culinary degree and a bachelor's degree in hospitality management.]
Q. What do you think has made you successful?
A. Having a strong work ethic. Showing up. Being early. Going to hotels and restaurants and conference centers just to study them. Asking a lot of questions. It's all about building solid relationships. It's about knowing how to influence the individuals on your team to get the job done.
Q. What do you like most about your work?
A. The people. I come from a large a family that had lots of friends and neighbors and was involved in a lot of sports. So I got into an entertaining mode very early on. That's what I love to do. I think of the Woodmark as this large bed and breakfast that I just happen to be general manager of. And all my team members help me greet our guests and make sure they're taken care of every day.
Q. What do you like the least?
A. I'd be crazy if I said we loved paperwork and love to grind out budgets. The budgeting process is always a grueling, stressful time. But it's very important. It sets the stage for where the business going.
Q. What traits are essential for those interested in a hospitality career?
A. You must love people and understand how to serve the guest in every capacity. You also have to connect with the hotel owners and your team members. Every day, you learn from your team members, your owners, and your guests, and you need to adapt to that.
Being able to multitask is big, too. For people who like when every day is different and there's a lot going on, it's a perfect job. It's very exciting and dynamic.
Q. What advice can you offer those interested in climbing the hospitality ladder?
A. Work as many areas of the hotel as you can, even areas that you know nothing about. Challenge yourself. If you've never done AV before, figure how the AV techs work. If you've never managed a landscaper before, understand their work.
Our business is one where hard work can get you to the top. Ask your boss, "What else can I do? What projects can I take on? What's it going to take for me to get to the next level?"
It's a very small industry. Your name and your word and your reputation are very important. So you want to make sure you're protective of that. If someone applies for a job with us, we're going to know what the word on the street is about that individual. Do the best that you can to work hard and follow your values and those of your company, and you can't go wrong.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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