If you are a hotel manager or a hotel owner, you’ve probably wondered: “how to be a good leader?” To help answer this question, we talked to Rupesh Patel, a successful and recognized hotel leader in the US.
Having started in the hotel industry at an early age, Rupesh Patel has done it all: from housekeeping to overcoming the big American crisis and becoming an owner of an award-winning hotel.
In this first part of the interview, Rupesh shares his experience and the lessons he has learned over the years. As he said: to be a good leader, you need to truly care.
Let’s go back to the beginning. You’ve been in the hotel industry for many years and built a successful and solid career. But, how did you end up in the hotel business?
R: I grew up in Texas where my parents owned a little Indian grocery store, where they sold Indian products. One of their friends in Florida had this 50-years old motel that they were selling. They asked my dad if he wanted to buy it. That was in 1988. My dad didn’t know anything about the hotel industry. Back then, in the 80s, we might have stayed in one or two hotels in our lifetime.
So my dad left to Florida and learned the business, while me, my sister and my mom stayed behind. After 6 months, he called us over. So we sold our house and we moved to South Florida.
We did everything: laundry, housekeeping, front desk. You name it, we did t. I learn to work from a young age. My friends would go out playing, and I was doing laundry!
You are very successful in different roles: general manager, hotel owner, consultant, speaker. But focusing on hotel management: what do you think are the keys to be a good hotel leader?
R: The number one thing that I always share is that you have to care. And it does not mean to care like “cleaning the room”. You have to care about your entire team; you have to care about your guests and you have to go above and beyond. It’s not just a little bit of caring, it’s a lot! This is the start of any kind of leadership, especially in the hotel business.
What do you think is more important: technical abilities or soft skills in hotel management?
R: I think it’s a lot of soft skills. Technical ability anyone can learn: how to run a system, do the accounting. They are skills that you can learn. Other skills, like being a real “people person” or being “extrovert” (because you have to be) are harder to develop.
You have to be out there in front of the guest, or leading your team, or even talking to multiple people, including vendors, that come to your hotel. You have to be a good “people person” that can really connect with a lot of people. And that means a lot of different kinds of people because hotels have all sorts of people coming to them.
What is the hardest part of being a hotel manager? What is the best part?
R: There is a lot of hard things about being a hotel manager. I think the hardest part is really just building your team together and having the right mindset to continue. There are problems that happen every day and how you continue going is the key.
The best part of being a hotel manager is knowing that you made a difference in somebody’s experience. They are coming to stay with you and you make their stay exceptional.
That’s a great feeling that you can have when you are a hotel general manager: that you make a difference in someone’s life. Either your team’s or the guests’, you are making a difference.
And what is the best thing about being a hotel owner?
R: Income stream, where you don’t have to work at the hotel 100% of the time and you still make some money, which is always nice! And you are also helping a team of people that are improving their lives.
I always explain to our team that while they are here, they are going to learn things that are going to improve their lives. Not just making money. If you are just here for the money, then you might wanna find another job, because you can always find something else. But if you want to be here, it should be for the experience.
We do quarterly training for the entire staff and we always talk about mindset, different ideas, personal stuff and it’s nice that you can help people grow. Not just yourself.
Many people think that it is only about the money, but you are telling us that is also (and maybe most important) about the people. It’s refreshing to hear!
R: There’s a balance. I could be making a lot more money than I currently am. I wanna be proud of my hotel, proud of how we operate our property and it’s not always about money. Sometimes you are helping others. You are providing a great experience for your guests and there’s a nice balance to that.
There is one of your videos where you talk about the American crisis and how that impact the hotel industry. How did you manage to not let yourself down and prosper in difficult times?
Before I learned customer service (which is a big part of any business), I always heard when I was younger: “if you have really good customer service, then your business thrives compared to another person or hotel that doesn’t really care about customer service.”
In 2009, when the economy went down, maybe 6 months or a year before that, I had totally renovated my property, spend over a million dollars renovating it, and a couple of months later, the economy died and everything just crashed.
I thought: “I need to figure out how to make money”. We were down like big time! And so everybody else. So I had to learn something new. I tried a different bunch of things and I learned customer service just by reading and listening and I started implementing these ideas.
When things are bad, you have the chance to improve your service, your scores, the experience.
And that’s what I did: we got a bunch of tools that made guests happy. Simple things like a candy bar that has the guest’s name on it, personalized, and we would welcome them at the check-in.
Little things like that helped us improve and I took my small property into an award-winning hotel and getting great reviews and becoming #1 on Tripadvisor. So, if I can do it, anyone can do it!
We can see on your social media that you try to balance personal and professional lives. Do you have any tips on how to do it so general managers out there don’t get crazy?
R: Just knowing that before you come to the hotel to work, you should understand what possibilities and time efforts are going to be on the jobs. It’s a lot of jobs, it’s not easy. But I think that if we have the right mindset when we are coming to a hotel, especially being a manager, it’s a good start.
Some managers work 40 to 70 hours a week. Or even 80 hours a week if it has to be! You have to have the right mindset. It’s hard to be at home and at work and sometimes at work call you in…
Paula: I used to work in the hotel industry and I was a General Manager of a small boutique hotel and one thing that drove me crazy was that I failed to manage my personal life and professional lives. One big mistake that I made was that I centralized all decisions on me. And that didn’t help at all my performance and even the staff’s satisfaction.
Have you learned a lesson that you think everybody should know about being a general manager?
R: Yeah, delegation is a huge part of hotel management. But there are hundreds of lessons from working in a hotel. I think the biggest is how to be productive and how to have a great attitude: when a guest is complaining in front of you, your employees don’t show up or somebody quits or there is a fight because a guest is mad about something…
There are hundreds of things that can happen and if you don’t start with a good attitude, it’s gonna be hard for you to manage yourself and other people.
So that’s a huge challenge: to be mentally focused and ready to go.
Like this interview?
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