I’ve always been a big believer in the magic of hotels and their ability to transform your life, if only for a night. Behind every great hotel is a great team, which is headed up by the general manager (GM) — essentially the CEO of the property.
Industry insiders will be quick to admit that most GMs are men. But there are some amazing women who are breaking through the glass ceiling and making their mark on the hotel world with a warmth and sense of humor that match their professionalism and talent.
I had the pleasure of interviewing five high-powered female GMs with rich and varied backgrounds who are leading the charge at exceptional properties around the world — from Thailand to the Caribbean.
Here’s what they had to say about the challenges and rewards of their chosen profession — and their advice to other women who are thinking about following suit:
Q: What do you love most about being a GM?
- “Working with my team and encouraging them to make their dreams come true,” says Rebeca Selley of the Four Seasons Buenos Aires, Argentina. “It recharges my batteries, arriving at the hotel and seeing them.”
- “Bringing life back to this iconic property is really amazing,” says Laura McIver of El Encanto in Santa Barbara, California. “Orient-Express has done an incredible job being true to people’s memory but bringing El Encanto into the modern era.”
- “I work with upwards of 300 staff from 21 different nations,” says Karen Whitt of the Regent Palms Turks & Caicos. “When you spend so many hours working alongside each other, your team becomes a mini-community, a family.”
- “I love the hotel’s incredibly rich history and heritage,” says Amanda Hyndman of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok. “But what truly differentiates this hotel is the Thai people, world-renowned for their elegance, charm, and grace.”
- “Helping people advance and grow in their professional careers,” says Shan Kanagasingham of The Surrey in New York City. “If someone has the longing and passion for learning and growth, I love being able to help them and provide opportunities for success.”
Q: How do you want people to feel when they stay in your hotel?
- “Like they’re coming to the home of a trusted friend and that their experience is the only one that matters,” says McIver. “I want them to feel comfort.”
- “As if they are returning to a familiar place,” Kanagasingham says. “The original Surrey was a residence, and when we went through a renovation we wanted to keep that residential feel with a sophisticated edge.”
- “I want our guests to feel pampered and genuine warmth from my team,” says Selley. “I want them to know we will do our best to make them have a wonderful time, whether they’re visiting for business or leisure.”
- “Like they are on the most amazing vacation with all the creature comforts of home,” Whitt says. “You want to positively impact all five senses — smell, touch, taste, sight, and sound.”
- “As if it’s their home away from home,” Hyndman says. “For me, it is not about the hardware because there are many beautiful hotels in the world, but about the personal connection between our colleagues and the guests.”
Q: If you had one day completely free of responsibility where you live, what would you do?
- Selley: “I love walking, and enjoying the fresh air, movies, theater, and a great dinner with friends with wine and lots of laughs.”
- “I really enjoy Chatuchak, the world’s largest weekend market with over 1,500 stalls, and Lumpini Park, Bangkok’s ‘green lung,’” Hyndman says. “After walking in the heat, I like to go for a foot massage and then in the evening try one of the new places in town.”
- McIver: “I would go hiking or kayaking in the morning, have lunch in a café by the harbor, take my kids to the Santa Barbara Zoo, and catch a show at the Santa Barbara Bowl in the evening.”
- “I enjoy seeing exhibits at the Guggenheim, taking in a Broadway show, sitting down for a long afternoon brunch, or simply walking down Madison Avenue,” Kanagasingham says. “There is nothing better than meeting friends for a late dinner and enjoying the city’s nightlife.”
- Whitt: “I have two island dogs, and it is such a joy to walk on the white powder sand beaches while they chase crabs and play in the water.”
Q: Most general managers are men. What advice do you have for young women who aspire to this top job?
- “Be true to yourselves, and don’t pay attention [to people who say] that this business is still male-oriented because sometimes, we women can be our own worst enemies,” Selley says. “Our feminine and caring attributes are a great match for hospitality.”
- “This is not an 8 to 5 job, and you must be prepared to devote the adequate amount of time and energy required to be successful,” says Whitt. “You must have passion, energy, and enthusiasm.”
- “Life is about making choices. Whatever you choose, you have to give 100 percent if you want to succeed,” Hyndman says. “It is great being a woman in this business because it is about interpersonal savviness and negotiating your way through a myriad of scenarios.”
- “In many ways I think women are better suited to management and leadership roles,” McIver says. “Don’t be afraid to succeed!”
- “Being a woman has never been a detractor in achieving my goals,” Kanagasingham says. “I’m a big believer in doing what you love, and all the doors will open for you.”