Reflecting on more than 30 years in hotel management, leadership and hospitality, we profile George Cozonis, Managing Director of the legendary Plaza Hotel in New York City, on some of the most important leadership and management lessons he’s learned throughout his career. “Every last person’s work is not only useful, but essential. Imagine if there weren’t any clean pillowcases, bed sheets or dinner napkins? The hotel would come to a complete standstill,” explained Cozonis.
Cozonis is one of more than 35 global hoteliers profiled in new hotel management book and hospitality management book A Wealth of Insight: The World’s Best Luxury Hoteliers on Leadership, Management, and the Future of 5-Star Hospitality. Below is a condensed version of his chapter.
In between high school and college, I spent a summer “working” at the Grande Bretagne Hotel in Athens. At nearly 200 years old, it is still one of the grandest hotels in the world. I say “working” because the owners were family friends and the staff treated me with kid gloves. This amounted to everything being explained to me, without getting my hands dirty. Looking back, the exposure to such a beautiful, well-kept and historic hotel, where the traditions of old-world European hospitality were upheld and cherished, solidified my interest in the industry.
NOT SO FAST
After studying hotel management, I truly believed I would be hired as a general manager upon graduating. It was a wakeup call when, in my first job as a management trainee, I could barely keep up answering telephones at the reception desk.
THE LAUNDRY ROOM
I completed my management training program at Boston’s Parker House, the oldest continuously operating hotel in America. I was then offered the position of laundry manager at the same property. This was a very special unit of the hotel. Not only did it have a stable and dedicated crew, but it also employed individuals with developmental disabilities. They had been there for years and were great at what they did. This taught me that there is a place for everyone in our industry and that working in a community such as a hotel can bring precious and critical value to a person’s life—no matter the role.
Working on the laundry team also made me realize that it isn’t the relatively few glamorous jobs that make a hotel what it is. Every person’s work is not only useful, but essential. Imagine if there weren’t clean pillowcases, bed sheets or dinner napkins. The hotel would come to a complete standstill.
A CULTURE OF SERVICE
A shared vision, common goals and a commitment to serve are at the heart of team culture. In this industry, every colleague must have, in his or her heart, a spirit of service. In practice, this means that the entire team must consistently adhere to a set of behaviors, standards, and good habits that serve the guests, the employees and therefore the organization.
Not long ago, luxury in the context of hotels was mainly about feather-top mattresses, silver teapots and champagne. Today, those are not the only things that count. Each customer has his or her own set of customer aspirations, and they have evolved over time. Therefore, the ideal relationship between guests and staff is one in which staff are trained to seek out, learn and understand what is important for every guest. They must then have the skill and authority to deliver. I believe the only thing that can make a customer-staff relationship even more effective is when a customer actively invests time and energy into creating a positive rapport with staff. I am sure that many will regard this as a heretic statement, but I truly believe in it.
PRESENT OR NOT
The fundamental goal of a leader should be that the unit, department or hotel he or she leads should function equally well in the leader’s absence as when the leader is present. In other words, a leader’s job is to build a great team, empower it, trust it and support it to deliver. A leader should not micromanage day-to-day operations.
FEEL GOOD LUXURY
Luxury is not only about crystal chandeliers, champagne and caviar. It is about making guests feel good. A guest who eats at McDonalds and is made to feel good is just as appreciative of the experience as a guest at The Plaza. A boutique hotel is just as much of a business as an ultra-luxury property. If you’re looking to join the industry, it’s important to find the market segment that is best suited to your personality and style.
TREAT EVERY GUEST EQUALLY
A high net-worth customer who spends vast amounts of money in your hotel is very important. You must pay great attention to this kind of guest. Yet, never at the expense of the customer who spends a few hundred dollars for one night in the smallest room available. That customer may have been saving up in order to celebrate a wedding anniversary in a hotel as luxurious as the one where you happen to work. Disappointing them in any way is far more serious, in my view, than disappointing the guest who spends almost every night of the year in luxury hotels.