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Loews Hotel Executives Draw Lessons from TLC Reality Show

By Becky Pallack, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Mar. 8--What happens when the CEO of a major resort hotel chain has to make the beds and carry the bags?

Can he make a bed as well as he can make a budget? Or run a vacuum as well as a board meeting?

That's the premise of a new TV show called "Now Who's Boss?" on The Learning Channel. Loews Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch is the subject of tonight's debut episode, which airs at 11.

During taping of the show in June, Tisch learned so much about his employees' workday that he assigned every executive in his company to give it a try. Loews Ventana Canyon Resort executives staged their own "Now Who's Boss Day" last week, along with managers from 20 other Loews hotels across the country. Tonight, they'll be watching their CEO struggle through several different jobs at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel.

Tisch's triumphs included successfully flipping an omelet and correctly making a bed. But, to the amusement of the housekeeping staff, he failed to clean even one room thoroughly enough to meet Loews company standards.

In Tucson, Loews Ventana Canyon Managing Director Brian Johnson and his nine-member executive team spent a recent day working in the kitchens, in the spa, in security, in the laundry room and in housekeeping. The managers, who usually spend their days at desks, got a new view of what work at the hotel is all about -- hard work and good service.

"It brings you back down to the grass roots of where you came from and gives you a greater appreciation of what the staff does," Johnson said.

His teacher for the day, Dining Room Supervisor Juan Ybarra, 41, said it was a bit scary to tell the hotel boss what to do. But Johnson, 47, said it reminded him of his first job as a dishwasher at a Friendly Ice Cream franchise on the East Coast. He had to help load dozens of coffeepots that fill a dishwasher in the basement of the hotel.

Johnson and Ybarra spent the morning preparing dishes and silverware for a 230-person banquet at the resort. Johnson was surprised when Ybarra produced a highly detailed order form, which showed the counts of silverware, plates, glasses and champagne flutes. After finding each item in storage, the two checked each piece for cracks, then cleaned and polished each item before putting it on the tables.

CEO Tisch -- who had to learn to be a housekeeper, banquet server, line cook, engineer, pool attendant, front desk clerk and bellman -- said he gained a greater respect for his employees after experiencing what they do for a living.

"I lugged two bell carts with 15 bags for a family of 10 to their rooms and didn't get a tip!" Tisch vented on the TLC Web site.

"The air can get a little thin when you are at the top," he said in a company memo. "My respect for Loews Hotels' employees has grown, and the experience changed the way we make decisions about everything from uniforms to methods of service.

"There is nothing like walking in another person's shoes, even if it's for a short time, to open your eyes to their world."

Controller Lynn Reaves' eyes were opened to how much walking some jobs at Ventana Canyon demand.

"Did you know housekeepers walk 20 to 25 miles a day at this resort?" he asked.

Reaves, 53, donned a pair of brand-new, bright white running shoes for his Now Who's Boss Day experience in housekeeping.

He spent the morning trying to find enough doilies to go under the water glasses and wineglasses in each room. He found closet and storage space he didn't know existed after seven years of managing the resort's finances. He wheeled carts of dirty linen behind the walls of the guest areas to the laundry and took out the trash. The experience convinced him that all executives should trade places with their employees from time to time if they want to really understand and appreciate their staff. It takes 600 employees to run the 400-room resort.

"Most of the time the managers don't know what goes on behind the scenes and what we do every day, so I think it's a good idea," said D'Ebonyque Pittman, 25, a morning pastry kitchen supervisor who has worked at Loews for four years. On Tuesday, she was training the hotel's human resources director to cut cookie dough into 1-inch rounds before baking.

Human-Resources-Director-turned-pastry-cook-for-a-day Bethel Klein, 55, said she hasn't worked an hourly position since 1970. She was wearing a chef's smock and getting her fingers gooey in the dough.

"Just being on your feet all day," she said, "is a revelation."

-----To see more of The Arizona Daily Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

(c) 2004, The Arizona Daily Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. LTR,

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