|By Rich Laden, The Gazette, Colorado
Springs, Colo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 02, 2011--Steve Bartolin marks his 20th year this month as president of The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, a period during which the world-famous resort has undergone more than $300 million in upgrades to retain and bolster its status as an elite property.
Ask Bartolin about his accomplishments during those years, however, and he prefers to shine the spotlight on others.
His management team and 1,800 employees, Bartolin says, deserve credit for keeping The Broadmoor a top property. His mentors in the hospitality industry, he says, taught him business and customer service lessons he employs daily. And owner Oklahoma Publishing Co., of Oklahoma City, Okla., headed by the Gaylord family, pumped millions into The Broadmoor at a time when improvements were sorely needed.
As much as he credits others, however, hospitality industry experts say it's Bartolin who deserves praise for his leadership of The Broadmoor, which remains one of Colorado Springs' most enduring and successful businesses; its guests include presidents and celebrities and the resort plays host to numerous national and international events, such as this coming week's U.S. Women's Open golf tournament.
The Broadmoor's buildings and amenities were aging badly in the years before Bartolin arrived and travel industry publications were poised to downgrade the property's ratings; the Gaylords re-invested in The Broadmoor, but not until Bartolin laid out a vision for hotel upgrades. Now, it's the only hotel in the world to have received five stars from the Forbes (formerly Mobil) Travel Guide for all 51 years the ratings have been handed out.
Bartolin's ability to recognize and solve problems, his emphasis on customer service and loyalty to employees have made him one of the hospitality industry's most respected figures and kept The Broadmoor a world-renowned hotel and resort, others say. Last year, Bartolin's peers named him "Independent Hotelier of the World" in a poll by Hotels magazine.
"History will prove this out, that he's probably had as much impact as the (Broadmoor) founders," said Jack Vaughn, the former head of the Gaylord-owned Opryland Resort who brought Bartolin to Nashville in 1980 and hired him at The Broadmoor in 1991. "Look what he's done with it."
Not everybody is a fan, of course. As the hotel made major capital improvements over the past 15 years, some neighbors complained that city officials rolled over to give the resort whatever it wanted. Bartolin occasionally has taken controversial stands on public policy issues -- from his opposition to construction of a downtown convention center to recent city budget woes.
But for his part, Bartolin said his goal when he arrived in 1991 was to make The Broadmoor a more viable business -- positioning it for the next generation of hotel managers, employees, customers and members of the community. His 20 years as Broadmoor president now rival that of founder Spencer Penrose, who headed the hotel from its opening in 1918 until his death in 1939.
"You think about The Broadmoor, we're just passing through," Bartolin said. "It was here long before I was here, and all of us were here, and it will be here long after. I look at my role as more of one of stewardship. I really feel that way."
"There's no end game in this," he added about maintaining The Broadmoor as a top-flight property. "It really is, in many respects, a race without a finish line. My goal here is to never be content and never let our team be content. Each year I want to see this property get better."
The lavishness of The Broadmoor's 700 rooms, 3,000 acres, golf courses, spa and other amenities stands out in stark contrast to Bartolin's roots. He grew up in Hubbard, Ohio, a town of less than 10,000 outside Youngstown and near the Pennsylvania border. His father, Steve Sr., worked in a factory that made tank cars for railroads.
The younger Bartolin, however, had a ticket out: He was a talented left-handed baseball pitcher. When he graduated from high school at age 17 in 1968, a scout flew to town, sat at the family's kitchen table with Bartolin and his father and offered the younger Bartolin a then-hefty $17,500 bonus to sign with the Detroit Tigers.
His father, who had an eighth-grade education, insisted Bartolin go to college.
Bartolin pitched for Youngstown State University, and was signed by the Tigers after his junior year. After a couple of so-so minor-league seasons, he tore the rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder and his baseball career abruptly ended.
He returned to Youngstown State to finish his bachelor's degree in business. Even with a degree, however, jobs were scarce in blue-collar Youngstown, and Bartolin was painting houses to make a buck. That's when a friend at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, a historic southern resort that dated to the late 1770s, called and asked if he wanted a job. In August 1975, Bartolin worked in the golf club bag room and driving range -- wiping off clubs and grabbing buckets of balls for guests.
Bartolin tells a familiar story about a lesson he learned at the time, one he tries to impart to employees.
While working at The Greenbrier during the hot and sticky summer, he realized the days went quicker when he talked to guests -- reading their names on their golf bags, saying hello and making small talk. When the summer ended, Bartolin got a front-desk job and was launched on a career in the hospitality industry, in part, because of a recommendation he received from one of the guests whom he had befriended at the golf club.
"Whenever you take a job for any organization," Bartolin said, "if you approach it with a positive attitude, and really try and do what's asked of you and really try and do your best, you can't see it now, but over the course of time, those people, their lives and their careers will work out better for them. That's a message we talk about a lot (with employees)."
Bartolin worked at The Greenbrier for five years, holding management positions in the front office, reservations, food and beverage and conference services and sales.
In 1980 Vaughn offered him a job as director of convention services at Opryland. He later was promoted to resident manager during a time during when Opryland's sprawling hotel and convention center complex grew rapidly.
Bartolin then moved up the hospitality industry ladder, accepting the general manager's job at The Greenbrier in 1987. Four years later, Vaughn, who was overseeing The Broadmoor as part of his duties with Gaylord, offered him the job as president in Colorado Springs.
When he took charge at The Broadmoor, Bartolin said he employed several lessons from top executives at The Greenbrier and Opryland.
Customer service is paramount at The Broadmoor, where employees are taught to address guests by name, make eye contact and anticipate their needs. Bartolin, meanwhile, reads every guest comment daily and has been known to pick up litter as he walks across the property.
But a hotel can't forget about the business side of the operation, Bartolin said; some hospitality industry officials put too much emphasis on either customer service or profitability, and wind up sacrificing one for the other.
Another key lesson: Treating employees with respect, whether housekeepers or members of his management team. Bartolin said he wants managers to get to know their employees, ask about their family members and know what's going on in their lives.
"When people know that you care about them, they'll run through a wall for you," Bartolin said. "It's just a real simple thing.
"I don't like anybody that has that kind of attitude, that you think you're better than others," he added. "I think that's part of the culture that's evolved here. The way we work with people, and treat people. Managers that don't treat people well, don't care about them, they don't fit in here very well."
On a recent walk through behind-the-scenes areas where employees grab uniforms or eat in a cafeteria, Bartolin greeted every worker with a "hi" and "how are you doing" and addressed several by name. Before he approached them, several employees greeted him with "hi, Mr. B."
A successful relationship with employees means knowing what's on their minds, Bartolin said. He holds monthly forums with employees, who are asked how their jobs are going, how they get along with their bosses and whether they have everything they need to accomplish their jobs.
Wayne Hoskins, The Broadmoor's security director for 19 years, said employees appreciate Bartolin's down-to-earth approach. Several times, Bartolin has rewarded employees with gifts, including all-expense paid trips to the Super Bowl and World Series.
"You just want to do a good job for him," Hoskins said. "He's so forthcoming. He's a genuine gentleman."
Bartolin also sees the big picture and has an innate ability to size up an operation, assess its strengths and weaknesses and determine what needs to be improved on, said Ted Kleisner, who was president and CEO of The Greenbrier and hired Bartolin as the property's general manager.
Perhaps Bartolin's biggest challenge came when he arrived at The Broadmoor in 1991. The hotel, while still a five-star property, had rotting walls in its golf club building and other deteriorating conditions that had been ignored for years.
One of his first proposals to Gaylord family patriarch Edward Gaylord was a $40 million upgrade that included construction of the west tower and a new golf club and spa.
Gaylord gave the project the green light, which launched the hotel on a series of major improvements that eventually included the 60,000-square-foot Broadmoor Hall, a pool complex and renovations of the property's hotel rooms. Two years ago, The Broadmoor added luxury cottages to house family and corporate gatherings.
At Bartolin's urging, The Broadmoor also jumped into upscale real estate development that included the gated Broadmoor Resort Community, brownstone townhomes across the street from the hotel and condominiums on the west side of the hotel property, said Tom Schmidt, who oversees the hotel's real estate development and has worked with Bartolin for 17 years.
"He has a sense of knowing what works and what doesn't work in the industry," Schmidt said.
What works for The Broadmoor doesn't always work for others. Neighbors complained about parking and traffic problems during Broadmoor construction projects, although Schmidt said Bartolin and the hotel worked with homeowners to accommodate their concerns. Bartolin also caught heat from some business people and civic leaders in 2004 for his opposition to a downtown convention center -- right at the time the hotel had launched construction of its own exhibition hall.
Bartolin doesn't apologize for his opposition to the downtown convention center; had the city gone forward with the project, he said, it never would have attracted the kinds of trade shows and events envisioned for it, nor would it have filled up nearby hotel rooms as consultants had projected -- especially with the economy tanking the last several years.
"That thing would be sucking money like you wouldn't believe right now," Bartolin said.
Bartolin wrote a memo in November 2009 outlining his suggestions on how the city could address its budget problems, such as increased outsourcing and reining in employee wages and benefits. As a business that has paid millions over the years in taxes and as one of the city's biggest private employers, Bartolin said he felt entitled to make suggestions. He said his only regret was that the memo became public and was widely circulated; he said his intent was not to embarrass city officials.
The memo led to creation of the City Committee, a volunteer group that's studying how to apply business principles to city government operations.
The Broadmoor has taken its own hits because of the faltering economy -- group meetings that comprise a huge revenue source for the hotel fell off dramatically when the economy cratered in 2007 and companies cut back on corporate travel, especially to ritzy resorts.
Leisure travelers helped buoy The Broadmoor during the last few years, Bartolin said, but the group meeting business remains slow as the economy continues to struggle.
"It's better than it was, but it's still a little sluggish," he said.
The hotel, Bartolin said, remains solidly profitable. And the millions in capital improvements were paid for with hotel earnings, leaving it debt free, he said.
Bartolin, who turned 60 in December, says he has no plans to retire anytime soon. His health is good, he says, and he enjoys working.
"I'm as enthusiastic today as I was 20 years ago," Bartolin said. "People I've seen who do well in this business, there's a certain passion that drives them. Until I lose that, if that starts to wane or fade, then it's time for me to walk away. But right now, I've still got the juice."
Contact the writer at 636-0228
THE BARTOLIN FILE
--Occupation: President of The Broadmoor hotel since July 1991; became president and CEO in 1996. Also serves on the board of directors of hotel owner Oklahoma Publishing Co.
--Hometown: Hubbard, Ohio.
--Education: Bachelor's degree in business, Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio, 1975.
--Baseball career: A 6-foot, 2-inch southpaw, Bartolin pitched for Youngstown State for three years, throwing a no-hitter, three one-hitters and striking out the first 14 batters he faced during a game in 1972. Signed by the Detroit Tigers, Bartolin went 5-3 in a brief minor-league career before injuring his pitching shoulder.
--Accomplishments: During Bartolin's tenure at the hotel more than $300 million worth of upgrades have been made to The Broadmoor, which is the longest-running consecutive winner of the AAA five-diamond award and the Forbes (formerly Mobil) Travel Guide five-star award -- 35 years and 51 years, respectively. The hotel's Penrose Room restaurant and The Spa at Broadmoor also have received five stars from Forbes for each of the past two years. Bartolin was named Independent Hotelier of the World in 2010 by Hotels magazine; other awards include 1997 Resort Executive of the Year and 2005 Colorado Hotel Executive of the Year. In 1987 he was inducted into Youngstown State's hall of fame and in 1999 was named Penguin of the Year by the school, whose mascot is the penguin.
--Personal: Married to Barbara, his high school sweetheart. Three children: twins John and Annie; daughter Julie; two grandchildren.
--Pastimes: Weekend rides on his two Harley-Davidson motorcycles to places such as Taos, N.M., and Aspen.
"Sometimes in a hectic business like this, one of the things I find is that you really need to give yourself time to think and contemplate a little bit," Bartolin said. "Motorcycles do that for you."
Sources: Gazette research; Broadmoor hotel; Baseball-Reference.com; Youngstown State University Athletic Department
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Copyright (c) 2011, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.
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