by Alan Massarsky

Many upper management hospitality professionals who have spent their working lives in the field arrive at a stage in their careers when they wonder about the next step. Increasingly, companies outside the hospitality industry are seeking candidates with hotel backgrounds to bring their skills to fields as diverse as healthcare, fitness, and luxury residential management. Moving beyond a hotel environment presents certain challenges, but opens up numerous opportunities for career growth and greater achievement.

To offer advice for hospitality professionals considering making career transitions, I’ve gathered some valuable insights based on the experiences of five past candidates and clients who have leveraged their hotel management skills to succeed in other industries.

Service is Strength

Hospitality professionals are in high demand by clients who value service as an essential component of their businesses. Service is often not a priority in other fields, and companies can benefit from recruiting executives who bring a service-based approach to their new roles.

According to Len Czarnecki, who went from holding several General Manager positions for Fairmont to General Manager of 432 Park Avenue, a New York super-luxury condominium: “The luxury hotel industry always catered to its guests through the lens of the brand, ultimately asking us to be brand advocates. The significant change from this to luxury residential is understanding the concept that you must be an advocate for the resident first.”

Richard Hayduk, whose career in luxury resorts included serving as President of Boca Raton Resort and Club and presently is CEO and General Manager of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village suggests: “Recognize there could be an ‘establishment’ that you’re up against. Because hospitality is founded on taking care of others, my approach was received with skepticism. But after bringing in more hospitality leaders with shared values, our organization has transitioned from a traditional residential property management to a bit of a disruptor. I suspect there might be other industries with similar situations.”

Patrik Hellstrand, who served as Vice-President of Operations at Revel Casino and Resort and then assumed the same title at Equinox Fitness, says: “One of the most profound insights I’ve experienced in my moves from high-end hospitality through luxury fitness is how relevant and transferable my hospitality skill set has been.”

According to Leland Lewis, who transitioned from InterContinental Hotels to the Cleveland Clinic: “Hospitality is hospitality, no matter what the industry. It is about giving of yourself to make a better experience for those you serve. Not everyone has this instinct, but it’s critical to be successful and happy in service fields.”

Tim Miller, who held senior positions at Morgans and Edition Hotels and changed direction as CEO of Crunch Fitness, says: “Working in hospitality demonstrates that no day is exactly like the day before. This paradigm gave me the ability to deal with a myriad of different circumstances every day and have the flexibility to problem solve ‘in the moment.'”

Shifting Audience Hospitality professionals often have only worked in the field and are unfamiliar with other areas. Managers who have a extensive knowledge of their discipline and great confidence in their skills are often unaware of the similar demands and characteristics shared by other businesses. They are often intimidated by this unfamiliarity and reluctant to pursue opportunities for which they are highly qualified.

Czarnecki: “In the case of my transition to residential, the same skills are called upon, making it an easy change. The nuanced difference being the concept that hotel guests eventually depart where residents remain. As such, the focus on long-term relationship building versus short-term/transient relationships has become paramount.”

Hayduk: “Hospitality background is the key reason for a seamless transition. Recognizing we have 500 team members serving 28,000 residents first (which comes naturally to hospitality leaders) was not the approach to this asset in the past. It appears real estate managers look at the asset first, then the people second. Hospitality people don't think this way and when simply applying the basics of hospitality to property management, the team has felt liberated to perform and the residents were not used to immediate responses and high touch follow-through.”

Hellstrand: “People don’t come to you because of what you sell, they come to you because of how you make them feel. The hospitality industry is all about making guests feel special, catered to, and ultimately happy. At the end of the day, whether it’s a five-star hotel or a pizza business, what we’re talking about is people and service.”

Lewis: “Customers Come First was the service program at InterContinental Hotels, Patients First was the motto at Cleveland Clinic. We in fact mirrored the Customer Comes First program into the Cleveland Clinic Experience and it was highly successful. We put 45,000 employees through this training; from CEO to patient transporter.”

Miller: “The most significant change was the general lack of hospitality “inside” the organization. After years of greeting colleagues the way you would greet guests, I was shocked at how many people failed to greet their co-workers. By modeling behavior that is guest-centric, it set a new standard within the organization and actually shifted the culture to celebrating our customers, rather than being antagonistic towards them.”

Challenges and Opportunities

Inevitable in any change is a period of growth, learning and shifts in expectations. Assuming a leadership role while learning a new culture, new procedures and approaches requires applying one’s skills and experience while adjusting assumptions and perspectives. The demanding nature of the hospitality industry is essential to prepare managers to adjust and succeed in their new field.

Czarnecki: “The day-to-day hotel operation could take on a sense of chaos; but could be tamed with solid organizational skills and delegation. While the residential landscape has a different pace and rhythm, the learned organizational skills have helped me to manage the flow of new expectations and the required new learning. Streamlined meetings, concise dialogue, focused decision-making, multi-tasking and a desire to fix root causes has allowed our new organization to blossom.”

Hayduk: “After 30 years of hotel and resort operations, I now understand why one moves to a regional or corporate role. In my case, I love the day-to-day and when Blackstone called to take on this new challenge, I was fortunate to continue with my passion to serve others in a new industry and on the biggest stage in the world. Day-to-day operations takes its toll (the hours, the team, the guests, etc.); but I was fortunate to be offered a new platform to bring the philosophy of caring for others which is invigorating, even after all these years.”

Hellstrand: “Don’t make a change just for the sake of making a change. Be clear on how it’s in pursuit of your love or dedication of whatever it is that gets your juices going. Ensure it’s not rooted in ego, title, or money; none of those will make you happy.” For me, it’s always been about a passion for learning new things and collaborating with people who know things I don’t. One needs the courage to leave lucrative and comfortable endeavors in the spirit of learning and growing. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so the opportunity to leave a more established position to be a part of an early stage business was irresistible.”

Lewis: “I found there to be a huge learning curve just getting familiar with the complexity, size and rules in healthcare versus hotels. Just be sure you have a clear understanding of the expectations and that you are comfortable with working in an environment where life and death are a daily challenge. Empathy is key, and it’s not something that can be easily taught.”

Miller: “It’s so important to honor the company’s history, what came before you and what made the company unique before making wholesale changes because they seem “right” to you. Don’t think that because you are in a new arena you aren’t equipped to make the “right” decision. There will always be differences from industry to industry, but more often than not, the basics of business apply.”