Circa 2009. Late September. I’m the regional controller for five hotels. Sitting at my desk minding my own business, doing my own work when the phone rings.
It’s an old friend, one-time assistant, and now the regional controller based at a hotel in another city. He explained the desire to move back to where I was but was not having much luck finding a job. His homesick wife really wanted their children educated at home. We chatted for a few moments and caught up on different topics.
Then he said, “Hey, David, how about we trade jobs?”
“Can we do that?” I asked.
Then I thought, “Wow, it’s 28 years after the high school summer I planned to spend in California and didn’t get to go. Now I might get the chance.”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” he said.
We both got to work to make the job trade possible. First, I got my work visa to go from Canada to the United States. The next positive step was his application for my job was approved. It now depended on me passing mustard with the owners of the hotel in the states.
A date was set for me to attend and participate in the annual budget review meeting scheduled in early November. I was briefed on the hotel's operations and finances by my friend. As the deal hinged on making a good impression on the hotel’s asset managers, it was prudent to discuss how these managers operated. A total of three asset managers were scheduled for the meeting. There were two companies that owned this hotel. Convincing one of the companies was an expected breeze. The second company had two ladies managing the asset. They had a reputation for being difficult to work with.
Finally, the big day arrived. I flew to the U.S. and my friend picked me up at the airport. We enjoyed a nice dinner while discussing the two ladies and the possible objections, questions and overall hot buttons to avoid.
The next morning after breakfast I headed back to the room before the meeting. In the elevator I pushed the button for my floor, but as the door began to close I saw someone entering the elevator foyer. Out of habit I selected and held the door open button.
I casually asked the lady, “Going up?”
She smiled and replied, “Yes, thank you. What a gentleman.”
What a great way to start my day. I asked her, “Where is home for you?”
As the doors opened at my floor I said, “Have a great day.”
“You too,” I hear as the doors closed again.
Thirty minutes later in the board room, with the Hotel’s Executive Team, in walks the three asset managers. Introductions were made.
Who do you think the lead asset manager was? She was the one with all the clout I found out later. Yes, it was the lady I held the elevator door for. A good decision perhaps.
We reviewed the budget. The hotel was not doing well as a result of some issues from the last few years and the economy. The review was painful. We were getting cut to pieces, as was the budget. “Cut this . . . You didn’t need that . . . Why so much expense here . . . This should be higher . . . That was too low.”
The last thing on the day’s agenda was discussing my appointment as hotel controller. The three asset managers, hotel's executive team and I listened as the general manager went on about all the experience and expertise I possessed. He finished his pitch. There was silence for what seemed like an eternity.
Then the lead asset manager said, “I can’t believe you can’t find a controller in this city! Why the heck do we have to move him from Canada? With this economy do you have any idea what you’re doing with our money?”
I couldn’t breathe, like someone sucked all the oxygen out of the room.
The general manager was a talented negotiator. To defuse the discomfort, he smiled and said, “It’s been a long day for us all. I suggest my team leaves the four of us to finish this discussion.
“Fine!” she almost stomped her foot, somewhat perturbed.
Then I spoke. I didn’t plan this, it just came out, like opening a champagne bottle, pop: “Please allow me. If you bring in a local person without the brand experience, he or she will be at a great disadvantage compared to me. I see from our day together how I can save you 10 times what it will cost you to move me here. Knowing how to navigate inside this hotel brand is invaluable.”
With that, the general manager excused the team for a much-needed drink. The day culminated with a reception and dinner in the hotel's largest suite. It felt like a celebration after a boxing match where the opponents took time to kiss and make up. For the next 30 minutes the verdict hung in the balance. My friend was sure the deal was dead. So was I. But the tiniest bit of hope lingered. The hope wasn’t based on anything tangible other than our need and want for this deal to happen.
The general manager arrived at the reception with a somber look. I was sure I was heading home tomorrow empty handed. Instead I heard, “Welcome aboard, Mr. Lund.”
San Francisco, here we come!