Checking Into the Hotel Industry
We all know that a week's vacation on the beach in Waikiki is a nice change of pace from life in a fluorescent-lit cubicle, but Randy Goldberg, executive director of recruiting for the privately-held Hyatt hotel chain, says many business students don't realize that a job in hospitality can be a lucrative way to avoid that cubicle forever.
Goldberg recently spoke to BusinessWeek.com reporter Kerry Miller about the opportunities for business students within the hospitality industry. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:
I think the biggest misconception for people that have not studied hospitality or worked in it is that it may not be a good long-term career choice. A lot of times people look at it and say, "Well, those are the food servers in the restaurant or the front-office clerks," and they don't think about the higher-level positions that we have in a hotel.
A front-office manager at the Hyatt Regency Chicago is probably making about $60,000 or $70,000 a year. A general manager in one of our average hotels is making over six figures, depending on the size of the hotel. And a lot of students coming out of the business schools don't always know about what that career can really take you to if you're interested in doing that.
What are some of the areas you hire for that would be of interest to an undergraduate business student?
We traditionally recruit about 300 students into our Management Training Program, and while a majority of the students we get come through hospitality schools, we also recruit straight from business schools. That's because while most hotel companies really only look for what we call the operations trainees, we also have programs specifically for things like accounting and sales.
While accounting and sales are going to be where most of the general business students go, we always get quite a few general business students that are interested in our operations program, which is a focus on either the rooms part of the hotel or the food and beverage part, because that's basically a management training program that can be utilized in all different types of areas.
What does your management training program entail?
The program length is on average about six months, and the first three months is a rotation throughout the hotel.
We have every single trainee work in every department and just about every position within the hotel. That means working at the front desk, working in sales, working in accounting, working in human resources, changing light bulbs with our facilities-maintenance department, cleaning rooms—it's a little bit of everything. We're trying to give them a full scope of what it takes to operate a hotel. After that rotation, the trainee would focus on their area of interest.
When they're done with their training, they're placed into an entry level management position, typically at the same hotel in that area of focus. So again, if that area is sales, that person is usually placed as an entry level sales manager. If it's rooms division, that person is placed either as an assistant for an office manager or an assistant housekeeping manager.
After the program is completed, what does the career trajectory for a new hire look like?
Typically the goal of the people that are going into the operations areas is to become a general manager of the hotel. So let's say I decide I'm going to go into the rooms division. I may start off as an assistant manager at the front desk.
The next promotional opportunity is going to be at the department-head-level position, such as for an office manager or what we would call an executive housekeeper, someone who oversees the housekeeping department.
The next position is usually going to be what we call an assistant rooms exec, the No. 2 person overseeing the rooms division of the hotel. The next position would be rooms executive, who oversees all rooms operations of the hotel. And that final position is really going to be general manager of a hotel.
Obviously it depends on the person, but that process—from an entry-level manager to a managing committee or rooms exec-level position—on average is probably going to be about six years.... General manager, somewhere between six and eight years. The next position after that is going to be a senior vice-president overseeing a region of Hyatt, which is typically about 25 hotels, or oversight at the corporate office, overseeing one of those regions.
What's the appeal of hospitality for business students?
First of all, the environment is going to be very different: You're in a functioning, operating, mini-city. You're not going to be just sitting there in a cubicle all the time. The other appealing thing is that there's a lot of flexibility in what you might end up wanting to do.
We have people that have gone up the accounting route who decided to become comptrollers and then switched to become a general manager, which isn't probably something most people would think about, that you would be doing all the number crunching in a hotel and then say, "You know, I really would like to manage the entire property." That's something that is very doable at a Hyatt Hotel.
How common are those kids of leaps? Can people really move from sales to accounting, or accounting to operations?
That's something that happens all the time. In fact, when I'm on campus and we do our presentation, I'll usually ask the students, "Where do you think you're like to be?" And some will say, "Well, I want to be a food and beverage director."
And I kind of go around the room and say, "Well, just so you know, there's a good chance that five years from now you guys will be doing something completely different," because I think as they go through the hotel, they start to figure out that there's another area that they may like more.
I think I'm a good example. I started off interested in the rooms division. I went through our management training program, and then I was a front office manager, I was an assistant rooms exec, and then I made a decision to go into human resources, so I completely switched over to a whole new focus. And most people that you talk to at Hyatt would probably tell you they started off in one area and ended up switching to a whole different position.
What's the most unique benefit that Hyatt offers its employees?
I think we all have 401(k) plans and medical/dental benefit plans, but with Hyatt Hotels, you can actually stay at another Hyatt Hotel for free. We hold 1% of our inventory just for employees. It's a nice benefit, because if you do want to go to Hawaii, for example, the room rates for resort hotels can be $300 to $500 a night, but those are complimentary for Hyatt employees.