Skift Take

These interviews are proof that many of today's chief hotel executives literally worked their way to the top, and their first hospitality jobs weren't always very glamorous. Their experiences too, provide a perspective on a greater challenge facing the hospitality industry as a whole: that of recruiting new talent and training front desk agent or janitor to become tomorrow's CEO.

No matter your politics, it’s the middle of winter and most Americans would be happy to take a vacation right about now.

Want a nice room on a beach somewhere? Many of the hotels around the globe, by the way, are part of large chains overseen by just a handful of people.

For the latest in Reuters’ “First Jobs” series, we talked to a few of those high-powered hoteliers about the gigs that got them started in life.

Arne Sorenson
President & CEO, Marriott International

First job: Motel night cleaner

I was assistant foreman of the night cleaning crew at the Ambassador Motor Lodge in Wayzata, Minnesota. It was not a fancy job, so it didn’t take extraordinary connections to get it.

The shift was from around 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and we were responsible for cleaning all the public areas – vacuuming the carpets, mopping the bathrooms. The night shift is an interesting collection of folks, working for all sorts of different reasons. Everyone came from their own unique circumstances, but we all had to learn how to work together.

One of the life lessons from it was that there is pride and dignity in every single job – even the ones you literally don’t see, because they take place in the middle of the night. I even volunteered to clean the bathrooms myself. That was because no one else wanted to do it, I could get it done relatively quickly – and it let me get some reading done.

J. Allen Smith
President & CEO, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

First job: Brickmason’s helper

The summer I turned 16, I got a job at a construction site in Lexington, South Carolina earning $1.85 an hour. I was the youngest person on the jobsite, and I was tested very early by the more experienced workers on the crew. They wanted to see if I was really up for backbreaking work in the intense South Carolina heat.

I guess I passed the test, mixing mortar and hauling bricks up scaffolding to where the masons were working. Over the course of the summer I graduated to become a ‘concrete finisher.’ In the context of manual labor, that was a big move up.

That job is something I reflect on quite a bit, and made me appreciate that kind of hard work.

Herve Humler
President & COO, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

First job: Busboy

My first job while at school and growing up as a teenager was working in a restaurant and bar in the South of France. My position was the all-around boy – mostly the busboy, clearing the food station, making sure the glasses and silverware were polished, and vacuuming the restaurant after every shift. I was eligible for a very small portion of the tip pool, and a small base salary.

What did I do with that money growing up in the South of France? At that time there was no restriction for teenagers to drink alcohol, so I spent some of this money on a beer after work, and the rest on gas for my moped.

My first ‘real’ job came after my military service in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, where I remained and worked at the Hotel Ivoire, which was part of InterContinental. As the night auditor, I had no supervisor – and I liked roaming the hotel by myself at night.

Sheila Johnson
Founder & CEO, Salamander Hotels & Resorts

First job: Music teacher

I had been a violinist since I was 9 years old, playing in the Chicago Youth Symphony and winning state competitions. So my first job out of college was as orchestra director for five district schools in New Jersey. I lived in Princeton, New Jersey, and traveled up and down Route 1.

After that I went to teach at Sidwell Friends school in Washington, D.C., making $7,200 a year. That was too little to live on, so I had to supplement that by getting a job as an actress. What I learned is that everyone has to be resourceful in life. Work hard, stay focused, and just do what you have to do.

The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.
Editing by Beth Pinsker and Frances Kerry

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Tags: ceo interviews, four seasons, marriott, ritz-carlton

Photo Credit: Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson's first job was working as a night shift cleaner for a motel in Minnesota. Fabrizio Bensch / Skift

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