Hotel General Manager – Mentor, Trisha Kerkstra

Hotel General Manager

Mentor, Trisha Kerkstra

 

Screenshot 2016-02-27 12.12.17Trisha is the General Manager of POSTOAK Lodge and Retreat, a resort and conference center located on 1,000 acres six miles north of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. She has followed an interesting career path first getting a degree in sociology and then working as a counselor. After three years as a counselor, she went on to graduate school and received a Masters in Higher Education. Trisha was then hired by the University of Tulsa to manage housing and dining in the residence halls. She quickly became a director, a position where she learned many of the same management skills she would later use when she entered the hospitality industry.

After ten years at TU, Trisha wanted to try something new and worked first for the Marriot and later the Doubletree Hotel where she held positions that broadened her experience in the hospitality industry including Conference Services Manager and Director of Catering. Each hotel chain had their own established processes and procedures they used to manage their hotels. When she later moved to a position with a new luxury hotel that was owned by a smaller hotel group, Trisha was able to build her own team and create her own management systems combining the best parts of what she had learned from these other companies.

Trisha worked five years for this new conference hotel and then went out on her own as a hospitality consultant and also taught hospitality management as a part-time instructor at Tulsa Community College. She also worked part time as the director for three local associations representing building owners, property managers and the hotel association, and started her own bed and breakfast before she was hired as the General Manager of POSTOAK Lodge in 2013.

In her article, Trisha points out that the hospitality industry is labor intensive and consequently provides a number of entry-level career opportunities where talented people can rise quickly through the ranks. She also talks about internships and part time jobs you can get while you are in high school and later in college that will give you the chance to experience what it is like to have a career in the hospitality industry. This job experience will also give you the opportunity to begin to build a network of contacts that will help you get that first job and later advance your career.

Overview

 I grew up in a large family with nine brothers and sisters in Worth, Illinois a suburb south of Chicago. All of us had responsibilities like setting the dinner table, washing dishes, mowing the yard thereby developed good work habits. Even though my parents didn’t have a lot of money, they managed to send half of us to college, thanks in part to the Illinois State Scholarship Commission.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career while I was in high school until I took a class in sociology and pursue those courses. I chose a small, private college in Illinois called Blackburn where all students were required to work a minimum of 160 hours each semester. Blackburn’s work/study program is unique in that rather than getting paid directly, the college reduced your room and board to almost nothing. Students worked as carpenters, plumbers, electricians and masons and helped construct many of the buildings on the campus. I worked in food prep in the kitchen, housekeeping, secretarial and even managed the student center. During the summer, my parents said that I had to earn two thousand dollars to help pay for my expenses if I wanted to go back each year. All these things made Blackburn affordable for my parents and me.

My first job after I got my BA in Sociology was working as a caseworker for Family & Children Services helping young single mothers navigate social services. Next, I worked at Planned Parenthood for a year as counselor. I then moved to Houston, Texas and with my two years’ experience in case work and counseling, got a job with the Saudi Arabian Government as an academic advisor for students studying in the United States. At that time in the 1980’s, the Saudi Ministry of the Interior had between ten and twenty thousand students studying computer science and engineering in colleges and universities all over the US to train leaders for their government and businesses. I reviewed student’s grades, processed paperwork between the government and the colleges, and maintained a caseload of about 200 students. If they made good grades they could go home for the summer so I then issued airline tickets. If not, they had to attend summer school. I really enjoyed working with the students, after two years decided that that I wanted to do more work in student services. So, in 1983 got an assistantship in higher education at Iowa State University. In return for tuition and room and board, I managed a residence hall while earning my Masters in Higher Education. My experience running a residence hall and my graduate degree led to my getting hired at the University of Tulsa working in housing and dining services. I first worked in just one residence hall and then was promoted to the Associate Director of Residence Life. We were a revenue-generating department for TU and worked to keep the dorms full year round –with students during the school year and conferences and camps in the summer. My last three years at TU I ran the Student Center and still managed the summer camps and conferences.

A lot of what I was doing at TU was similar to working for a hotel –both are considered to be in the hospitality industry- managing housing, foodservice and support services. Although I could have stayed at TU, I decided I wanted to try something different and went to work as the Conference Services Manager at the Marriott Southern Hills. As my first hotel job, this is where I learned a lot about hotel management. The Conference Services Manager ensures that the groups who book conventions get all the services delivered for which they contracted – number of room nights, banquets, audio-visual, etc.   A great position as I had to work with every department.

A mentor told me that it was always good to work for a different hotel brand because their processes and procedures were all different. Learning these different systems made you more valuable and gave you more job options. After three years at the Marriott, I took the position of Director of Catering at the Downtown Doubletree. The Doubletree was a convention hotel where I was able to build a network of contacts in the broader convention community in Tulsa. I worked there for four years and then was offered the same job at the Renaissance Hotel, a new luxury hotel that was being built in South Tulsa. It was an interesting experience. We began to sell the hotel to conventions while it was being built and often walked around giving tours in hard hats. We started out with five employees and then ten and eventually two hundred once the hotel was completed. Being a brand new hotel, we had figure out how to get everyone to work together; thus, we got to create our own processes and procedures. Hotel hours can be brutal. I often worked ten-twelve hours six days a week and after five years I just needed to give my family more time. My husband had quit work to be with our children while they were young and now they were getting older- middle school and high school. It was time to transition to something still in the hospitality business but that I could work from ho me.

I crafted a variety of jobs together- teaching part-time for Tulsa Community College in hotel management, worked as a Hospitality Consultant for new venues and catering business and my husband and I bought a house near the fairgrounds and ran a bed and breakfast. The consulting morphed into association management- I ended up closing the B & B after two years as I got so busy running three associations- membership services, producing meetings and special events, advocacy and education.

But a few years later, my husband passed unexpectedly and my two children began to leave home. I got a call in 2013 about a position as the General Manager of POSTOAK Lodge and Retreat, a resort and conference center. So, I thought, here is my chance to be a GM and work at one more lodging property; so I gave up the relaxed lifestyle of working from home and went back to support a property. It is truly Oklahoma’s most unique lodging property- situated on a thousand acres, yet only ten minutes from downtown Tulsa, it is located in the beautiful Osage Hills. Here is a link to the website: http://www.postoaklodge.com

Being the GM, I have had the chance to build a responsive staff, establish policies and procedures that work for POSTOAK, and develop key department heads. I was once told by one of my mentors that the job of a manager is to train your replacement. I have done that throughout my career, which made the transition from one job to the next easier for the property d me. I feel that I have left each department or organization position well, with a trained leader to take my place. It has helped me build and maintain good relationships in the local hospitality industry.

Advantages and Disadvantage of the Hospitality Industry

 The hospitality industry provides career opportunities for many people to be able to improve their economic situation and move into the middle class and beyond. There are a lot of entry-level jobs in this industry for high school students as part time front desk staff or banquet servers; for college graduates in sales and catering as assistants, front desk supervisors and assistant banquet managers. Talented people can be promoted in less than a year, and it is not unusual for people to become vice presidents in hotel chains with flagship brands before they are forty.

There is also the opportunity for good hotel managers to become hotel property owners. Flagship names like Hilton, Marriott and Doubletree franchise their names and management systems to hotels that are owned by investors. Besides the normal advantages of franchises like name recognition and consistency, the biggest advantage for a hotel franchise is a brand’s reservation system. It is possible for good managers to attract investors or be recruited by an investor group to build or acquire hotels where the manager can receive an ownership position.

The biggest disadvantage to working in the hospitality industry is the long hours although this is getting better. It is not unusual for managers to work six days a week and ten-hour days. I try to be flexible with people. For example, I have one employee who has a young child. We have worked out a schedule where he normally works about forty-fifty hours per week, five days a week from Tuesday through Saturday, as he wanted Mondays off for child care sharing.

How to Prepare for a Career in the Hospitality Industry

  • When you are in high school, make sure that you take computer classes so that you are proficient using basic software like word, excel and publisher.
  • The hospitality industry is labor intensive, thus, there are a lot of part time jobs available while you are in high school that will give you the chance to see how a hotel operates. This experience will give you a better idea if a career in hospitality management is something you want to pursue.
  • There is now a one-year program at Tulsa Technology Center where you can earn a Certificate in Lodging Skills. You can then take the other classes you need to get an Associates Degree in Business at Tulsa Community College. These credits will transfer to Northeastern State University or Oklahoma State University where you can complete a four- year degree. You will need a four year degree to reach the upper levels of the hospitality industry.
  • High schools students who are residents of Tulsa County can apply for the Tulsa Achieves program. You must apply by March of your senior year and begin to attend TCC full time in the fall. Most full time TCC students also work part time jobs to help pay their other expenses and minimize the need for student loans.
  • While you are in college, pursue an internship offered by hotels in the Tulsa area. I have had good experience with interns and I have found some talented people this way. Most hotel, restaurant and hospitality programs require an internship as part of graduation requirements. OSU offers a job fair and brings in nationally known companies who need summer interns for resorts, national parks and other hospitality jobs.
  • The hospitality industry is a close community and building a personal network is an important way to lean about new career opportunities. When working as an intern or in a part time job, do your best, volunteer for additional duties, and attend industry functions. This will help build your personal relationships which will contribute to new opportunities throughout your career.

Summary

 I have had a fulfilling career in the hospitality industry. I have been able to work in number of increasingly responsible positions with a lot of great people serving many different groups of people. I have enjoyed the constant learning process as well as the satisfaction that comes from training new people and seeing them advance in their own careers. The industry requires hard work and long hours. But it also offers a chance for rapid advancement. If you have an outgoing personality, are service oriented, enthusiastic in your work, and can lead and manage people, you will meet with success in the hospitality industry.

 

US Bureau of Labor Statistics for Lodging Management

 The median annual wage for lodging managers of in all categories was $47,680 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,630, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $94,780.

 

Management Job Titles in the Lodging Industry Used in the USBLS Statistics

 A number of hotel management job titles were lumped into these statistics and include:

The General Manager is the most senior executive of a hotel or motel, although he or she might report to the owner or executives of the parent hotel chain. The General Manager has financial responsibility for the operation, setting budgets, approving expenditures, and determining room rates. The General Manager also has responsibility for front of the house operations as well, setting standards and overseeing restaurant and banquet operations, guest services, housekeeping, and decor.

Front Office Managers are responsible for the hotel's check-inand checkout desks. They direct the front desk staff, handle guest complaints, issues and requests. In many cases, front office managers have the authority to adjust guests' bills, in cases where there is a dispute over charges.

Larger hotels employ Convention Service Managers to coordinate the banquets, meetings, and other special events. Before the event, the convention service manager meets with the event's planners to determine room requirements, meeting configurations, amenities needed, and banquet services. During the event, they are available to answer questions and resolve issues, and keep an eye on things to ensure that the facility's service standards are met.

Job Outlook

Employment of lodging managers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree in hotel or hospitality management are expected to have the best job opportunities. Applicants can expect strong competition for most management jobs.

 

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