Coyle Conversations: Discussions with Hospitality Leaders – David Martin, COO, Wright Investment Properties, Inc.

David Martin

David Martin
COO, Wright Investment Properties, Inc.

I was recently giving a presentation about hotel mystery shopping and quality assurance and had the opportunity to chat with David Martin, COO of Wright Investment Properties, Inc.

David’s career arc is unique, and has included positions at McDonalds, Red Lion, Bayview Hotels, Kimpton, Wyndham (110 hotels) and currently Wright Investments Properties, Inc. where he overseas management of several brands, 36 hotels in all.

JC Any advice for someone who is just starting their career in hospitality?
DM Definitely.  Ask yourself:  “Do I truly like serving and helping other people?”  When people are traveling, guests are insecure and often express themselves in frustration or in angry terms if things aren’t going right. If at your core, you don’t have a commitment to helping people in difficult situations, hospitality is not for you.
JC OK, so you either have that ‘will to serve’ or you don’t. What are some of things successful people will have to learn in hospitality?
DM Dealing with different personalities is job one. Hospitality managers have to deal with employees, vendors, bosses, guests, and owners. Each of those people have different needs and you have to be mindful of what those needs are.  You can’t let one or two of them monopolize you.  People working their way up can often let others dictate their priorities or monopolize their time. Bad bosses can be particularly challenging, but they will teach you plenty if you stay balanced.
JC How important is it for a hospitality manager to know the technical elements of the jobs of the people they direct? A lot is written in modern day business journals about stepping back and not micro-managing people.
DM There are going to be periods of enormous demand that you simply cannot staff for; it’s a fact of life in this business  The best way to earn leadership stripes is jumping in and doing whatever it takes during peak periods of demand.
JC But as a manager, if you are bartending, answering phones or making up beds during busy times aren’t you by definition not doing what a good manager needs to be in those situations?
DM Clearly you don’t want to make a habit of doing people’s jobs for them, but when a manager rolls up their sleeves and helps out a line employee, two things are being demonstrated. 1) You prove that taking care of the guest is the most important thing. 2) The job that your staff does is important. I can also say that it is in those times, when the rush is on, the shared experience of being “in battle” gives a manager a great opportunity to relate and really learn what makes their people tick.
JC What else can a manager do to learn what motivates their staff?
DM I would tell every manager starting out, “Eat your lunch in the break room,” not in your office and not in a restaurant. The employee break room is a great place to learn about others and let them learn about you.  Listen more than you talk though.
JC Switching to hiring, tell me what you look for on a resume?
DM I look at how many positions someone had held, and I look at what they did with them.  If someone was at a job for 6-7 months or less before moving on that would be a red flag. The first 6-7 months, the employer is teaching and training and not getting anything in return. It also shows that a candidate probably did not take the time to master that job either.  That said, I rely on interviews much more. I need to experience their personality.
JC There’s that word again.  What are some of the personality traits that you’re looking for?
DM Energy.  We’re looking for people that jump out of bed in the morning.  Next is creativity. How are you going to solve the problems your predecessor couldn’t? I will also try to look for compassion and caring traits, you can learn about that when people talk about the things they do outside of work. Lastly, how good a listener is the person?  It’s pretty easy to tell if someone is self-absorbed and just figuring out what to say next when I am speaking. They should be interviewing me as well.
JC A word I hear you use a lot since I have known you is ‘curiosity’.  Why is this important to you?
DM Well, if you want to be successful you have to know what is going on around you. I always have a book or two going, and I make it a point to read the newspaper each day.  There is so much to learn outside of our focus areas that we can use, and ultimately a successful business will be making an impact on its community and you have to keep up on it. I like knowing what I don’t know.
JC When you look back and you take an inventory of some of the best people that you’ve ever worked with, were there one or two traits they all shared?
DM First and foremost the best people I have worked with were self-driven and that drive was laser-focused on the health of the business. The health of the business is what inherently takes care of the needs of the people in that organization, and it is something everyone can understand and relate to. Self-driven people that focus on their own ambition are not going to have a lot of followers.
JC In terms of your career, did you have a lucky break, or a job that was pivotal?
DM First, I got a lot of training at McDonald’s which set foundation.   McDonalds taught me a lot about process, about people, about competitiveness, about goal orientation, about taking care of your facility and your people.  My time at Kimpton was also very important; it really taught me how to see things through the guest lens at a time when that lens was really changing dramatically.
JC Tell me about your approach to time management.
DM A lot of people think that if they’ve answered all their emails, they’ve worked hard.  True, there are a lot of distractions in this business, but I make sure that I stay grounded on what is important and advance the things that affect the most people. I have a whiteboard in my office which reminds me what those things are.
David Martin's office whiteboard

David Martin’s office whiteboard

JC OK, but some of those goals are very macro, very hard to measure progress day-to-day, how do you account for the lack of quantifiable and guiding feedback?
DM Even the biggest most complex goals have components and I measure those. For instance, to be the ‘Number One hotel in a particular market’ means having a high GSS scores, positive results on the employee opinion surveys, low turnover and community involvement and strong financials. Those things can be measured and they can be quantified.  Holding staff and leadership to numerical goals provides something to shoot for and you can chart progress.  Making sure everyone knows how their role is pivotal in these goals is key.
JC OK, then how important are the financial goals of the organization as measurable and motivating factors?
DM I think it should be a component and I think every individual in your business should know whether your business is profitable or not.  As a leader, you’ve got to balance the dialogue amongst the three constituents:  the investor, the guest and the employee. It’s my job to see that each has a voice but that it isn’t shouting out the other two.
JC What has changed the most since you started in the business?
DM The obvious answer is technology, and the main driver of change has been transparency in offering and pricing. This has really improved quality and promoted competition.   Hotel Ownership has also changed dramatically from Brand owned and managed to the majority of hotels are owned and operated by franchisees. Most major brands are also now public verses private and have needed to demonstrate grow to build shareholders value.
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