Welcome to our GM Spotlight Series! This is an opportunity for you to meet the rockstars playing the hits at our various hotels throughout the western United States. Here’s a few insightful questions aimed at revealing just how we pull off our Mission: ‘Crafting inspired workplaces that deliver kick-ass guest experiences, maximizing investor returns’.

Introducing: Karen Weinkauf at our TownePlace Suites – Las Vegas/Henderson

By Alison Sansone, VP of Marketing and Communications

When you walk into Karen’s hotel, you can tell it’s a place where she puts her team first. She manages the hotel with a sense of fun and firmness, a delicately skilled balance that has earned her loyalty from those she manages and confidence from those that oversee her role.

The TownePlace Suites is characterized as a ‘family hotel’ – internally. There’s a positive vibe that’s hard to miss. Considering her AGM was recently promoted to the AGM role at another hotel in need of seasoned managers, her leadership clearly has a lot to do with that vibe.

As she explains it “I believe and stand by the ‘lead by example’ principle. There’s nothing that I would ask an associate to do, in serving the guest, that I wouldn’t or haven’t done myself.”

I sat down with the GM of the ‘Breakthrough Hotel of the Year‘ to learn more about the action behind the honors.

AGM Sammy Szumilo and DOS Bridget Carpenter accept the ‘Breakthrough Hotel of the Year’ award on behalf of Karen from Alvaro Fraile, Senior Director of Franchise Services for Marriott International

How did you get bit by the hospitality bug – tell us the brief story about your first hospitality/hotel job?

Out of college, way back when, I was interested in recreation/leisure services, such as youth camps. I ended up getting married first and I decided to apply to a position in the reservations department of a Marriott full-service hotel – before reservations were directed to brand call centers. The position filled, but the GM of the hotel thought I might be interested in the Life Guard position that had just opened up, based on my interest in recreation services.

After a month, I was moved into the reservation position and shortly thereafter I was hand-picked for FOM, as the GM believed I was best suited for direct interface with guests.

What’s the best comment you ever received from a guest as a result of outrageous hospitality?

When I was AGM at theSpringHill Suites in Solon, Ohio, one of our top accounts was Swagelock.

They had 2 young corporate guys that had come in from Ireland for a meeting and were staying for a week. This was their first time in the United States. We offered complimentary shuttle service around the Solon area and it so happened they wanted to go to the store when I was on duty; it was a slow Saturday or Sunday so I took them to the store. On the way to the store they were telling me about themselves and that this was their first trip to the US. I asked “what would you like to see?” and they asked to see a neighborhood – houses, schools, a football stadium…

So I took them to an open house in a neighborhood. They enjoyed seeing how we lived. I took them to the Solon school system campus; showed them the high school football stadium and the high school soccer team was practicing. I took them to St. Rita’s church and to the Metro Parks, a typical city park.

I kept thinking if my children ever got the chance to go to another country for a week, wouldn’t it be cool for someone trusting to take them around and show them the sights. Pay it forward, I guess. Thant’s my story for taking a chance and going outside the box of service.

“It was a pleasure to watch her grow as my AGM and it’s no surprise that her hotel took home more than one award for 2017.” says Michael Gerano, Area General Manager (and prior General Manager at her hotel). “And she refused to even take credit for the awards when we brought them back to the hotel, claiming it’s all about the team.”

Tell us one particular thing you’re doing right now to improve your guest service [score]s:

Keeping the staff upbeat, always being positive; my routine is aimed at motivating my staff. And one way I do that is rolling up my sleeves and wiping down dirty doors on my walk-through.

Keeping up the high standards in demonstrating it firsthand is best, and passion for my job is contagious.

Everyone needs energy and motivating – from housekeeping to engineering to front desk. They come from all different backgrounds but when they enter this hotel they’re on one team and it’s my job to motivate them all.

So what’s your secret/tricks/tips for ‘minding the middle’ when it comes to the juggling act of keeping both guests and associates happy? (Here at Twenty Four Seven Hotels, we have an old saying in our hotel operations department to ‘Mind the Middle’ which means – the middle of the P&L page, to control expenses and improve GOP…)

Minding the middle is not always hard for me to do. I grew up in a conservative family, but we had a lot of fun. I keep up morale by providing lunches to the staff. It can be a simple lunch that doesn’t cost a lot, but it’s still a treat for the hotel and eating as a team has other benefits that impact the budget positively.

I have a Housekeeping Supervisor that enjoys cooking Philipino food. We also do potlucks here, which people really like.

Choose your management style: 1. Iron Man/Tony Stark, 2. Mother Theresa, or 3. Bill Murray

I would have to say it’s a combination of Mother Theresa and Bill Murray…

And it’s interesting that you ask, as I just received a letter from my AGM, Ashley – who was recently promoted to AGM of another hotel; she expressed gratitude for me as a great leader and also expressed I’ve been like a mother to her saying “…I can now fly away from mama’s nest.”

We do games during monthly employee cookouts, water balloon tosses, water guns to push the ball across pool. When our pool was undergoing its renovation, Michael [Gerano] pressed his luck betting that we wouldn’t jump in; so, of course, we had to prove him wrong and followed through – fully clothed!

“Karen has a special twinkle in her eye that we look for in the hospitality business,” explains Janet Fioriti, VP of Operations. “In the midst of running a very successful business, Karen is all about taking care of people.”

Tell us about your daily stand-up routine? Group huddles? Dance party? Start with a joke?
What’s the most valuable impact/purpose of the stand-up, from your perspective?

Stand-up is probably more like group huddle. Housekeeping starts with today’s report; I’m there to motivate everyone, I come in full of energy and remind them about the basics.

For example, my everyday routine is to come in and say hello, then walk the property. I’ll grab a white rag, spray it with cleaner and start on the top floor and work my way down, wiping surfaces. Today I just did doors – anytime I spotted marks, I wiped. Then that was my ‘show and tell’ at stand-up. It’s a simple reminder, I’ll turn it into a joke, pointing out the benefits of doing squats while wiping from top of door to floor.

Sometimes we’ll do games and rewards involving questions about the hotel, such as breakfast hours or inspection time is coming up; just reviewing what’s in the welcome packet – stand-up can really serve as a training purpose. The Market is a great source for prizes.

If you were moving up the ranks and training your replacement, what are some words of wisdom you’d bestow for being a successful hotel GM?

I believe and stand by the ‘lead by example’ principle. There’s nothing that I would ask an associate to do, in serving the guest, that I wouldn’t or haven’t done myself.” I’ll clean rooms, I’m not going to pass up litter on the ground, etc… The staff sees everything; it converts to respect.

And to be humble and kind. My departing AGM, Ashley, gave me a plaque with a saying that I’m known for – it reads:
Stay Humble
Work Hard
Be Kind

In the service industry, we have to be pleasant and transform the energy that guests may bring in through the front door.

What qualities do you look for when hiring for your team?

Smiles on their faces. I can’t teach that! Friendly, outgoing – they’ll likely have the same passion for guest service. Enjoyable.

I can teach them a computer system, but can’t always teach respect and passion for service.

TownePlace Suites Las Vegas Henderson - Karen Weinkauf

RAPID FIRE ROUND:

Beatles or Stones? Beatles

Nickname growing up? None

Is your Netflix account Streaming or DVDs? I don’t have one

Favorite sandwich? PBJ

One part of your morning routine you can’t start your day without… The news

Words of wisdom you’d give to your 16 year old self? Never stop believing!

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