Executive Vice President of Hotel & Casino Operations: Mike Jones, XYZ Hotel

Below is the results of an interview between Ian Braun, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Mike Jones, Assistant General Manager at XYZ Hotel. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2011.

So, I guess we will start off with what exactly do you do here Mike? What is your position? I am the Assistant General Manager of Food and Beverage Director at the XYZ Hotel.

Describe for me some of your daily duties, like what do you do from the time you get here and kind of what your schedule is like for the day? First thing in the morning when I come in I like to walk the entire property, inspect quality, and greet the guests. We are a big convention hotel so I like to walk through all of the meeting rooms and touch base with all of the meeting planners as they are setting up and getting themselves going, it’s a good time for me to make contact. I walk to the back of the house, say good morning to all of the staff, make sure the back the house is in good condition, I walk the perimeters to make sure the trash cans are dumped and the parking lot has no trash, and that’s just my beginning. I finally get to my office around 8:30 or 9:00 am, I usually try to follow up on any paper work from the night before, go over all my emails, look at my schedule, work all through the morning. Usually about 11:00 I get out and start walking the property again, checking groups because lunch is usually getting ready to be set up for all of the banquets and the restaurant. I walk to the back of the house again; check to make sure it’s clean and safe. I work through lunch, usually at lunch I’m always on the floor; I am never in my office at lunch time. I touch base with the guests and assist them if needed, being part of the operation. Usually about 1:00 or 1:30 I eat lunch. 2 o’clock I’m back in the office, a lot of times I have client meetings. I meet with clients about venues, pricing, taste tests in the afternoon. Usually before I go home in the evening I usually walk the property again, again walk the perimeter, trash cans, and touch base. If it’s a big day I’ll stay through the dinner, do service.

How did you get the position that you are in now? For example what was your schooling, internships, stuff like that? Well I got a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Administration at Missouri State University. My father owned a hotel and a restaurant that I grew up in, and my grandfather owned two hotels and a restaurant. So I was a third generation hotelier. I started here in 1985 as a banquet server, banquet set-up, I became a captain in 1986, and graduated in the end of ’86 and started my career with Hammons, this is my 27th year. I’ve been all over the country, I started as Banquet Manager, Director of Catering, been an Assistant General Manager, I was a GM for about three years, and then got here.

Can you give any good internship advice? Have you heard of any good programs around here? Well the biggest thing in this industry is to get in there and work to get experience. You know what you want to do, make sure you like this. I’ll give you a run-down. I’m not sitting around putting widgets in square peg holes; it’s all about the people. It’s a lot of walking, it’s a lot of holidays, and I work every Saturday almost.

So what kind of qualities do you look for, you said you look for experience, what do you lok for when hiring? Well, especially with management and supervisory positions, we look for people persons, or people who like people; integrity, I like to check references a lot, I look for backgrounds and work history. You know, history repeats itself. If an employee is fired at some prior job, it’s a good chance that they’re going to wind up getting fired. If an employee walks off the job, they’re going to walk-off the job on you. So, that’s a big deal. Everybody knows everybody in this industry. We all know each other. I like to really make sure it’s the right person, because it’s a big expense for us to hire somebody.

From reading a lot of other information it seems like in some cases you may have to go to other countries and practice management skills there. Do you guys offer or require anything like that? No, our company is always been the 48 United States, we don’t really have a management training program. We have many examples of local college graduates that have moved up our ranks in management.

I’ve heard of some crazy training programs out there. There is a lot, and ours is “on the job training”, OJT.

So you mentioned working Saturdays, you work a lot of holidays here, have you ever had a problem balancing family life and work life? Well it kept me single till I was about 36 years old. Yeah, that’s always a challenge, that’s a challenge in life. I don’t care what you’re doing; you have to learn to manage all of that. It’s part of time management. You know, I work 45, 50, 55, 60 hours a week, varied on the level of business. 45 is probably the minimum. The hotel never sleeps. It’s a 24 hour operation.

What is the most demanding part of the job? Because it sounds like you do a whole lot. Well, you know, there are all kinds of aspects. The guest is probably very rewarding because most guests are very happy, it’s fun to be in contact. A guest can be very challenging. Most employees are very rewarding, very positive, but some can be very challenging. One employee can give me a lot of gray hair and I spend a lot of time working with an employee or eventually terminating them. They can take a lot of my time up. That’s why it’s so important to hire right at the very beginning, so you do not have to deal with all of that. You know, hiring and firing is all very serious business, it just can’t be done on a whim, it has to be done very methodically and very logically.

So what makes you so good at interacting with all of the customers, you obviously didn’t get here by accident? I enjoy it, I’m very sincere and I’ve always tried to be the kind of guy they could count on. One expression is to “exceed guest expectations,” to be a step ahead. It really impresses people when you can really make their stays very memorable.

We talk about customer expectations all of the time in Marketing. But what are some perks that come with the job? When I travel I get a lot of hotel discounts, with our company or with franchises we are managing. I got to travel a lot in my industry, the 27 years I’ve opened up over a dozen hotels and been in over 20. I’ve been in different communities and met a lot of people. You know, the hotel business is a respected job in a city and in the industry. It does have some pride associated.

You have told me about some perks, but what are some draw back besides the schedule and demanding hours? It’s just tough, you know, especially right now it makes this business tough. I’ve got a saying that I use. “A good manager can manage during good times; a great manager can manage during horrible times.” You have to be able to look under every rock, look outside the box. If you maintain status quo, you will fail.

What would you say the typical career path is?  You mentioned you started as a banquet server and worked your way up. Is that the typical career path? Yeah, most of our managers started as entry-level, line positions. And that gives them a lot of respect. They know how to sweep a floor, they know how to scrub a dish, and they know how to clean a room. Our industry is kind of like that, you don’t see many people just coming with no experience out of college getting a management job. You usually have to have practical experience.

So for example, say someone has a different career, not necessarily in the hotel industry, and they are like 35 years old. Is it likely that they could skip the entry-level position when they switch careers? I’ve seen problems with that. You know, sometimes they can maybe…Sometimes the hotel business is a young man/ woman’s game. You’re on your feet and you’re on the go. I’ve seen people do a second career choice and it can be hard on them. This industry is a physical job in some degree.

So you would say definitely get started as early as possible? Oh yeah. If you can work, start working.

Do you think it is necessarily a bad idea to explore other options early? Hospitality is multi-faceted; it’s not just what I’m doing. There’s sales and marketing, restaurant management, there’s bar management, nursing homes, food and beverage service. You’ve got over at the college. You have concessions areas. You’ve got resorts verse downtown hotels. You’ve got exotic places.

What are some other hot-spots around here for the Hotel Industry? There are all kinds of opportunities. There are resorts; even right around here you’ve got Branson. The Lake of the Ozarks and you have the coasts, the keys. All of that in just the United States. It’s one of the fastest growing industries right now as far as training, training professionals.

I am really interested in getting some more feed-back on how to get started and  like what that typical career path is, you said starting with the entry-level position and working your way up, how long does something like that usually take? Right now, we have around 20 local college hospitality students working here. Currently all except for one of them are in line-level positions. One of them just got promoted to Banquet Captain. They work the front desk, room service, banquet serving, house-keeping.

Its interesting what you said about getting started early because that will definitely sway my decision to look into this other stuff. Yeah, definitely. Whether it is tending bars, bar-backing, serving, or bussing, you can never start too early.

Yeah, well I’m an Entertainment Management major so I wanted to get into really big hotels and doing convention stuff. Entertainment and Hospitality go hand-in-hand. Over at the college you have the arena, the student center, and the performing arts. They’ve got stuff going all the time. Basketball season, you’ve got football games Saturday, that’s entertainment.