Empowering growth: Hotel Equities’ learning and development programs

Hotel owner, operator and developer Hotel Equities (HE) is guided by 12 value statements. One of them—“hire an attitude and teach them the business”—has led to the company launching several learning and development programs. These initiatives target HE associates who wish to gain valuable knowledge to help them climb the corporate ladder within the company, as well as high school and college students interested in hospitality industry careers.
Empowering growth: Hotel Equities’ learning and development programs

“We want our leaders to accept responsibility for developing our next talent pool of leaders, and our programs support them in their efforts,” said Nancy Curtin Morris, HE’s SVP, talent. “All our training is experiential. We don’t ‘watch,’ we ‘do.’ In our development programs, we show and teach. Then we expect the learner to demonstrate their skills, to practice them and to hone them to become effective leaders. Through practice and repetition—and the opportunity to stumble and maybe even fail—we grow better leaders.”

For talent development within the company, HE runs programs for a variety of levels in the organization. Morris offered insights on what each program has to offer.

The Individual Development Program (IDP) “was created for people just starting in the business who learn general operational and leadership skills, to determine if the hospitality industry interests them to pursue.”

The Management Development Program (MDP) “is the next step on someone’s career journey, and is focused on developing their supervisory, management and leadership skills—with the end goal of stepping into a first or second management level role.”

The Leadership Development Program (LDP) “was specifically designed for leaders in multi-unit roles. This is often overlooked as a huge step in someone’s career—coming out of a single-unit role and understanding the leadership skills needed for multi-unit leadership.”

In 2023, the company also launched a program called HERO (Hotel Equities Road to Onboarding), which offered training for newly onboarded GMs, both at the home unit and in a setting with a group of peer GMs.

Next up, Morris said, “is the relaunch of our director of sales onboarding,” which we’ll begin next month.

Success stories coming out of these programs are plentiful. Some of them even helped the company with its bottom line.

“Each MDP grad must design and execute a project during the program, and they must present their project to the senior leaders in Atlanta, including all C-suite members,” said Morris. “We’ve had projects that increased sales, saved overtime hours and replaced all lightbulbs in the hotel with LED bulbs. We’ve had projects on opening a new venue (beachfront cabanas for rent), taking outsourced services in-house (reducing contract labor) and revamping and renting hotel meeting space that was otherwise comped.”

She continued, “The goal is to generate revenue or reduce expenses that cover the cost of the class, which is $3,000. We’ve had many that have made or saved our hotels $5,000 to $10,000, and we’ve had some that have made or saved more than $25,000. We have also had many MDP graduates that were operations managers or assistant GMs that have been promoted to GM or regional roles. We currently have an area GM that was in our first MDP graduating class 12 years ago.”

Management training

HE launched a Manager in Training (MIT) program about 10 years ago to provide opportunities for recent college graduates to enter the hotel industry. According to Morris, the company recruits for the program through word of mouth and social media, and by building relationships with some of the best hospitality programs throughout the U.S.

“Any time there is an opportunity to visit or engage with students, we do our best to participate,” said the HE executive. “We started by recruiting at about five universities, all in the Southeast. We now have relationships with 25-plus universities in both the U.S. and Canada. We involve every level of our organization to engage with students, and we get a lot of volunteers to help us with this effort—from our C-suite to our principals with our strategic alliances, to above-property and property-level leaders. There is never a shortage of leaders that will help us recruit new talent.”

She added that the current class includes two Canadian MITs, a first for the company.

Several MIT graduates have been promoted into leadership roles in the field and at HE’s support team office, noted Morris, who added, “Not only have they experienced success individually, but they have returned to the MIT program as a mentor for other students. We currently have past program graduates on our operations, talent, business development, and finance teams.

High school students have the opportunity to work at HE properties through the company’s internship program, which was launched last year.

“We had many interns before that, but it was handled at the unit level; now we try to make it consistent from one hotel to the next,” said Morris. “Our goal is to meet and begin developing potential MITs after their sophomore or junior year of college. Not only do they get a glimpse into the world of hotels, but we get an opportunity to mentor and develop future leaders. This summer, we will have an intern from last summer that will be joining us in our 2024 MIT class, starting in July. This is a milestone for us and one that we hope to replicate.”

She added that recruiting high school students is an area of opportunity for HE, “especially with technical high schools, where students hope to parlay the skills they learn in high school directly into a full time job. Culinary arts is an example of an area within a hotel where we see several students coming directly from high school or a technical program.”

An essential part of the learning experience at HE is the Foundations class, which is regularly facilitated by Fred Cerrone, the company’s founder/chairman.

“During this class, students are introduced to the history of Hotel Equities, the premise behind each of our core values and the various aspects of business we are in (management, investor, developer),” noted Morris. “This class has been offered and taught by our founder for decades and continues to be part of our leaders’ (GM, DOS, above property) onboarding process.”

by Adam Perkowsky

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