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Industry Leader Shares His Insights: Q & A

Hospitality News From The Cecil B. Day School Of Hospitality - by Kathy Brown

Download PDF (Interview with Paul on page 10)


Hospitality Consultant Paul Breslin InterviewThere are few industry professionals in Atlanta who do not recognize the name Paul Breslin.

During a career that spans more than 25 years, Breslin has served as general manager of both the Omni CNN Center and the Sheraton Downtown Hotel in Atlanta and is currently managing partner of Panther Hospitality, a hotel consulting firm.

Since 2006, he has served as an adjunct professor with the School of Hospitality, teaching hotel management and hospitality marketing.

Because of his experience and leadership, Breslin is often called upon by the school to serve as a keynote speaker, internal consultant and industry liaison.

Given your strong background in hotel operations — if a student or alumnus is interested in going into hotel development, how would you advise them?

If possible, choose a position in operations. It is critical to understand operations before you move on to sales or another department. Also, it is extremely important to choose a reputable, quality organization as a place to learn. I recommend going to one of the major brands like Marriott, Hilton or Starwood. Be sure to check around and find out which are the best teaching hotel companies. Once you have a strong foundation, then you should switch to a third-party owned and operated property that has a reputation for excellent management. This will give you additional experience from the entrepreneurial perspective.

Since your answer is operations, what areas do you feel are important to have in one's background?

The "heart of the house," also known as the back of the house, is a good place to begin. You will learn the inner workings of housekeeping, laundry, food and beverage, accounting, human resources and other critical positions. Don't worry too much about where you begin; focus on the organization and the opportunity to learn.

View every department as a laboratory, a place to explore, test and experiment. Take notes and treat each position as a step in your learning process. Many of the less glamorous positions are extremely critical for operations as a whole. Do not let your ego get in the way. The best general managers spent a great deal of time learning on the job.

Having been president of The Atlanta Hotel Council, chair of the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association and involved in leadership positions with the AH&LA, what are the benefits of being involved in professional associations like these?

There are numerous benefits when you volunteer. You gain knowledge and experience with a broader perspective of the industry, get to know senior level executives, develop leadership skills, handle important responsibilities and develop relationships with fellow industry associates. Relationships built on shared interests create very deep bonds.

A student wants to one day be GM of a large convention hotel — what would be your advice?

Start in operations and find a way to move into sales if you have the desire and the skills. Pick a discipline and prove yourself as a good leader. Be ready to move to learn. Don't look for safety; look for the path that will give you the most opportunity.

In a tertiary market where the people are challenged, the market is challenged, and the market is poor, you will often find the most opportunity to learn and grow. Be sure you
are clear on your expectations. Be educated and be prepared. Don't jump into a sinking boat with weights on you will only sink quicker. Go in with realistic expectations
and be clear about what you bring to the table.

You also maintain leadership roles in philanthropic organizations outside of the hotel industry, like Safehouse Outreach, Boy Scouts of America, Wine to Water and the Shamrock Society, to name a few. What would you tell people about the value of this involvement?

There are all kinds of ways to get involved, so try to find something you feel passionate about.

When you get involved in philanthropy you need to approach it in two ways:
First, get physically involved. Serve food at a homeless shelter, change bedpans, plant trees. Show humility and never be above any task. Second, give generously of your talents and use them to make the organization more successful than when you started.

What trends do you predict for the hotel industry? For example, are sustainable operations here to stay in our industry?

Let me begin by saying first and foremost that the most important thing as a leader is to be principled and centered and not go chasing fads. If you set out with clear goals and a solid mission, your ability to see the best opportunities and options, as they apply to you, will be greatly enhanced.

Sustainability has long been at the core of what the hotel industry is about. We have always been trying to figure out how to produce the greatest output and throughput with the least energy. One of the most important things to look at is reducing waste. I like to use the example of how the farmer uses every part of the cow all the way down to the hooves.

If you think about it as part of your process then you will have sustainability in everything you do. It has to become a part of your entire organization's core values and habits from the cook to the accountant, all starting with the GM.

What does the future hold and where should we focus?

Here are my top five thoughts for the industry:

1. Human capital – We have never been in a better situation to attract and obtain the best of the best. Every human resources department needs to come up with a strategy to build the best and the brightest team possible.

2. Process – Be fundamental. These are extremely difficult times, and it is not the time to experiment. In sailing terms, this is not the time to try out your new spinnaker. Focus on your jib and your main sail. The two most critical areas are revenue and customer base.

3. Sales – Many organizations are focused on reducing expenses and cutting costs when what they need to focus on first is selling and building the strongest customer base possible. Ask everyone in your organization to sell. Instill the importance of gaining and retaining customers.

4. Technology – Now, more than ever we must emphasize good technology and good use of technology. Optimize the systems you have, keep them current, invest in proven technology and maximize your tools to the fullest extent. Make sure everyone is trained to get the most out of every system you have. If not, you are wasting a lot of potential.

5. Growth – This is the time to be capitalizing on growth opportunities. I do not mean growth through leverage, but growth through creative thinking and opportunity. Both as
a business and an individual, increase your education and experience, offer more service, capitalize on your current structure and look for new assets at great values.

There's a story you tell your students on the very first day of class. Can you share that story and explain its significance?

This is a true story. One day a farmer found a baby eagle. Not knowing what to do with it, he placed it in the chicken coop. A hen adopted the eagle as her own and for months he followed her everywhere. The eagle began to believe he was a chicken. He ate the chicken food and walked around the barnyard like the rest of the chickens. During this time the eagle never attempted to fly. One day he fell off a cliff and discovered that he could use his wings to fly. But after he saved himself, he went right back to the coop and acted like all the other chickens.

The point is that often, we are not fully aware of and don't use all of the gifts and talents we have been given. We self impose limitations and don't challenge ourselves to be all that we can be, or soar like an eagle. My students hear this on the first day of class to encourage them to spread their wings and be the eagles we are all created to be.