The ExCom team - (seated) general manager Rick Zeolla, director of sales and marketing Jeannette Smit, director of rooms Laith Naber, and (standing) director of culinary Gilles Perrin. The ExCom team - (seated) general manager Rick Zeolla, director of sales and marketing Jeannette Smit, director of rooms Laith Naber, and (standing) director of culinary Gilles Perrin.

Recruitment and staff empowerment

For general manager Rick Zeolla, however, it’s all about the details in this business, even as far as staff recruitment. “Once the team and myself started to form, we really took a close look at some of the areas that were maybe a cause for concern, or observations that we made as the operator that might influence some changes to make life easier for our guests and even as operators easier for us as well,” he tells Hotelier Middle East.

For Zeolla, the selection of the executive committee or his direct reports was probably the most important decision he had to make when it came to the opening, as they are the leaders for each individual area. At the end of the day, they are the subject matter experts, he asserts.

“My director of rooms is better at rooms than I ever was or ever will be because that’s his speciality. He does it every day. Same goes for my director of beverage and food and my director of culinary; they are the subject matter experts and I trust them. I lean on them heavily to do their job well,” Zeolla adds. He believes that his job as general manager is to have input and to remove barriers in a bid to help them. Whenever a road may not be clear and they have to make decisions, he believes his job is to act as the sounding board and help light the path to a good decision.

“I’m not going to be the one to tell them that something is no good. My teams should know that already and that’s the perspective that I brought in when hiring all of my leaders — I find somebody that shares that kind of management style, where as we go down the chain, the people closest to the customer become the experts,” he adds.

As we go further up the chain, however, Zeolla is of the opinion that upper management is more and more removed from the decision making process. “We’re not standing there and involved in the day-to-day operation every day. So we have to keep our ears open but we expect the people closest to the job to be the experts at it,” he adds.

Both Zeolla and Marriott International strongly believe in staff empowerment. “If an associate encounters a guest and they ask to see the general manager, what I tell my staff during orientation is when you hear that, what the guest is really saying is, ‘I have a problem’. Now they generally don't want to meet me just to say hi. Right there is a clue for them that something is wrong and I encourage them to jump into that conversation and solve it.”

Zeolla, who prefers an informal style of interaction with his team, also stresses with the team that they won’t get in trouble for making a decision if they decide to overcompensate or really do too much for what might seem like a small problem. “We’ll de-brief them later and say ‘OK, this is what happened this is what you did, and these are some other options you might have had available to you before you jump to where you are, which is maybe a free stay or free week at the hotel for something like a not properly cooked egg’. I don't want them scrambling and looking for a manager, I want them to make decisions,” Zeolla adds.

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