Ron Vlasic, regional vice president of hotels at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, is the 2012 vice chair of the American Hotel & Lodging Association and incoming 2013 chairman of AH&LA. In his role with Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Vlasic provides operational support to Kimpton’s lifestyle hotels in the Midwest, Mountain states and Pacific Northwest. Vlasic also advises Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s department on sustainability through environmentally friendly business practices.
Describe your leadership philosophy.
Vlasic: I would describe the core of my leadership philosophy as trust. I trust that the people I hire or promote are sincerely there to do the best job possible and by giving them the support structure and encouragement to do the job, I leave them alone to flourish in their role. It takes a lot of trust not to get involved and steer them into the role I would take, and the results quite often are of a position of uniqueness and creativity that differs from my own thoughts. It’s exceptionally rewarding to see someone succeed who has taken that leap of faith in themselves and found that personal success in their role.
Tell us about the first time you were somebody’s boss.
I had the privilege of becoming a boss at a very young age and quite honestly I was probably not ready for the job at that time. I always had the ambition to grow and become a leader, but not having the experience to draw upon made it difficult in those early days. I found a couple of people that I respected and tried to model my leadership style after what I thought they did well. I also observed some leaders that I thought were not great role models and made note of what not to do as well. I think both experiences helped shape who I am today.
When you’re looking to hire, how do you decide if someone is right for your team?
I don’t get caught up on what school they went to or what past experiences they had. When I interview, I am really interested in learning about who they are as a person and what level of ambition they hold. I am interested in finding out who they are, what motivates them, what values they possess and if they can relate to people and have a sense of humility. We are in the service industry, and if someone is self-serving, chances are they won’t be as successful as those that put themselves out there to help others.
What is the biggest challenge your company is facing this year?
Kimpton has been on a very strong growth pattern for the past few years, and each time we open a new hotel, we promote our folks into these new roles. Back filling those newly vacant positions with new hires and growing our bench strength is always a worry for me. There are a lot of great people out there looking for the right company to join. Kimpton is one that promotes self growth, creativity and career development. Finding those right people to join into the fold of our company is extremely important to us and we have a very unique culture that allows us to make the Forbes 100 Companies to work for each year, keeping that culture alive is important to me.
What is the biggest challenge AH&LA is facing?
AH&LA is going through a transition in 2013 with the departure of our president and CEO, Joe McInerney. Joe has been an exceptional leader in our industry, in both legislative issues and advocacy. I have taken the opportunity for the past couple of years to observe him and how he supports our industry, and will try to carry that same ambition he has displayed for the past 12 years. I am confident that we will hire a new leader that will take our association in a new direction that will support where we have been and create new avenues that we have not explored. I welcome the change and am excited to be the chairman of AH&LA during this transition.
Whose work do you admire most?
I am not sure I could pinpoint it to one particular person, as so many people have done great things under the mantle of service to others. I probably admire that the most in a person’s character. I would say that I admired my parents’ work ethic and dedication to the family. That really made an impression on me to work hard, do the best job possible and don’t sweat the details. If you do the right thing, everything else will come together.
If a recent college grad came to you and said they one day wanted your job, what advice would you give them?
I would tell them that they are at the beginning of their career, they are done with school, and now is the time to reinvent yourself as an up-and-coming hotelier. Ask for the opportunities that are out there, take on the job that differs from what they would like to do in the effort to learn more and take advantage of the many geographical positions that are out there. Very few industries are out there that allow a person to move around the world and see new places. Take advantage of that gift and along the journey, you never know who you will meet. Being a hotelier is a fascinating career, and I could not image having any other job.