We marketers love our Seth Godin, Scott Brinker and Ann Handley’s of the world. And yet, it’s also important to honor the unsung heroes (and heroines) that are propelling today’s top brands forward, thick in the grind.
Meet such a business professional, Carin Martens. Carin is currently Director of National Accounts at the iconic Grand Wailea Hotel – a Hilton, Waldorf Astoria property in Maui, Hawaii and Canto customer.
Carin shares her inspiring journey of building hospitality brands including Hilton, Marriott and Waldorf-Astoria properties and reveals personal experiences of working remotely.
In case you’re wondering, our face-to-face interview wasn’t held onsite in The Aloha State. 😉 Carin primarily works remote from the mainland at her home office near San Diego, California – which is where we met up.
How did you get your start in the hotel and hospitality industry?
Carin: I started working as a server in catering at a blues BBQ restaurant in college when I shifted my education from marketing into more hospitality management. I did marketing for a NASCAR track and marketing for British Airways, and then found my way into hotels. Hotels struck me as something I’d like to be involved with, and I got very interested in the hotel side of the hospitality industry.
I’ve always been on the sales and marketing side of the hotel world. I began managing at the lower level, like ground level operations, and then worked my way up to more regional management positions at Marriott and Hilton properties.
What kind of projects get you excited?
This has shifted for me over time, as I’ve gone through my career.
Right now, I’d say its new opportunities, new builds, new properties and new brands. Branding of properties is exciting – since each one has its own unique story. It’s forever changing, always changing. The hospitality industry is a 24/7 operation and that also intrigues me.
What have been some of your stand-out moments of your career thus far?
For me, the biggest standout moments have been opening new hotels!
Each of those hotels has a piece of me, and I feel like it’s my own baby. It is a significant project – it’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears – but at the end of the day, you always have a piece of that hotel. And even now when I see it, I still feel like it’s my hotel even though I have no association with it any more.
From a regional standpoint, when I was on the sales and marketing side of things, I would manage a lot of the high level branding process for Marriott and Hilton – getting things ready for opening and looking at the bigger picture. We would discuss, “What’s the story of this hotel going to be? And how are we going to pull it through for every guest experience?”
I’ve opened 5 hotels. I’m not sure I want to do it again because it’s so exhausting, but it’s such a cool and unique experience – because you dabble in every single part of the operation. You get exposure to everything – you’re helping build it, you’re going through inspections of the rooms, you’re helping get a model demo room ready to show to the world, coordinating with the photographers. You really are hands on in all aspects and those are very unique experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Can you think of a mentor or experience that helped set your career up for success?
Yes, a professor named Barney Klecker I had in college took the textbooks and basically threw them out the door.
He said, “I want to teach you real life, professional hospitality business ethics.” It was really great. We had a book, but we barely touched it. He taught us The Ritz Carlton Way. Which if you’re in the industry, at the time it was top-tier to know their training module. So I went through Ritz Carlton training. And he taught us about Steve Jobs and the way he operated as a businessman and marketer.
He tied the business world into the hospitality world and married those two. He made us wear business suits to class every day, because he said this is the way you should dress professionally.
He was a very influential professor, he was very unique and he will forever stand out in my mind.
Tell us about the branding of the property you are at now?
The Grand Wailea has been around since 1991. The special thing about this hotel is that the property name ‘Grand Wailea’ is well known. It was first opened as a Hyatt hotel, later it went independent for a number of years, and is currently operated by the Hilton association as a Waldorf Astoria luxury property. It’s really iconic in its own brand reputation.
The developer Takeshi Sekiguchi built that property to be very grand. He wanted it to be special. To be known as the Grand Wailea is very unique. Most of the other Waldorf Astorias are either Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills or Waldorf Astoria New York – but we have an iconic name behind the property. We have special features that tell a story for our guests that’s supported by the way the resort is built.
How do the employees represent the brand?
It is an ongoing task to keep everyone engaged in telling our story.
The cool thing about the Grand Wailea specifically, is that there are a lot of employees that have been there since day one. They really have lived and breathed the branding since the opening of the property.
A lot of times when you have staff that have been with a hotel since the opening they feel very invested because it is an ‘all hands on deck’ experience. So a lot of them are still there to this day, which is pretty incredible.
We do keep up our training for the new employees that join. We tell our story. We tell the Grand Wailea story and the Waldorf-Astoria story – which are two different stories. And you kind of have to marry them together to have the right brand voice, to make sure they’re saying the same thing together. It presents a fun challenge in some ways.
Constant training is important. When people feel truly valued as employees and feel like they are part of the hotel, they will represent the face of the hotel in a good light, no matter what position they are in.
Tell us your thoughts and feelings about Hawaii.
Hawaii is definitely unique. This is my first time working with a property on an island. I’ve worked with all different types of destinations. But Hawaii is unique because of the culture they have there.
They really live and breathe the Hawaiian culture from the arrival experience, to when you depart. Even the arrival at the airport is special – and if you haven’t experienced it before you can’t really explain it.
The island itself is very sacred which is a very unique thing that a lot of destinations don’t have. I would say that Grand Wailea is one of the truly authentic hotels. You could not pick up that hotel and put it in San Diego – it would not make any sense.
This is important for all hotels, you want to develop a story that fits that location, pull from the area where the property sits to make it a unique experience.
The hospitality industry right now is really driven by experience. People who are coming really want to know what they can experience at the hotel and in the local destination.
Switching gears, we wanted to get your thoughts on working remote.
I’m sure you’ve had people tell you they could never work from home full-time. What are some of the qualities you believe are needed in order to work from home?
First of all, yes people say that all the time (laughs). You have to have discipline. You have to create a space that will work for you.
I like to switch it up. I had to experiment to find out what works for me. I have a traditional office here in my home. But I like to switch it up mid-day. I like to come down into the kitchen or get settled elsewhere for the second part of the day. It keeps my productivity up.
What are some of the things you enjoy about working remote? And what are some of the challenges?
I enjoy the fact that I have the flexibility to do something quickly if I have to take care of little things.
I think the traffic component of a daily commute is such a waste of time for the employer and the employee. Traffic everywhere is seemingly getting worse and worse – so the productivity that you gain is huge for working at home.
I think I accomplish what I would get done in a full office day by early afternoon. And it’s because you cut out some of that small talk.
You know sometimes I do get interruptions from my dog or the gardener next door. And at times I miss that office chit chat, but at the end of the day, I’ve had plenty of that over the years. And in my current role, I still get to travel and interact with people, so I don’t have complete isolation and I like that.
So, what are some tools you use to stay connected with your team and in sync?
We do daily conference calls. I feel like we communicate enough over text, emails and conference calls to keep communication circulating.
I’m grateful we don’t really use video chat too much, because I like to work in my pajamas with no makeup. But I know that video is a tool that many people are using to keep that face-to-face connection.
We also have instant messaging – there are so many tools out there to keep teams connected, it doesn’t really matter if you’re physically sharing space. For instance, I like being able to login to our Canto account to find the images I need, without having to interrupt our in-house team to ask them for stuff all the time.
Do any of your work-related skills cross over into your personal interests?
Well, because I do like to travel and be adventurous and explore new places, I would say that my industry has a lot to do with that. There are times that I find out about new things from work – destinations, activities and hotels that I’d like to check out in my personal time.
How about the reverse, are there things from your personal life that help your career?
There is a wellness component that’s a big deal in the hospitality industry lately. I try to be well, as much as I can. I’m not always the best at it, but health and wellness is something I’m interested in practicing in my personal life. So the fact that our industry is moving toward that, anything I can share from my personal life and bring to the business, I will do that.
For example, I like to go to the spa. Sometimes I can learn stuff there, see things other spas are doing and see how we could implement that into our property and our industry.
Finding time to really balance yourself, as you get older, is a personal interest that I hope I can always apply to work in some way.
I’ve really enjoyed our behind the scenes look at your experiences with branding, hospitality and working remote productivity tips.
What advice would you give someone who’s early in their career and hoping to pursue the hospitality industry?
I would say be ready for anything. The nice thing about the industry, there are so many different angles you can approach it.
Don’t be afraid to explore new things.
There are plenty of different career choices and ways to be involved. I would say gain as much experience as you can and then find your right path.
If you find what interests you the most and what you’re good at – then you’ll be happier every day, enjoy your job and be more productive – especially if you feel good about it and your skillsets match.