Unsung Heroes of Hospitality: Rooms Division Director

When one thinks of senior hotel management, the first thought is usually of the general manager. Yet, within the typical executive committee, the rooms division director (and positions with equivalent names) is the one who really serves as the ‘people’s leader’.

Celebrating its 90th anniversary, the Boca Raton Resort & Club is physically split into two distinct locations. The Resort incorporates the original structure and several expansions as well as the conference center, marina, six pools, spa, 12 restaurants, retail, tennis academy/courts and two golf courses. The Club is a much newer structure, completed in 2009, situated about half a mile away along the Atlantic Ocean with its own management complex of facilities, management team and staff.

I’ve stayed several times at this property in both the Club and the Resort. Each on their own is impressive, but together, they form one of America’s very special destinations.

Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with Jamaal Simington, Rooms Division Director of the Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton Resort to learn more about the position and its responsibilities. And sit down was a little awkward for Jamaal, as after meeting him, I suspect that he’s continuously on the move.

bocarotan2Larry: Let’s start with bit of background on your career to-date.

Jamaal: I’ve been at the Resort for the past year. Prior to this terrific assignment, I worked at the Boston Park Plaza as the Director of Guest Experience, and before that at The Westin Snowmass Resort as their Complex Director of Rooms and Property Service Culture Trainer. Of course, there were several other fantastic property assignments.

Larry: Tell me a little bit about the role of Rooms Division Director at the Boca Raton Resort.

Jamaal: I am responsible for front desk, bell services, housekeeping, laundry, valet, guest services, concierge, guest transportation and experience. Each of these departments has a team leader who forms part of my management team. In effect, I manage the people assets of the Resort, excluding F&B, with a total staff complement of about 250 persons.

Larry: And whom do you report to?

Jamaal: In addition to myself, other members of the executive team for the property such as our F&B beverage director, executive chef, director of catering and convention services, facilities director and revenue director report to the general manager.

Larry: What is your typical day like?

Jamaal: Well, I’m rarely found in my office. My focus is on the guest, and the best way to learn is to be in the center of the action – in the lobby, front office area, front drive or housekeeping. Many of the staff are starting to think that I must be ‘cloned’ as I can easily put several miles on my Fitbit attending meetings, talking to team members or greeting guests. This is a large property, with the Resort alone comprising some 350+ acres as well as 1,047 rooms and suites in multiple buildings. Thank goodness for our cell phones, as I could not imagine this job prior to this technology.

Larry: Do you differentiate between guests, say someone who has come in through an OTA booking versus someone who booked direct or through a travel agent?

Jamaal: Anyone who arrives at the Resort wants to be treated as a VIP. After all, we are certainly not inexpensive! Our welcome process is well-refined. It certainly helps that all guests must first pass through a welcome gate. Thus, we know who the guest is before they make their way to our front door. Yet, even the highest level VIP and the first time visitor will receive the same Floridian welcome. To do this, we have a valet staff of 30 who work in tandem with our bell staff and front desk to speed guests through the arrival process. To see this on a late Friday afternoon – our peak check-in time – is like watching a symphony orchestra. It is impressive, particularly given our short distance from the front doors to the reception counter (probably no more than 40 feet).

Larry: And if there’s a problem?

Jamaal: No one is perfect; no team flawless. After all, we’re only human. Given the number of interactions to successfully check a guest in and move them through to their room, it is incredible to me that our success rate approaches 100%. Yet, there are often challenges, be it a late checkout that renders a designated room not ready, an engineering concern or just a simple reservations error. That is why we empower our team to find the best solution often without further layers of management involvement. Through this, we are not only providing better hospitality, but also training our frontline staff to be better at their positions and move up to managerial functions.

Larry: Just how do you manage all of this and retain any sense of sanity?

Jamaal: Simply put: delegation and teamwork. I’ve long since recognized two things. First, the sum often exceeds the whole of the parts: put two or three great people together and they will forge a result that is more than one could anticipate for each operating individually. And, second, you cannot ‘push a chain:’ you need to set an example, provide encouragement and give responsibilities to everyone. Sanity comes with confidence that your team members are being given the latitude to get their work done, and seeing them step to up the plate!

Larry: What advice do you have for those wishing to pursue a career in hospitality?

Jamaal: Our business is not about technology, but rather it is all about people. You have to totally immerse yourself in this amazing profession and learn to focus on nurturing your team. The Resort’s success clearly demonstrates that you simply cannot do it all yourself. You have to (literally) roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty in order to immerse yourself in providing unparalleled guest experiences. In doing so, you will enrich the lives of your guests and your team as well as your own well-being.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published by Hotel Interactive on April 12, 2016).