Saturday, June 18, 2011

Freedom And Justice Pre-Reading

For my course, Freedom and Justice, I figured that any required pre-reading would have to consist of proper law etiquette and some historical judicial background. Boy, was I wrong—or not entirely on the right track at least. While Socrates, the main protagonist in Plato's "Republic" does discuss forms of law and justice, the sections I read mainly ruminate upon ethical debates.

The whole of this book is comprised of conversations between Socrates and others whom he is trying to convince of his beliefs. Large topics were of how to best govern a society—the answer is philosopher kings—and what morality and goodness truly mean. Plato (through Socrates) makes many analogies, taking the Allegory of the Cave to show how the difference between human beliefs, their knowledge, the difference between these two realms of thinking, and basically examining each specific aspect of any type of thought down to it's basic core.

I believe the parts of his conversations that pertain to what a society actually needs to function, i.e. guardians and how it should function are really going to relate to discussions I will be having this summer at Cornell.

Princeton Readings in Political Thought" was the other hefty book that was handed to my cohorts and myself that long ago day at Outback Steakhouse. This book contains so many time periods and acclaimed outspoken revolutionaries, it encompasses opinions and political standpoints beyond my wildest dreams. Published works I have read from this amalgamation include everything from St. Thomas Aquinas to John Locke, Marie-Olympes de Gouges, and Malcolm X.

Excerpts from Karl Marx's "The Communist Manifesto" and Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail really appealed to me (not only in their style of writing that was easier for me to understand) but how they actually applied to what I was learning about in school at that time, showing me that the things I will be discovering at Cornell in just a few days will continue to affect my whole life. Everything is connected in some way, shape, or form, and I look forward to learning more about philosophical and political outlooks that I will then be able to apply to the rest of my experiences in this world.

And the Work Begins

Preparing for the Hotel Operations Management course has reminded me that I am indeed a visual learner.

While researching hotel business models, I was constantly scribbling down notes and making graphic organizers. Unfortunately, most of them are only decipherable by me, so I have made a cleaner chart to share with all of you.

It compares the business models of the different hotels that one of our to-be instructors, Reneta McCarthy, suggested we study up on. It is probably missing some information, so if any of my fellow Hotelies would care to add to the chart, that would be great.
Notes on Business Model
franchise, chain manages hotels, does not own hotels
developed idea of franchising, also does chain, owns property
franchise, brand management, owns vacation ownership resorts & residential properties
IHG (Intercontinental Hotels Group)
chain, franchise, brand management, also manages hotels owned by other groups, owns properties
franchise, brand management
franchise, brand management
Best Western
franchise, owns hotels, resorts, residential, and vacation ownership properties, brand management
franchise, brand management
franchise, brand management
*I was a bit confused by some of the hotels' websites since some of the hotels were listed as “franchise chain” while others were listed just as “franchise.” I looked up “franchise” and “chain” and found them to be different, so I’m not quite sure what a “franchise chain” is.

Fortunately, reading Isadore Sharp’s Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, (also in preparation for the course), was simpler, mostly because the book is pretty personal even though it is about a “business philosophy.” And that makes sense, since Sharp’s business philosophy is personal.

It made me hopeful that seemingly small events in Sharp’s life, like building concrete steps incorrectly, made it into his tell-all book about his hugely successful business. Sharp does, after all, stress the importance of personal character and integrity. Sharp also takes pride in the Four Season's service; impeccable service is only possible when good personal character and integrity are present. Personal is good, but I also felt that in terms of the book's content, Sharp goes into detail a little bit too much, and covers some irrelevant topics. Including how he courted his wife Rosalie was unnecessary.

Incidentally, it was nice to read about Sharp's mention of Cornell University School of Hotel Administration graduate Yuji Odagiri, just because that's where we're going.

A Season for Every Need

I have always attempted to avoid autobiographies because I tend to be under the impression that the author is simply transforming their ego into profit. And first hearing the fact that we were required to read Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, an autobiography from Isadore Sharp, the CEO and founder of Four Seasons, for our Hotel Operations Management Program, I instantly assumed it was simply another three-hundred page advertisement for the company.
Four Seasons Qatar
photo by Nick Leonard
However, once the lines of bias and fact have been established, I realized that the whole book revolves around what Sharp states is their secret to success: "the Golden Rule – the simple idea that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same.”

The Golden Rule is certainly not explained in great detail. Instead, Isadore Sharp uses the entire book to explain how and why Four Seasons' guidelines has shaped the business into the success and reverence it has established today.

A huge emphasis is established on how Four Seasons builds their employee base not through one's résumé, but through one's character. From an outsider's perspective, the hotel industry (and business as a whole) appears to be a cold facade of robotic and computerized functions in which a company is perceived as a "well-oiled machine," and that its employees are its "integral cogs." However, while Four Seasons still gives me the impression that the hospitality industry is a sort of mechanical operation, I have come to the revelation that they are not powerhouse hosts, but simple actors. While it may sound like an insult to the business, it simply proves that these top-dollar companies can certainly put on a show of hospitality and service for its clientele and patrons. Its as if each hotel is a studio where the rooms and facilities are the sets and the amenities are the props.

And just like a high-rating television show, these companies need to find their right audience and many of them are successful because they have. Right from the get-go, Isadore Sharp wanted to establish a name that was associated with five-star, medium-sized hotels for business executives and social elites. He attempted to work on large-scale projects like the Four Seasons Sheraton that was meant for conventioneers, but because his partners were trying to attract a different consumer than what he was accustomed to, his project broke apart. Other chains attract the high-class, high-income patron such as Hyatt and Hilton while brands like Holiday Inn are renowned for giving road travelers a place to stay along the highway.

Similar to what Jobel has already iterated, a majority of these companies work primarily with franchising and management where ownership is only a small percentage of their hotel composition. For example, InterContinental Hotels Group only owns 15 hotels globally which sums up to less than 1% of their hotel base. Owners and investors typically sit on a board of directors for a hotel while they seek and hire managers to actually plan and operate it for them.

As it may be, the Four Seasons logo on the book cover further raises my assumption that the book is a marketing ploy, but is it a ploy that actually gives insight into all the nuances, struggles, and strategies of managing a hotel? Absolutely.

"The Little Things Mean Everything"

In preparation for the Hotel Operations Management program, all of the Hotelies were instructed to start studying up on the business practices of many of the leaders in the hotel industry, such as Mariott, Starwood, and IHG.

In addition to that, we were to read Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy by Isadore Sharp, the founder and current chairman of the famed Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, in order to grasp the ideas behind what makes a hotel successful.

Despite the fact that our group were not able to meet due to scheduling conflicts, we all continued to do our research, sharing knowledge with each other along the way.

In terms of business models, I found that many of the leading businesses do not own the majority of their hotels.  They simply franchise and operate the hotels, earning a profit through a percentage of the rooms that are occupied, while the hotels themselves remain independently owned.  However, companies such as Hilton and Starwood do own properties -- however these properties generally make up an insignificant amount of the overall company.

Sharp touched on this in his book, implying that owning and building hotels simply created too much financial strain on Four Seasons, so they simply relied on managing and franchising hotels.  Thus, it would not be any stretch of the imagination for the other companies to follow suit.

Another trend I noticed was that some hotel groups seem to specialize in certain types of hotels.  For example, Hilton tends to focus more on upscale hotels, such as the Waldorf-Astoria brand that they manage.  Meanwhile, Choice Hotels focuses on smaller budget hotels such as Quality Inn.  Other companies such as Accor operate a myriad of hotel types, from resorts to smaller budget hotels.

Hotel companies also operate several hotels under different brands.  These brands are tailored to a specific type of hotel, such as the Courtyard by Marriot and IHG's Holiday Inn focusing mostly on affordable high-scale lodging, while brands such as the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons focus mainly on 5-star resorts.  It is important that the brand is marketed properly to the appropriate consumers, if not, the brand will not become established and the hotels will likely stagnate due to lack of business.

The details with employment matter as well, especially with the "Frontline," generally part-time employees that do the menial jobs in the hotel.  It is important for employees to be treated well, in order to give exemplary service, as Sharp points out.

Also, the idea of a company policy, a sort of "Golden Rule," is also fundamental.  This policy illustrates the goals of the hotel and all employees are pushed to meet those standards.  Any less is generally not tolerated.

The most important thing I learned however, was that the details of any hotel can make or break the business.  Sharp's book focuses mainly on this aspect, where he recounts testing pillows and mattresses to see if they were the best that could be offered, developing amenities such as the small bottle of shampoo to the 5-star hotel restaurant.

From that, I surmised one basic fact: whether it be a fresh-baked cookie for arrivals from Hilton's DoubleTree hotels, to listening in on guests who are muttering complaints and moving in to correct the situation, the little things mean everything.  Not only because it is good business, but it is also the right thing to do.

Any less than that, and the hotel will fail.  Because without the little things, the hotel and the service itself feels a little less "human."  And there is no better business plan than focusing on those little things.