Put people first, take chances, don’t kiss up, and give recognition that sticks.
By Bob Brown
Great leaders develop unseen talents. They motivate, honor, and make us feel part of something special. They are rare. That's why I and many others are fortunate to have worked with Dan Flannery, SVP and Managing Director of EDITION Hotels and formally area VP for The Ritz-Carlton New York and Boston.
- Put people first. “When I worked with Dan he taught that it’s easy to say, ‘Tell me what you need,’” says Kate Harth, consultant and former Ritz-Carlton Director of Sales and Marketing. “We can use our busy schedules as excuses for not being there for someone. But Dan puts people first, even the team’s family members. At The Ritz-Carlton Battery Park, there was the catastrophic death of a manager’s child. So, Dan rented busses to make sure anyone who wanted to could go to the funeral and pay their respects. And, when my dad passed, the wake was nearly two-and-a-half hours away. I was shocked to see Dan at the funeral home—and more so when he apologized for not being able to stay longer because he had to catch a flight to China. Others would have used the flight as an opportunity to bail.”
- Esteem your team. “Dan sets the culture, not just of the brand globally, but of how our office runs and personal interactions,” says Sarah Raynor, Senior Director of Operations and Culture for EDITION hotels. “He fosters a culture of respect, kindness, inclusivity, and creativity. We’re a small team but achieve a lot because Dan encourages us to work collaboratively. Working outside our disciplines lets us continually learn. And it’s great to be trusted and not micro-managed.”
- Push people to take a chance. Dan believes one of the most powerful motivators is to give someone more responsibility and stretch them. “I’m the perfect case in point,” says David Chase. “I was the director of catering when we opened The Ritz-Carlton Battery Park and thought of myself as a lifetime foodie. But Dan perceived me as someone who could build a team of fiercely loyal players. ‘All I ask is that you give the hotel manager job a try,’ he said. ‘I’m offering you a three-month trial while the current manager is on maternity leave. You can always go back, but you’ll never know what you’re missing if you don’t take the chance.’ Before long, I was the hotel manager at The Ritz-Carlton Central Park,” David says. He parlayed that into a GM position and is on his third assignment at the Omni Berkshire in New York City.
- Take risks.When Dan was the Hotel Manager at the Marriott Financial Center, his three-meal restaurant took in $800,000 but lost $350,000. “We could have played it safe with the cookie-cutter approach, where everything is provided from menus, to use records, to tabletops, where you get a free pass by simply passing an audit,” says Dan. “But I knew we could achieve more if we had the guts to take a risk.
“After arduous research, we set our sights on Roy’s, founded by Roy Yamaguchi. I had to make an extensive business case for corporate approval with financial projections, ROI, construction costs, and a positioning plan. And I had to convince my general manager, our owners, my marketing manager, and Marriott. After some initial pushback, I got the go-ahead, and the restaurant was a success. Roy’s was the first license agreement with an outside chef and the first time Marriott used an independent design team. In the first year, we did five-and-a-half million dollars,” Dan recounts.
- Play mental Ping-Pong. “Dan is engaged on a different level,” says Laura O’Neill, the former Director of Human Resources at The Battery Park Ritz-Carlton “If I go to him with a labor strategy, I must be prepared to make my case with an action plan for roll-out and implementation. He turns it into a tennis match, throwing out questions and pushing me to consider options I never thought possible. It’s incredible to sit in a room and get feedback and feel cared for and never criticized,” reflects Laura. “He doesn’t tell me what to do but puts the ball back in my court. You leave his office excited with your head spinning with ideas.”
- Give meaningful recognition. “Like most hotels, we host lavish Christmas parties. At first, people came up and thanked us,” says Dan. “Then, after a couple of years, complaints rolled in about the DJ, menu, venue, even the date. What started as recognition became an entitlement. What counts is personalized attention. My mentor Jean Cohen taught me to never underestimate the power of a heartfelt hand-written note,” continues Dan. “I keep a Friday File reminding me to write to someone offering special thanks, and most importantly, to send it to their home. It’s more personal when families share in the pride and appreciation firsthand.
Meaningful recognition is what people value most. Sarah Raynor travels the world for us. A single mom of two young boys, she was visibly upset while waiting in the Zurich transit lounge. Her sitter in New York had overslept, and her 11-year-old son called in tears to explain he was alone in an Uber going to a new school. Sarah got him to school long distance talking with the driver and revealed how she felt about not being there for him. This time, I sent a letter addressed to her boys: ‘I appreciate the sacrifices you make by sharing your mom with us. When you see her, give her an extra big hug because she works so hard.’ The next time I saw Sarah there were tears streaming down her face as she told me how important her boys felt receiving a letter addressed to them. “And now when I go away,” says Sarah, “they know EDITION is just borrowing me.”
- No ass kissing. “Dan has no tolerance for people who kiss up, continues Kate. “When we launched EDITION, the message of not being afraid to tell the truth to higher-ups was so important that we made it a core value. Dan stands up for what is right even if it isn’t popular. He always challenges an organization if a view, process, or system isn't working.”
“At the opening of the New York Times Square EDITION, Ian Schrager mentioned that ‘we have to ward against being ‘the Emperor in New Clothes.’ We don’t want our people to feel they have to be political and dishonest about something they know isn’t exceptional,” Dan emphasizes.
- Surprise and celebrate. “I want everyone to know that, despite the reality we’re running hundred million dollar hotels, there’s a place to have fun while creating excellence,” says Dan. “And, because we test every employee—some two-hundred-and-fifty questions—there’s a lot of pressure to succeed. During the opening ceremony of the Abu Dhabi EDITION, I wanted to catch GM Stefan Soennichsen off guard with a special surprise. When Stephan stood in front of his team of five-hundred from fifty-six countries to announce his hotel’s score, one of my team members ran up on stage, grabbed the microphone, and said, ‘Stop! Stop! Stephan, we have important news! You’re team scored 98.8% giving your hotel the highest score ever.’ “Stephan shed tears of joy as the crowd erupted with cheers and applause,” Dan says.
- Keep it real. “Dan has never let promotions and growth go to his head. He’s super smart, strategic, and results oriented. Yet, after all these years, I can joke around with him,” says Kate Harth. “In a meeting, he stated that he wasn't the smartest person in the room. I quietly snickered. Later, after the meeting, I told him how I wanted to say something sarcastic. He said, ‘Oh, so it was you who made that noise?’ I told him I wanted to call him out.” And, he replied, ‘you should have … it would have been funny.’ “In the end, I’m always learning, pushing myself to new heights, and feel I’m part of a great adventure. And, if you don’t know Dan Flannery, watch him go into one of his hotels, past or present, and see the impact he has on anyone who works, or has worked with him,” Kate says.
About the author
Bob Brown, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions, www.bobbrownss.com, pioneered Marriott’s Service Excellence Program and has worked with clients such as Disney, Ritz-Carlton, Conrad, Viceroy, Four Seasons and Nordstrom, and works internationally with the prestigious hotels such as Burj Al Arab in Dubai. He has appeared on the Food Network is author of bestselling The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success selling over 100,000 copies and was rated the #1 presenter at the National Restaurant Association Show 2017. ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2019.