Cover Story  A Foundation For The FutureA long-term Carlsonexecutive and anindustry pioneer,Nancy Johnson sharesthe story ...
Cover Story    “Women have to realize that the    talented individuals, each fueling       getting into the business of ho...
Cover Storyto life. The connection between         women develop their role in the                each AAHOA Annual Conven...
Cover Story   “One of things about this   industry is you meet so many   wonderful people. You really   have to have a pas...
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Nancy Johnson Interview July 2012


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Nancy Johnson reflects on her journey and offers advice to young women looking to break into hospitality.

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Nancy Johnson Interview July 2012

  1. 1. Cover Story A Foundation For The FutureA long-term Carlsonexecutive and anindustry pioneer,Nancy Johnson sharesthe story of her journeyto success, how she’smentoring a newgeneration of hoteliersand Carlson Rezidor’sroad map for the future By Jonathan Springston, AAHOA Lodging BusinessN ancy Johnson, who serves as executive vice president of Development, Americas,Limited Service Brands, for the Carl-son Rezidor Hotel Group, reached animportant milestone in 2011 when shebecame the chair of the American Ho-tel & Lodging Association (AH&LA),adding to her already-impressive listof career achievements. “Women have to realize that the “When I started in the business, opportunity is there should theyI was in development construction. choose to have it. They can haveIt was kind of a lonely place for a what they want. They can be thewoman,” Johnson said during an in- top executive of a corporation.”terview in May with ALB. “I identifiedwith AH&LA. It was a place I could go “It really is so women can net- “What I see with this newto get educated on what’s going on.” work [and] be educated on devel- generation of women coming up is In 2003, Johnson was the found- oping their careers by women who they do want to make their mark oning chair of AH&LA’s Women In have been through it,” Johnson said. society. They want to do it hand inLodging Council. “It is a great opportunity for the in- hand with their spouse but they’re “The initial mission of the coun- dustry to identify a new workforce not going to be taking a secondcil was to really create a network [and] new leadership.” position. They will be doing it inof executive women who could In recent years, the women of partnership,” Johnson said. “Thebecome more visible in the industry AAHOA have become more visible women have been shown to be veryto show students and young women within the association, with ris- smart business people and I see acoming up in the industry that there ing participation at WIHL sessions lot of this new generation will makewere role models of women who at Regional meetings and annual the Indian culture proud of whathave made a successful career in WIHL conferences. Johnson sees they leave.”hotels,” she said. second and third generation women Johnson said that many women Today, there are nearly 1,700 hoteliers attempting to strike a bal- in the industry try to strike a goodmembers from several state chap- ance between what they’ve learned balance between work life andters across the United States partici- in the United States and the rich, home life but encouraged women topating in Women In Hotel Leader- cultural heritage they inherited take advantage of the growing op-ship (WIHL). from first generation hoteliers. portunities before them.52 AAHOA Lodging Business JULY 2012
  2. 2. Cover Story “Women have to realize that the talented individuals, each fueling getting into the business of hotelopportunity is there should they the passion of the other, is what led construction, who offered her a job.choose to have it. They can have Johnson into hospitality. “I was with them for 10 yearswhat they want. They can be the “One of things about this indus- and built 48 hotels,” Johnson executive of a corporation,” she try is you meet so many wonderful “I wore a hard hat, dealt withsaid. “There have been more small people. You really have to have a plumbers, electricians, carpentersbusinesses started over the last 10 passion for helping people,” she - you name it, zoning, municipalyears by women than by men. There said. “If you’re going to do any- approvals. The education wasare opportunities for women to own thing, you should make sure you’re amazing.”hotels, run hotels [and] to be in- having fun doing it, which brings Johnson held various leadershipvolved in vending to hotels. Women an intensity to it. You should care positions with Brutger before mov-are seeing that they don’t necessar- deeply about what you’re doing.” ing on to eventually become viceily have to give up the family life, president and COO of Hospitalitythe balance in their life, whatever Family Matters Development Corporation.that might be. They can still be ex- While working for the Sunwood In the late 1980s, Johnsonecutives who give a lot back.” Inn & Convention Center, a full reached out to Carlson, a service hotel in St. Cloud, family-owned, Min-An Occupation of Necessity Johnson had a chance en- nesota-based com-Johnson knows well the challenges counter with the presi- pany launchingof balancing work life with duties dent of Brutger the Country Innsat home. As a single mother of two, Companies, & Suites brand atJohnson went to work for a hotel in Inc., a around the sameSt. Cloud, Minn. that allowed her local time AAHOA cameto work nights while keeping her firmchildren during the day. The hard work paid off, afford-ing Johnson a stream of new oppor-tunities rather quickly. When shebecame a vice president of market-ing, Johnson enrolled in marketingcourses. When she started in realestate acquisition, Johnson earned areal estate license. When she didn’tunderstand how to read blueprints,Johnson enrolled in draftingcourses. “I started educating my-self and doing whatever ittook to reach the positionsI was being handed,” shesaid. “I was given so manyopportunities and peoplewere so good to allow me togrow and do things. That’sprobably one of things I see astrong need for - the ability tolift people up, whether that beemployees, whether it be peo-ple in your church or society.” The sense of community isone trait about AAHOA thatimpresses Johnson most. “Nobody can replicate thebond they have in helping oneanother,” she said. “They areso giving and so open abouthelping their fellow Asians “I was given so many opportunities and people wereup into the business, to edu- so good to allow me to grow and do things. That’scate them. That is what we need probably one of things I see a strong need for - the ability to lift people up, whether that be employees,in society in general.” whether it be people in your church or society.” The ability to meet kind andJULY 2012 AAHOA Lodging Business 53
  3. 3. Cover Storyto life. The connection between women develop their role in the each AAHOA Annual Convention.Carlson and AAHOA was immedi- industry. “When I come to AAHOA, Iate and powerful. “The philosophy of helping always get energized because peo- Carlson Chairman Marilyn people is something we believe in,” ple are so positive,” she said. “YouCarlson Nelson and her family in Johnson said. “The contribution we always feel like you’re coming homethe earliest days of the association make every year to the educational when you come here because theyinvited the AAHOA Board of Direc-tors to her home in Minneapolis.Johnson recalls fondly that meeting. We tell employees to make eye contact and have empathy for what “It was the Carlson family say-ing we know what you’ve beenthrough,” Johnson said. “It wasCarlson saying we believe in theimmigrants from India coming in the customer went through to reachand we believe in what you havecontributed to the hotel industry the hoteland we support and applaud it.[Carlson] at that time was so family-oriented and AAHOA is family- fund for AAHOA is purely because are a great boon for us.”oriented. It was a magic connection we love the people. We want the Indeed, 33 percent of all Countrythat took place.” next generation to be just as enlight- Inns & Suites licensees are Asian In addition to serving as an ened and innovative as the past has American.AAHOA Founding Member, Carl- been.” “They have really helped usson set up the idea of an educa- grow the brand. We feel they havetion fund, to which the company Country Pride a vested interest in making surecontributes every year, and helped For 22 years, Johnson has attended we stay successful and we just love that,” Johnson said. Country Inns & Suites has proved wildly popular with the traveling public and inspires an intense loyalty from its employees. “The building embodies some place you would like to sleep. The ‘home-iness’ of the product touches people’s spirit. The people who work there feel passionate about it,” Johnson said. “We have a culture within Country that has been there forever and that we call now ‘Be Our Guest.’ We train for it. We tell [employees] when you see a cus- tomer walk through the door, you make eye contact. We want you to have that empathy, that passion for what they’ve been through to get to your hotel.” The Carlson Rezidor Group is in the middle of its Ambition 2015 strategy that calls for a clear identity for each flag in its portfolio while accelerating growth and driv- ing revenue. Within this strategy, Country has evolved to become the first midscale product to serve its breakfast offering with real silver- ware and dining ware. Johnson on Country: “The building “It’s one of those things that has embodies some place you would like to gained so much attention and now sleep. The ‘home-iness’ of the product our owners are saying once you get it touches people’s spirit. The people who in, it is no more expensive,” Johnson work there feel passionate about it.” said of the new dining ware program,54 AAHOA Lodging Business JULY 2012
  4. 4. Cover Story “One of things about this industry is you meet so many wonderful people. You really have to have a passion for helping people.”which came to life in late 2011. “Our is the evolution that has taken place ter relationships because of that.”customers go, ‘Wow, a real plate, naturally internally from our own- While she believes a recovery isreal silverware. Thank heavens!’ In ers and operators.” upon the industry, Johnson said theyour own home, you wouldn’t serve Carlson launched its sweeping effects of the downturn will shapesomeone breakfast on a styrofoam Ambition 2015 during a time of the future for some time to come.plate and styrofoam cup. Not only is great economic difficulty but the “The unfortunate thing is youit environmentally irresponsible, you won’t see as many novices comewouldn’t do it to your guests.” Carlson Rezidor is working If you listen to the into the industry as we’ve had in the last 10 years,” she said. “You’ll seeon the Generation 4 prototype forCountry that executives believe will advice of people people with multiple hotels be able to get financing. I think you will see who have beenpropel the brand into more urban a steady growth but I don’t thinkmarkets while keeping it fresh for you’ll see any dynamic growth.”guests. Running a hotel is no easy task While the second year ofAmbition 2015 put much focus on through it, you but Johnson loves it because it’s never boring.refreshing Radisson properties andlaunching the Radisson Blu brand, will learn a lot “If you have a passion for the industry and you take care of yoursome Country Inns & Suites owners customers, business dollars willmay feel like their brand has taken company has worked diligently come. I believe if you take care ofa temporary back seat. But Johnson with franchisees to help them [the guests] and your hotels, youlooks at it differently. weather the storm. will be successful,” she said. “Don’t “Country is their homegrown “We did a lot of forgiving, over-leverage your property. Havebrand. Carlson loves Country and putting online, drawing out. We had the best brand you can for yourwhat it has done,” Johnson said. improvements in place we relieved,” property. Don’t rule with emotion,“It’s one of things where if it ain’t she said. “If one of our licensees rule with intelligence. Allow peoplebroke, don’t fix it. Country isn’t works with us, we help them make to advise you. If you listen to thebroken. It will go through its evolu- it through. We helped wherever we advice of people who have beention. One of the things I’m proud of could and we’ve come out with bet- through it, you will learn a lot.”JULY 2012 AAHOA Lodging Business 55