As recently as five years ago, Phoenix Porcelli says she didn’t even realize that hospitality was something that could be a field of study. The Santa Monica, Calif., native, who went to high school in Connecticut, ended up studying at Boston University, and she’s certainly glad she discovered the hospitality business as a career path. Although it’s been short so far—she graduated last May—she already finds herself heading the front desk at one of the world’s most notable and iconic hotels, the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.
“When I was discussing my options in high school, I had applied to all business programs,” Porcelli says. “My sister went to Cornell, and when we were going for a visit my guidance counselor suggested I check out their programs. They didn’t have a business school, but they do have a hospitality program. It’s interesting that Cornell actually launched my interest in the hospitality industry, but I elected not to go there and went to Boston University.”
But that was just the start of a fast rise in the industry. During her time in Boston, Porcelli participated in corporate recruitment at the university. “When I actually started interviewing with the Waldorf it was just for the experience,” she says. “When they called me back for the second interview, I thought, ‘It’s the Waldorf, why not?’”
It was her 21st birthday when she traveled to New York City for what she describes as “the longest interview of my life.” The interview lasted four hours and took place with several executives at the hotel. At the end of the process she finally met with General Manager Eric Long. “I’d just turned 21 and I’m sitting there at the Waldorf=Astoria. I was so nervous,” she recalls. “But Mr. Long inspires so much confidence.”
She aced the interview and got the job. Porcelli was originally hired in the events planning department, but because the Waldorf uses a rotational method for its leadership training she was required to work in several departments, including the front desk. She admits that she seemed to have stayed there longer and now serves as the manager of the front desk overseeing a staff of more than 40 people, many of whom have been at the property for decades.
“Everyone is older than me and probably half have children older than me,” Porcelli says. “As a young manager I’m learning and coming into my own as far as management style.”
That’s quite a position for a first full-time job in the hospitality industry. “I think the Waldorf presents the most unique opportunities and challenges of any job I would have had out of college,” she says. “It sets the standard in luxury and upscale hospitality. When our guests walk in through the front doors they have a certain expectation.”
And it’s a busy place to work. “At any time at the front desk you’re juggling several things,” Porcelli says. “You have to keep on top of all of them. Every day presents a new challenge and opportunity so I feel very blessed to be here.”
And it’s time-consuming. For a manager, the work never stops. “For instance, there was a day that our computers went down and they were down most of the day,” she recalls. “So for more than half a day, we ran the Waldorf=Astoria without a computer system.”
Luckily, Porcelli has a veteran staff, which was able to navigate the problems rather easily.
While Porcelli may still be young, she’s ready for the challenges that managing the front desk at one of the world’s most storied properties brings each day. She’s just starting out, but from the looks of it, she’s got a long future in the hospitality industry ahead of her.