Ron Vlasic likes to talk. It’s a brisk Chicago morning at the Allegro Hotel, Kimpton’s largest property and Vlasic’s home base as regional vice president of hotels for the Midwest, and I’m watching him work the room. You’d think he was running for mayor the way he smiles and introduces himself to guests in the lobby. He loves hearing about why they’re in Chicago. And I don’t think I’ve seen a single hotel staffer pass by that he hasn’t stopped to chat up. He seems to have so much to talk about.
While we’re waiting for the photographer to set up he tells me how he spent the past couple of days taking care of his 5-year-old daughter, who has the flu. My first thought is that he doesn’t act like someone who spent the last 24 hours cleaning up vomit and catering to the whims of a sick kindergartener. He has way too much energy for that.
But Vlasic seems to be always at his best interacting with other people. He’s worked in hotels for over 20 years and has been with Kimpton since 1999. That was back when the company only had 25 hotels—now it has 58. Over the years he’s grown as well, rising through the ranks, becoming involved with many of the company’s mentorship and training programs, and spearheading Kimpton’s local sustainability efforts through environmentally friendly business practices. Vlasic has worked directly with the former Chicago Mayor Daley to develop environmental guidelines for Chicago hotels, which led the city to become home to the most certified “green” hotels in the U.S. in 2008. And he’s just getting started.
Now Vlasic is bringing his energy to the AH&LA as the association’s 2013 chair. Given how much Vlasic loves what he does, he couldn’t be happier in his new position. In his acceptance speech at New York’s Plaza Hotel last November he told the ballroom full of hotel industry luminaries, “We have an amazing industry, and now is a time of incredible opportunities to become even more successful than ever.” While he’s aware of the huge task in front of him, he’s got the right attitude to take it on. For him, being the AH&LA chair means spending a lot of time talking to people about hotels. Here’s what he had to say to us.
Is interacting with guests your favorite part of running a hotel?
It’s definitely more fun than hanging out in an office and staring at a computer. In general you’re much better off interacting with your staff and with guests. One of the things I loved about joining Kimpton was getting the opportunity to mingle with guests during the wine hour every day. In fact, when I was only two to three weeks into my job at the Sir Francis Drake in San Francisco, I went over to the Harbour Court—one of our sister hotels—to meet the general manager. While I was waiting for him I watched this 60-year-old man setting up everything for the wine hour. And he was schlepping all these big bags in from his car through the lobby. So the GM from the hotel comes down and says, “Let me introduce you to Bill Kimpton.” And it turns out it was the guy I had been watching set up for the wine hour. Here was the owner of Kimpton Hotels hauling bags and pouring wine like it was nothing.
Do you have a favorite Kimpton property?
Definitely this Hotel Allegro in Chicago. I came here in 2001 as a general manager and I’ve served here the longest out of any hotel I’ve worked in. In fact, I still have my office in the back corner of the accounting area. It was at the Allegro that I transitioned to city manager and then to my current regional vice president position. The building was built in the 1920s and it has that old Chicago style that I love. When I’m in town I try to always go down during our complimentary coffee and tea service so I can chat with our guests. I don’t think I could ever give up working in a hotel.
What originally sparked your interest in hotels?
I was 20 years old when I took a job selling menswear at a department store in downtown Chicago. And every day as I came into work I would look at the Palmer House because the entrance to the store was directly across from the front door of the hotel. To me the Palmer House is a magnificent building—it embodies the style of an old world hotel. One day I decided to walk over and check it out.
When I stepped into the lobby I could see that this whole machine was in operation. The housekeepers were everywhere and the concierge was behind this big walnut desk, sitting in this great big chair. There was so much energy in that lobby. It was phenomenal to just watch everything in motion. And I knew I needed to figure out a way to get into this even though I didn’t know anyone that worked at a hotel. So I took some college classes in hospitality and things just took off from there.