Over the past few years, more and more women seem to be climbing to the top ranks of the hotel industry. This isn’t a coincidence—woman are making their own opportunities to succeed, whether that be through founding their own companies, networking with former colleagues, or finding unexplored niches within hospitality. Even more inspiring? These women are bringing others with them, creating a more diverse industry and strengthening the market positions of their companies. These 15 women are just a few who represent the amazing leaps and bounds that female hospitality leaders are making all over the industry.
When speaking with RLJ Lodging Trust President and CEO Leslie Hale about her career, her enthusiasm for the combination of finance and hospitality is palpable. In fact, the way she tells it, her introduction to finance was love at first sight. “I was taking a finance class in college and fell in love. The concept of taking one dollar and turning it into two fascinated me. I was immediately hooked, and after that class, I changed my major,” she describes. Read more about Hale here.
Title: President & CEO, RLJ Lodging Trust
Education: M.B.A. from Harvard Business School; B.S. in Finance from
First hotel industry job: Working banquets in a high school hotel training program
What she doesn’t leave the house without: Her cell phone and a pair of flats
Hotel must-have: “A channel card! I want to be able to turn the TV right to CNN or MSN without having to search.”
Favorite destination: Los Angeles, to visit her family
How can women help other women succeed in the hotel industry? “By inviting them into your network,” Glyn Aeppel, president and CEO of Glencove Capital LLC, says. “When I started out in this industry, there were very few women in high positions at hotel companies—in fact, they’re still relatively rare. But the numbers are growing. And in my experience, the way to move forward in any business is to build a solid network of professional contacts—made up of both men and women. What women can do is actively search for talented women to pull into their own networks. This can help open doors and create more opportunities for that rising pool of talent.”
Title: President & CEO, Glencove Capital LLC
Education: M.B.A. from Harvard Business School; B.A. from Principia College
First hotel industry job: Financial Analyst, Treasury Department, Marriott Corporation
What she doesn’t leave the house without: Her Bose Soundlink Micro Bluetooth
Favorite destination: Franschoek/Stellenbosch, South Africa
3Shruti Gandhi Buckley
Shruti Gandhi Buckley is senior vice president and global head of Hampton by Hilton. Buckley’s connection to the hospitality industry dates back to her childhood, when she spent summers with an uncle who was the owner and operator of a small independent hotel in Atlantic City. “That was my first exposure to the hospitality world, and I really enjoyed helping out, doing things like folding pool towels and stocking the soda machine,” she says. Read more.
Title: Senior Vice President & Global Head, Hampton by Hilton
Education: University of California at Berkley
First hotel industry job: Working at her uncle’s Atlantic City hotel as a child
Best thing about a hospitality career: “It’s so much more complex than just working with a product. You have the opportunity to shape people’s experiences.”
“As I grew my career with Prism, and grew my family at the same time, finding balance between the two evolved organically,” Allison Handy, partner and senior vice president of sales and marketing at Prism Hotels & Resorts, says. “When I was made the first female partner, I knew Prism was serious about its commitment to providing opportunities for women, and it became my responsibility to show others that you can do both. My colleagues and clients see that I can be an influential voice in shaping the company and driving performance in our hotels—and be at teacher conferences and dance recitals. I am proud to show the benefits of both sides of this balance, including how much richer our lives can be, and how much more productive our company can be when we embrace that balance.”
Title: Partner and Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Prism Hotels & Resorts
Education: A degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles with an emphasis on entrepreneurial studies.
First hotel industry job: Sales Administrative Assistant at Meristar Hotels.
What she doesn’t leave the house without: “My notebook. Ideas, questions, reminders—they can strike on the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer game or while boarding a plane, and if I don’t write them down, they can be lost.”
Favorite destination: Sun Valley, Idaho
“There was a moment earlier in my career where Denihan was presented with an opportunity that I thought would be a game changer for us, but because nobody else seemed all that enthused about it, I didn’t fight for it hard enough,” Denihan says. “We ended up letting this opportunity pass by and, as I anticipated, a competitor pounced on it. That was a turning point for me. Since that time, I haven’t been afraid to insert myself into any conversation as it relates to growth or business initiatives. The executive team doesn’t side with me every time—which is expected and the sign of a healthy dialogue—but at least I take satisfaction in knowing that I spoke up and made my voice heard.”
Title: Managing Director, Denihan Hospitality
Education: B.S. in Organizational Behavior, Boston College; Executive Education: Finance and Accounting for Non-Financial Executives program, Columbia Business School.
First hotel industry job: Guest Services at Resort at Squaw Creek in Lake Tahoe, Calif.
What she doesn’t leave the house without: Her cellphone (“Which is also my wallet.”), and chapstick or lipstick if going out on the town.
Favorite destination: “I loved Istanbul. I think the city has so much culture and excitement. It’s a beautiful country. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, and I traveled throughout Turkey. We loved Bodrum and this cool little boutique called Maçakızı Hotel.”
Sarah Robbins got her start at 21c Museum Hotels as a founding partner. Now, as chief operating officer of the brand, she oversees both F&B and hotel operations, as well as HR. Robbins discussed with LODGING how she discovered her love for the hospitality industry, what she does to keep her team motivated, and how her leadership strategy has evolved over the years, here.
Title: COO, 21c Museum Hotels
Education: Cornell School of Hotel Administration
First hotel industry job: Handing out mints and towels at a bed and breakfast in Martha’s Vineyard.
Hotel must have: A cold room!
What she doesn’t leave the house without: Blistex
Favorite destination: Martha’s Vineyard
Throughout her childhood, Jennifer Connell—now vice president and global brand leader of Marriott’s Autograph Collection and Tribute Portfolio—traveled with her family from their home in Mississippi to big convention hotels around the country. She recalls the first time walking into the expansive atrium of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, designed by architect and developer John Portman. She stared up at the vast, 50-story atrium hung with layers of streamers from the different levels and felt, in that moment, that she was standing in a piece of art. These instances of admiration and awe instilled in Connell a fascination with hotel design and architecture, which complemented her analytical mind. It is at the intersection of art and science where Connell has staked her place. Read more.
Title: Vice President & Global Brand Leader, Autograph Collection & Tribute Portfolio
Education: Georgetown College (B.A.) and The Johns Hopkins University — Carey Business School (M.S.)
First job in the industry: Pre-opening sales coordinator for an extended-stay company
Best advice you’ve ever received: “Be yourself and be authentic.”
Hotel room must-have: Practically, a hairdryer. On the design side, good artwork.
“I was very fortunate to start my career working closely with strong, smart women that served as great role models for me,” Tara Waldier, vice president of Rockbridge, says. “They showed me that a woman’s place is at the table and a woman’s thoughts should be heard—the same as everyone else. These women showed me that success for women is not a ‘zero sum’ situation; for me to be successful, I don’t need to hinder another woman’s accomplishments. In fact, these women took time out of their own day, time away from achieving their goals, to teach me and build me up, to answer my questions, and to encourage my opinion-forming. This was so impactful for me, and I hope to be able to do the same for women around me.”
Title: Vice President, Rockbridge
Education: B.S., Denison University
First hotel industry job: Rockbridge
What she doesn’t leave the house without: Phone
Favorite destination: A Coruña, Spain
“I have always identified how to put key numbers on the scoreboard in every position I have held, and I have tried to deliver value,” Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Best Western Hotels & Resorts, says. “But my greatest pride is the relationships I have fostered with key industry partners such as AAA, Disney, Google, TripAdvisor, and others. My partners at these organizations have been great teachers and great business partners, which has enabled us to continue to drive our business forward.”
Title: Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, Best Western Hotels & Resorts
Education: M.A. in sociology and leisure studies from the University of Waterloo in Ontario
First hotel industry job: “My first industry job was a research analyst coming out of graduate school with Tourism Canada, followed by a college teaching position and a management consulting role with Laventhol and Horwath in their hospitality division.”
What she doesn’t leave the house without: “My workout gear goes with me everywhere. Working out is my mental health break—especially my time on the treadmill.”
Favorite destination: “Rome is my favorite city in the world—followed by Toronto, my hometown.”
Like many who spend their careers in hospitality, Tammy Peter fell into the industry, then fell in love with it. Now senior vice president of global distribution at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Peter was introduced to the industry through a summer job at a reservation center in Dallas while attending the University of Michigan. “I found I just loved the service culture, the concept of being genuinely hospitable, and getting to help people go on vacations,” she says. Now at Wyndham for 18 years, she recently shared with LODGING her path to her current job and some of the changes she witnessed during this period. Read more here.
Title: Senior Vice President, Global Distribution, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
First hotel industry job: Reservation center
Hotel must-haves: A good blow dryer
Favorite destination: Phoenix, Ariz.
What she doesn’t leave the house without: “My cell phone.”
“My greatest accomplishment is assisting young students at the Tisch Center of Hospitality in attaining a remarkable education,” Dorothy Jennings, executive vice president of HVS and conference coordinator for New York University Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, says. “If you spend any time with them, you cannot help being invigorated by their dedication and commitment. They love interacting with industry icons during the Conference and are appreciative of the opportunities the Center makes available to them. Each year, we have an Alumni Panel that showcases the achievements of our many successful graduates. It is gratifying to know that I have made a contribution to the lives of our next generation of hoteliers, an industry that has brought me so much satisfaction.”
Title: Executive Vice President, HVS, and Conference Coordinator, New York University Hospitality Industry Investment Conference
Education: Queensboro Community, and New York University Real Estate Institute for non-matriculated courses
First hotel industry job: Helmsley-Spear Hospitality Division
What she doesn’t leave the house without: “I often go hiking, and the trails in my local woods are full of bears. So I never go on hikes without bear bells. From a professional viewpoint, when commuting, I rely on audiobooks for education and entertainment.”
Favorite destination: Vienna, Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Graz, Austria
“In regards to my career, I am most proud of pushing myself to learn and grow while raising my two daughters as a single mom,” Joey Oliva, vice president of sales and marketing at Kokua Hospitality, says. “I wanted them to see that they if they have a strong work ethic and believe in themselves, anything is possible. Coming to a place like Kokua, where I have the chance to run teams and programs in a new way and grow my own department, has been an amazing opportunity that I haven’t experienced in other jobs. Women can support each other by sharing our experience, knowledge, and insight to help propel each other forward. Sharing our experiences will enable up and coming women compete for leadership positions that have traditionally been held by men. We must encourage and empower women to get out of their comfort zones and compete.”
Title: Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Kokua Hospitality
Education: City College of San Francisco (began work in the industry before graduating)
First hotel industry job: Receptionist at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel
What she doesn’t leave the house without: Sunglasses
Favorite destination: Costa Rica
Back in the mid-2000s, Marilyn Cox saw the writing on the wall while working in residential real estate in Atlanta. She noticed that some deals weren’t closing and, sure enough, that trend soon moved to the commercial side. That’s when she saw an ad in the paper for a position at a six-employee firm operating out of a little shop in downtown Atlanta—Hunter Hotel Advisors. “I applied for assistant to the president and I got the job working with Teague Hunter. The company just grew from there,” she says. and Cox grew with it. Today, with 20 years of real estate experience under her belt, Cox is a vice president at Hunter Hotel Advisors and works as a broker out of Phoenix. Cox recently told LODGING about how she launched and grew her career in hospitality and shared what it’s like working in a male-dominated position here.
Title: Vice President, Hunter Hotel Advisors
Education: Ohio University
What she doesn’t leave the house without: Water, phone, and laptop
Favorite destination: Hong Kong
Many hotels lack a connection between their departments, leading to wasteful habits and minimal communication among staff members. Adria Levtchenko, CEO and co-founder of PurpleCloud, noticed this trend while studying hospitality management at Drexel University, and realized the industry needed a product that connected employees while eliminating inefficiencies. PurpleCloud was designed to fix this, offering hoteliers a place for departments to interact while also providing and analyzing data. Read more.
Founder and president of natural skin and hair care company LATHER, Emilie Hoyt, turned her sensitivities to artificial fragrances into a now-booming business. Growing up, synthetic perfumes would leave Hoyt struggling with migraines. Finding products without unnatural scents could be difficult, and when the market didn’t offer the type of all-natural products that Hoyt was seeking, she decided it was time to create her own. She founded LATHER in 1999. Read more.