IHG’s recently appointed chief operating officer for the Americas, Colleen Keating, is now responsible for leading the operations for more than 4,000 IHG hotels across the region. As she told LODGING, she expects her background in both sales and operations to serve her well as she focuses on strengthening and cultivating relationships with owners and overseeing franchisee performance support. Keating stresses the importance of “stretch opportunities,” not just for herself but also for her colleagues, and says it is the ability to lead a team of talented and empowered individuals to stretch along with her that is the key to success.
What was your path to your current position?
My first hotel industry job—that of a hotel sales manager—was a kind of marriage of my earlier experiences as a student. I was vice president of marketing for my Junior Achievement company in high school and a second-shift Avis car rental agent at the airport while attending college. This introduced me to sales as well as the travel industry. I spent my first 10 years in the hotel industry in various sales roles with a number of different types and sizes of hotels.
After that first decade in sales, I wanted to broaden my horizons. I wanted a stretch assignment, one where I had more questions than answers and which would be a great learning environment. For me, that was moving into operations when Starwood gave me an opportunity to become a general manager. After two general manager positions, I became the area managing director for the managed Starwood hotels in New England and, at the same time, the GM of the largest hotel in New England. This was followed by first becoming the senior vice president of Starwood’s largest managed region, then SVP of their North America franchise business.
How was it making that transition from sales to operations?
It was one of the most impactful stretch opportunities of my career. It opened my eyes to the importance of having the best team. As a GM, you lead in partnership with your team. Being surrounded by people with greater depth of experience than I had made me realize that the gift of a leader is to be able to align and engage a team around a shared vision or shared strategy without needing to be the subject-matter expert. I also celebrate diversity on a team because we all benefit from having colleagues with different backgrounds, skills, and experiences, and learning from one another.
What do you consider to be your most significant professional achievement?
I’m proudest of the number of people who have worked on my teams who, today, are in positions of significantly greater responsibility. I believe in hiring the very best and brightest talent. But I also believe in creating a safe environment where people can take risks, where they can test and try new things. We give our team members the opportunity to grow and develop mainly by encouraging them to sit at a bigger table, to take on a stretch role or assignment. Our leadership culture is designed to foster team member growth—by empowering them and providing opportunities and guidance in a culture of trust.
Title: Chief Operating Officer, Americas, IHG
Time with company: 8 months
First hotel industry job: Sales Manager
Hometown: Enfield, Conn.
Hotel must-haves: Clean and fresh linen and terry
Best advice she ever got: Hire the best and brightest; never settle on talent.
What are some exciting projects you are now working on?
Being new to IHG, I’m energized by the strategic initiatives that are underway. We’re launching avid hotels; making great progress in our $200 million Accelerate program for Crowne Plaza; advancing our design innovation at Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and our extended-stay brands; and seeing exciting growth in our InterContinental and Hotel Indigo brands in the Americas. I’m also grateful to be serving on IHG’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Board, which is led by our CEO. This is something I’m really passionate about, because I believe diversity and inclusion go hand in glove with an environment where the best and brightest really want to be.
What do you like best about hospitality?
I think it’s a privilege to work side by side every day with people who have chosen to take care of others for a living. That’s what hospitality is—taking care of people. I also think it’s thrilling that this industry offers so much opportunity. People can start at an entry-level job and, based on the merits of the work they do, advance to the highest levels within the industry.