Susan Santiago, senior vice president of operations, Miraval Resorts, Americas, for Hyatt, trained for a career in childhood education, but a family tragedy turned her life upside down and toward what she realized was her passion. Thus began her “27-year journey through food and beverage,” during which she has held some positions never before held by a woman. Her trailblazing had a profound effect, and has inspired her to “show other women in our organization what the potential is for them.” Now, Santiago serves on the Diversity & Inclusion Council for Hyatt, and is co-chair and executive sponsor for HyPride, Hyatt’s LGBT diversity business resource group, and is on the board of AHLA’s Women in Lodging. She spoke with LODGING about her career path and how she is using her past experiences to lift up other women in the industry.
How did you first get into hospitality?
I grew up in Miami, where my mother owned restaurants my entire life and my father was a chef. I was working at Grand Hyatt Tampa restaurant while completing my master’s in education when a family tragedy, my brother’s death, plunged me into a period of introspection. I quit everything except my Hyatt job. Realizing my passion had always lay in food and beverage, when I was ready to resume my career, I applied for and got a position as a supervisor at a brand-new Hyatt in Orlando.
Title: Senior Vice President, Operations, Miraval Resorts, Americas, Hyatt
Time with company: 27 years
Hotel must-haves: A memorable service experience
Favorite destination: ”Anywhere there’s water. The water brings me peace.”
Never leaves the house without: “My wedding ring.”
What she wanted to be when she grew up? A tennis player
Mantra/Personal Motto: “Family first, be kind, and everything happens as it should.”
How did your path continue from there?
Starting in F&B, I moved through different positions at different properties and in the corporate offices—many of which were the first-ever for a woman. I served as general manager at Hyatt properties in Key West and Aruba, and then returned to the corporate office as Hyatt’s first female vice president of food and beverage. I then went back out into the field as an area vice president and general manager. I then became the first woman to be SVP of operations, overseeing all of our full-service hotels in the Americas. Then, about three-and-a-half years ago, I was promoted to SVP of operations for the select-service brands Hyatt Place and Hyatt House, of which we have over 400 properties globally. That brings us to my most recent role, that of SVP of operations for Miraval Resorts in the Americas, the well-being brand that Hyatt acquired two years ago.
How would you describe your management style?
I believe that my role is to inspire my teams to be successful, and I do that by combining curiosity, humility, and compassion. Those, I would say, are the three skills and attributes that I focus on. I believe when I exhibit those three leadership skills, I cultivate diverse talent and foster an inclusive culture, which I see as the best way to effectively showcase the career paths that are available to our colleagues across the globe.
What are your thoughts on the emphasis today on well-being in general, and do they impact your goals for Miraval in particular?
We acquired Miraval and Exhale Spa, a boutique fitness and spa brand, to demonstrate our commitment to a health and wellness strategy. We believe our holistic commitment to well-being is a true expression of our purpose, and are not just focused on the brand itself, but also how some of the tenets of well-being and mindfulness can come to life through all of our brands at Hyatt. This is really the manifestation of caring for people so they can be their best.
What advice do you have for women who want to grow their hospitality careers?
To ensure that they are raising their hands for opportunities in the industry. Practice confidence over competence. And I would say to communicate your goals often. I also learned early on that I had to get comfortable with not being perfect in everything. That seems to have worked thus far.