Bruce Baerwalde, president of McKibbon Hospitality—himself a beneficiary of the company’s practice of hiring from within—recently announced the appointments of Kari Elofson, Karl Oates, and Sebastian Peralta, who are now serving as senior vice presidents of operations.
The three recently shared with LODGING some of their thoughts on their new positions at McKibbon, where they will now be responsible for leading its growing hotel portfolio and supporting a team of eight regional vice presidents of operations. Going forward, Oates will continue to handle lifestyle properties, while Elofson and Peralta are splitting the select-service brands.
Kari Elofson—who joined McKibbon nearly 10 years ago as regional vice president of operations—stresses the importance of service and attention to detail. She claims that what guests want most is to “feel special.” Elofson maintained that even with less physical contact due to COVID-friendly touchless technology, hoteliers can find ways to make guests’ visits special by personalizing their experience.
“COVID taught us some other ways to communicate with guests—such as instant messaging and using QR codes, so they can see menus on their devices or in-room media—and now that things have opened up again, we can provide the best of both worlds,” she said. Elofson added that a goal she and Peralta share is to build consistency among the select-service hotels they are now overseeing.
Karl Oates joined McKibbon in 2001 as the opening general manager for the company’s Courtyard Chattanooga Downtown and was most recently vice president of lifestyle hotels, a segment he will continue to head in his new position. He believes that attention to detail, as mentioned by Elofson, is crucial to creating the kind of experiences lifestyle hotel guests are specifically seeking.
“This means providing certain sensory experiences, for example, with art, music, and F&B,” he said, adding that these special touches should not come at the expense of service. Oates added that to help him take on the challenges of his new position he’s looking to bring on additional personnel.
“This will help us grow the brands better, but also to be more fluid and keep pace with what’s going on in the lifestyle world right now.”
Finally, Sebastian Peralta has spent nearly all of his 24-year hospitality career at McKibbon, including numerous general manager roles before joining its above-property team as regional vice president of operations in 2014.
He noted it should come as no surprise that he, Oates, and Elofson are all long-time employees hired from within. “We try to put the best candidates in the right positions by first getting a sense of where they want to go in their career and then helping them grow into what they want to do,” he said.
This is a matter of company culture that has served it well, according to Peralta.
“We have a good track record of grooming people within the company to grow as our company grows.” In fact, he says, when he took on his first assistant GM role, his GM was current president Baerwalde.