Lisa Holladay: Luxury Branding Guru

Lisa Holladay
Photo by Bradford Rogne Photography

It perhaps should come as no surprise that a girl who studied literature and Shakespeare and briefly aspired to a career in the theater would end up in the rarefied world of luxury hotels and international travel. That describes Lisa Holladay, global brand leader for The Ritz-Carlton & St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, who “found herself” in luxury branding, first with Mercedes Benz, and for the past eight years with Marriott International.

Holladay says the road to Marriott was definitely not linear. “I was a kid who first studied to be a high school English teacher, then, went to graduate school to focus on Shakespeare and the theater, and then fell into public relations, changing jobs every year or two because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.” That changed, she says, when, while working for Mercedes Benz she fell in love with branding. “I was fascinated by how brands build loyalty and how that motivates consumers to stick with them.”

A call from a recruiter eight years ago led her to Marriott, where she began as vice president of brand management for Ritz Carlton, and two years later moved over to the position of vice president of brand marketing. “At the time, brand management and marketing were under different leadership, but after Marriott International acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and with it, the St. Regis brand, we decided to bring together the disciplines of brand management and brand marketing under a global brand leader to be able to provide a holistic look at the consumer journey with the brand,” she explains.

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Holladay says she has noticed positive changes in the industry during her eight years in hospitality, including that more women are moving into leadership positions. “This is apparent not just at the corporate level but also at the property level, where there are more opportunities for women to lead from an operational business standpoint.”

TITLE

Vice President & Global Brand Leader, The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts

TIME WITH MARRIOTT

Eight years

HOTEL MUST-HAVE

A well-equipped gym

FAVORITE DESTINATION

London or Paris for a quick trip, but South Africa for a real getaway

WHAT SHE NEVER LEAVES THE HOUSE WITHOUT

Her wedding band and a pair of earphones

WHAT SHE WANTED TO BE WHEN SHE GREW UP

A stage actress

MANTRA/PERSONAL MOTTO

Never forget to be grateful and always act with grace.

She has noticed, too, both a highly competitive environment—with a proliferation of brands and choices from the sharing economy—and the rise of consumers who are knowledgeable and want more for their travel dollar. “People really want to connect to the places they’re visiting, to have a deeply immersive experience, to bring destinations to life.”

This, she says, is the case, even when they are traveling primarily for business or attending an event like a wedding or other celebration. “I see a blending of travel purpose, more of a blur between why people are traveling and what else they’d like to experience in the destination.”

Holladay says she was never afraid to ask for help and received it from “many wonderful women who have helped shape me professionally.” However, she credits her “southern lady” mother and grandmother with instilling in her the spirit of hospitality and love for travel. “They lived hospitality on a daily basis, but they also encouraged me to explore the world.”

Holladay considers herself lucky too to be working for Marriott in the luxury space, especially “on behalf of two of the most iconic brands in the industry;” and she seeks team members who feel likewise. “I really want my team to be passionate and love what they’re doing.” Saying she is “definitely not a micromanager,”

Holladay trusts her team to do the right thing, and believes “we should be having fun on a daily basis.” She, therefore, strives to attract and retain the very best talent and help them grow on their journey. “I think about what they want in their careers and how I can help guide them and facilitate that,” she says, adding, “I’m on a learning journey myself, so I appreciate all that I learn from them, too.”

Holladay says she is excited about the direction her brands are heading. “They—the Ritz Carlton and St. Regis—are in a great place and continuing to grow.” For St. Regis, there are startup opportunities, but also a continuation of time-honored personalized customer service traditions like its St. Regis Butler Service. Ritz Carlson, she says, will focus on family programming and is considering design updates. There will also be a return to Australia, where a property in Perth will open at the end of the year; a Ritz Carlton Reserve opening in Los Cabos in June; and a reopening of its St. Thomas property after a full renovation.

“It’s wonderful being such an important part of people’s special moments. You really get to think about providing the best setting, the best service—all to help them celebrate milestones, enjoy vacations, or have a great productive business trip.”

As for what Holladay likes about hospitality, she says, “It’s wonderful being such an important part of people’s special moments. You really get to think about providing the best setting, the best service—all to help them celebrate milestones, enjoy vacations, or have a great productive business trip.” Then, too, is the joy of being surrounded by people she describes as “warm, generous, and caring” and having a global role that enables her to explore the world and its many cultures.

Holladay invites others to join her—especially young women, for whom she offers this advice: “Don’t be afraid to fail; get out there and take risks, ask questions, learn, and continue to push boundaries.”