Terranea Resort’s Terri Haack on Being the Boss

During a family camping and fly-fishing trip in the Colorado Rockies, Terri Haack remembers how it rained for 14 days in a row. Frustrated, her mother declared, “I’m done. Let’s go somewhere warm,” rounded up her husband and kids, and booked a room at a little motel alongside the road. Haack was 12, and it was her first time staying anywhere besides her bedroom or a tent. Curious about the motel, she peppered the proprietor with questions and learned about rates, competition, customer service, and even the importance of maintaining clean spaces, she recalls. “It impacted me. I went back to our room and told my mom, ‘I’m going to be in the hotel business, and I’m going to be the boss.’”

For more than three decades, Haack has done just that. As executive vice president and managing director of Terranea Resort on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California, she has succeeded largely due to her caring nature, strategic business savvy, and ability to empower employees while catering to guest needs. Haack engages with her associates at various levels with the objective of finding out what’s important to her employees and customers—and then she delivers it. “I’m a naturally competitive person, and I play to win,” she says. “I believe in delivering results for ownership, my associates, and the people who are working with me.”

Haack, one of nine children, landed her first hospitality job at age 15. She worked at a concourse snack bar at the old Denver Stapleton Airport in Colorado, and “I just thought I was the coolest thing since sliced bread,” she says. “My interest in hotels, my entire life actually, has been about making others feel comfortable. It seemed natural for me.” After graduating from high school, she worked at a new construction property in Denver called Inn at the Mart. Her passion, drive, and all-hands-on deck attitude made her a standout employee. By age 22, she earned the position of general manager. “At the time, I didn’t really think of it as significant. I was doing my job. Now, looking back, I understand the importance,” she says. “What helped me the most was being able to set my ego aside and say, ‘I didn’t know what I didn’t know.’ Just because I had a title didn’t mean that I had all the answers.”


Haack has crisscrossed the country since then, working at hotels and gated communities in such locations as Seattle, Delaware, South Carolina, and Williamsburg, Va. In 2011, she received AH&LA’s General Manager of the Year (Large Property) award and was the first woman to receive the association’s coveted Resort Executive of the Year award in 2007. Haack is a strong advocate of enabling women into senior leadership roles. “Women play a great part in hospitality, and we shape the best practices in services,” says Haack, a founding member and vice chairman of AH&LA’s Women in Lodging Executive Council. “The hospitality business has always been welcoming to women and recognized their talent, though not always at the senior or executive level. I want to help women get out of middle management and into positions of influence.”

Today, Haack is gearing up to celebrate Terranea’s fifth anniversary in June. The 102-acre, 582-unit luxury resort “feels like her baby,” she says, and she’s proud of the accomplishment, particularly since the project’s construction bank went bankrupt in 2009, four months before the planned opening. “When we started, life was good, real estate was good. And then the bottom fell out of the economy,” she says. “We just had to hang on. There were times I didn’t think we were going to make it, and I’m so proud that Lowe Enterprises stayed in there when many people would have left the keys and walked away.”

Managed by Destination Hotels and Resorts, the property was recapitalized in 2010 after partnering with JC Resorts of San Diego and was able to refinance a $220 million loan three years ahead of schedule in early 2013, Haack says. The sheer gut determination it took to make Terranea profitable has created a special culture at the resort, which employs 1,250 associates who receive a complimentary meal each day and are encouraged to take advantage of a program called “Talk to Terri,” where they use computers in the dining room to email questions and suggestions directly to Haack. The resort was named a top employer in Los Angeles County, continually receives high guest satisfaction scores, and has garnered numerous recognitions, including earning a spot on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2014 Gold List and being named one of Travel + Leisure’s 500 Best Hotels in the World for 2013.

Haack’s secret to success is staying optimistic and reminding herself that, no matter the situation, “This too shall pass.” Something good is always on the other side of any problem, a mantra she often repeats to her employees. “I learned the days you are most afraid are the days that you make the best decisions because you know you aren’t going to give up,” she says. “We have a great team, and we really pull together. I believe we can accomplish anything.”


  1. Dear Terry Haack,
    I definitely do love coming to Terranea. It’s my all time favorite place to have dinner, to listen to music and to enjoy the ambiance and dedication of everyone that visits and works at Terranea. I remember when Bob Lowe had his lawyer call me to come and speak at the city council meeting.5 years ago. I believed in Terranea and I definitely couldn’t understand why some members of the community came to challenge the beauty and dedication of such a beautiful resort. I have a new passion. I am working with the Switzer Learning Center. This is their 50th year of helping students with learning and social problems succeed. The school was started by Dr. Jan Switzer. Many doubted her ability succeed. Many doubted Terranea yet both have succeeded. The Switzer Learning Center is going to have a celebration on September 10th. Would it be possible for Terranea to donate an evening’s stay for their fund raiser? I know that every financial donation helps these students succeed. I’ve been to several graduations. I’ve listened to the stories of students that were abused; were in foster care for 10-20-30 different homes, were fearful, were destructive and were living on the streets then given a chance to succeed. Year after year, for 50 years, the school has succeeded in helping students build their self esteem; feel success; learn that life has given them a chance and listened when their environment had been toxic and now was healthy. The Switzer Learning Center is a one of a kind school. If you could honor them with a gift I know that they would appreciate your support. I have all the needed paperwork to bring to your office. Please let me know if I can do this.
    Thank you for letting me share my passion in support of a great school. Fondly, Jody Wiggins

  2. Dear Terri,
    I know that it’s been several years since I have seen you yet a lot has happened in these past years.
    I’m fortunate enough to be healthy yet cancer has taken my husband and my best friend.
    My passion is helping worth while organizations. The Switzer Learning Center is an incredible school.
    The entire staff is dedicated in helping students with enormous problems. I cringe to hear the stories of some of the students. I’ve seen very angry students change over a years time. Troubled students are given a chance to succeed because the school has he ability to open doors where the public schools can’t do this.
    The Switzer Learning Center has been open for 50 years and the thousand of students that are now successful know that with the center their lives would be far different. Terri, could you please give a donation to help the school continue to succeed? I know that they would be incredibly grateful.
    Jody Wiggins

  3. Dear Ms. Hack,
    We have been coming to Terranea since it first opened. We dine at Bashi on Friday nights and Nelson’s on Thursday nights. Also we do go to Catalina Kitchen. What we have noted is very discouraging. Prices for food at all three restaurants has risen very significantly and portions have decreased. This is a very strong disincentive for us to come to these restaurants, especially since we do it weekly. I would like a response to this e-mail. I have more to say but I will await your reply.

    H. Allen Brown, M.D.

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