May 22, 2019
Heather McCrory didn’t just get started in the back of the house. Her first job in hospitality was in laundry at the Fairmont Banff Springs, in Alberta, Canada, as part of her work term during college. “Back of the house,” McCrory said in a recent interview with HSMAI, “and underground.”
Within a year she moved into sales, and eventually ended up as the property’s director of sales and marketing. She stayed with Fairmont, moving from property to corporate and back several times, and when AccorHotels bought the company in 2016, she became Accor’s executive vice president for operations in North and Central America. Recently she was named Accor’s CEO for North and Central America.
Not a bad run for someone who wasn’t gunning for a hotel career in the first place. “I don’t think I did really know what I wanted to be,” McCrory said. “I was actually going to school for finance and accounting. I was more in tune to going that route than anything in sales and marketing at that period in my life, so I can’t say it was a calling, but it was something that as soon as I was in the industry, I fell in love with it.”
What skills were most helpful when you worked in sales and marketing?
I think the two most valuable sales skills were, one, listening to understand, because obviously as a salesperson we would have handled a lot of group contracts, and trying to understand what the group wanted — in order to make a successful event, you needed to make sure you were really listening. I find that, to this very day, half the problems that you encounter are because you didn’t listen or didn’t understand what the real issue was.
The other one is — win-win is too much of a cliché, but negotiating so that both people feel good about it. You can walk away with a positive outcome for both parties.
When you’ve moved from the property level to the corporate or brand level, what has been the key to managing that transition?
Managing the transition is interesting, because of course when you’re in the field, you have no idea what corporate is all about. At the end of the day, I think the biggest difference is that, here at corporate, it’s more of strategy, more guiding the ship. At property, which is a lot of fun, too, it’s more day in, day out, hit your numbers, achieve the objectives, provide a phenomenal guest experience, have great interaction with your colleagues. It’s quite a team environment. They’re really, truly two different jobs. As time goes on and you become more and more comfortable with the corporate role, it ends up being the same thing with the team, just at a different level.
How has your background in sales and marketing helped prepare you for your role as CEO?
I am very proud of the fact that I came up through sales and marketing. It’s an incredibly useful skillset. I think sales skills are universal, because every single day I’m selling something — whether I’m selling someone on why they should join our company, or whether I’m selling someone on why they should have our brand. You’re always selling, you’re always listening to understand and make sure you’ve put the number-one reason on why it would make sense for that person. Sales skills are part of my success. They’re part of what is my makeup and how I even think about things and what you need to get done. To me, it’s fundamental to the CEO role.
What are your priorities as CEO?
I have a few priorities, but my number-one priority is to grow the organization, which frankly goes right back to selling. We have 12 brands here in North America, but the company has 38 brands, and they’re great brands. They’re not very well known in North America, so really expanding the company in terms of people knowing our different brands, what our capabilities are, and growing the number of units that we have in North America. That is my number-one job and it’s my number one objective to get done.
Last book you read? I’m reading Thatcher, by Jacob Bannister, and it’s very, very interesting. Great lady.
Favorite vacation spot? Our cottage up north on Lake Huron.
First paying job? I worked in the flower department at a grocery store.
Bucket-list goal? Having traveled so much, the one place I have not been to is New Zealand. I would love to go spend a fair amount of time there and explore New Zealand.
Is integrating sales, marketing, and revenue optimization part of that?
I’ve always seen them as integrated. Not that I was ahead of the curve or anything like that, but having worked as a director of sales and marketing in big group houses and having to make all those decisions about whether you take groups or you take transients is very much a revenue-management role, and how much of your allocation of your inventory are you putting to each market segment. To me, the whole revenue management, marketing, positioning the hotel — and, frankly, nowadays I’d even say total hotel revenue, whether it be retail, F&B, everything — I really see that as something that is truly the director of sales and marketing’s role and responsibility, and will continue to be more and more so as it goes forward.
How do you foster that mindset?
It’s something I’ve been dealing with my entire career, because revenue management in particular is becoming more of a discipline. It’s actually always reported into sales in our organization — when I was VP of sales, revenue management was one of these vice presidents who reported to me. In this organization, I’ve been around for a very long time. Everyone’s quite aware of my way of thinking on this, and as revenue management has become more and more important at other brands and they report to general managers. We make concessions, and we do what we need to do in order to maybe attract the right people. But the idea is that they’re a team, and it really truly is that group of people who have to maximize the revenue. Even if there’s a situation where not everyone is 100-percent aligned on where the positions fit perfectly within an organization, we’re fairly flexible on how we make it work with the team.
What are some new trends in the industry that really excite you?
One that is exciting me most these days is the idea of all the different disciplines moving under one umbrella of hospitality. Whether it is something like WeWork, or we just rolled out a new one that’s called WOJO, it’s that sort of piece of the puzzle. It’s not just about hospitality, but it’s about one fine stay. It’s about, wherever a guest wants to stay, that a product’s available. It used to be very dispersed — all these different business units — but now it’s becoming more and more under one umbrella. I think that’s a very exciting trend, because I think it allows the hospitality industry to continue to grow and morph and to listen to our guests.