Hospitality Veterans: Step Up and Mentor Before You Retire

Attending the recent HITEC tradeshow in Los Angeles, I was quick to point out that there weren’t a lot of ‘grey hairs’. Okay, my hair isn’t gray; it’s just that there is so little remaining that you won’t appreciate the color! What I mean is that the technology of our industry has advanced leaps and bounds, and those driving this progression tend to be younger. If I had to guess, I would say a median age at the conference was around 38.

That got me thinking. Why am I, now just past the ripe age of 60, a senior fellow at this show? Is it that the older generation isn’t interested in all the latest technological advances, or is it that there is no one left my age still working in our industry? Or, shudder to think, is it that those who reach the golden years of their career are already coasting their way to retirement, eschewing anything new for fear that they will either not understand it or may have to learn something new – not an easy task for someone deeply set in their ways.

Part of what keeps me young (apart from the hair-loss-inducing challenges of rearing my millennial progeny) is the learning that comes from keeping up with changes in our industry, be they technological, financial, service-oriented or from a creative application standpoint. To me, the thought of continuous learning is a critical driver and a constant source of brain activation. Mark my words: the day you stop learning is the day you die.

And the ability to pass on this new learning – as well as the application of 30+ years working as a hotelier – through articles, newsletters, blogs and speaking engagements only turbocharges my enthusiasm. If you are in the same age range as me, you better spend a few moments examining what drives you to continue. Be honest, as it may only be financial need at this point. If it is, then by all means make your final years on the job productive, and not just for you but try to inscribe a lasting legacy. Call it going out with a bang, and a real good one at that.

Retirement should spur mentoring

A hundred years ago, we had an established apprentice network whereby a young worker could learn at a master’s side. There were few schools and the literacy rate was miles below where it currently resides; it was all experiential learning. Over the years, the apprentice would absorb the expertise of the master and, in doing so, ultimately serve as his or her replacement come retirement.

We should not confuse today’s interns as an early cog on an apprentice wheel. Many in the hotel industry see interns simply as a source of interim or (heaven forbid) cheap labor – in for a few months then spit out and replaced by another soul in a continuous carousel of replacement labor. This is not a healthy outlook to have, as it doesn’t help propagate future success for the company to which you gave your best years (one of several reasons I might add).

True mentoring is based on a commitment to pass along your knowledge and experiences in a continuous fashion, not just over a few weeks each summer but through a program of nurturing and reinforcement that takes place over years. We are not just talking about teaching a few office and industry skills a la the present day intern system, but bestowing a set of values and work ethics that will last a lifetime. Think of the ‘Lobby Boy’ character in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. While parodying the hospitality trade in an absolutely hilarious manner, the film was essentially an example of bona fide mentorship.

If you are finding yourself approaching the retirement guillotine, I am not suggesting that you single out one member of your staff, give him a funny cap and keep him by your side at all times. Rather, I am encouraging you to take on the role of mentor to members of your team. It is a necessary affair to ensure your own legacy as well as that of your company. Give them the wisdom of your years and, at the same time, step out of your safety zone from time to time – something likely done by getting in touch with all the latest technology developments.

The hospitality world needs its next generation of leaders to be sharper and stronger than ever if we are to survive all the external forces and consumer behavior shifts pinching our profits. And in order to groom these leaders, we need mentors with decades worth of tacit knowledge and experience.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on July 30, 2014)