EP #36 – AHLA’s Hotel GM of the Year, Craig Poole

AHLA's GM of the Year, Craig PooleAHLA’s GM of the Year, Craig Poole discusses his unique approach to maximizing hotel performance through community outreach and being a second chance employer where every employee is focused on creating an exceptional customer experience.

“Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others to show them how well you do what you do.” Wise words once said by Walt Disney, the man who created a company known for its customer service and magical spirit. Couple that spirit with a second-chance mentality and community-minded approach and you’ll strike gold like Craig Poole, General Manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton in Reading, Pennsylvania, whose equation looks a little bit like this:

Hire the right people and empower them to be great and they will. So great, in fact, that their faces and their genuine connection to others will be remembered as service excellence.

Craig spent the better part of the last 50 years in the hospitality world working his way up from the frontline and on to various management and senior leadership roles.  Craig’s hospitality leadership knows no bounds and his hotel awards number many. He is currently the General Manager at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Reading, PA. His accolades include the Hilton CEO Light and Warmth Award and most recently the  2017 Hotel GM of the Year Award for Small Scale Properties from the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA.)

But for Craig, it’s not about the awards. It’s all about how you treat people and the difference you can make in their lives and in the community.  In his most current role as President of Reading Hospitality Management and General Manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton in Reading, Pennsylvania, he has also taken on the role of community rehabber.

You’ve heard “If you build it they will come.” Or perhaps, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And maybe even, “Raise the bar.” And while those are all great cliches, Craig’s approach is anything but. Come along as we discover his plan that led to getting his hotel noticed far beyond the borders of Reading, PA.

 Topics discussed in this episode include:

  • Achieving hotel success through community partnerships
  • Hiring the kind of staff your guests will love and remember
  • How to treat your staff so they’ll want to stay with you and make you succeed
  • The benefits of being a “second-chance” employer
  • And so much more!

He hired ex-cons. Yes, you read that right. The man hired ex-cons to be the face of his hotel. Sounds crazy, right? Well, according to Craig, it’s those very people who are the key to success.  It’s the people who are the reason for all the glowing reviews on TripAdvisor and other hotel rating websites.

It’s simple, he says. Hire happy people, empower them, and they’ll not only stay long-term, they’ll make you successful. Craig spent years building relationships in Reading before he ever put a shovel in the ground. He met everyone from city executives to the homeless living on the streets. Those connections, he says, are what helped him build success from the ground up.

Craig said he hired happy people who have hope. And it was that simple. So I asked him, “How do you know?” His answer? He asked each candidate two questions:

  • What do you think of Reading?
  • What’s your hope for the city?

That was it. The only two questions hospitality leader Craig Poole needed to determine if his interviewee was going to be the right fit for his hotel. Why? Because it’s not easy to build a successful hotel in inner-city Reading, PA. But if you hire the right people, who have a positive mindset, and treat them right, they’ll be the key to your success. You have to, “Love everyone right where there are in life,” he says.

Craig says he built country club-style locker rooms, created healthy and extravagant meals for these employees and treated them how he would expect his guests to be treated. For some, it was the nicest service, space, treatment they’d ever had in their lives being raised in the inner city.

For a few, they weren’t able to hold down regular jobs because they were hungry and only thinking about the next meal. Craig fed them, allowing them to focus and truly shine. Craig says their gratefulness and hope is something that can’t be taught and that’s what is the heart and soul of his hotel.

Craig says he hopes to inspire other leaders to do the same. To build a business and be successful in the same way he has. By building partnerships with the people and the community.

That, he says, is what turns a $65 million hotel into the background story. Because what you’ll hear about at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Reading, PA, isn’t about the hotel awards its won or the above average revenue it’s bringing in, but the people and the hallmark service they provide.

And how to best do this, he says, is through visionary hospitality leadership, inspiration and doing something memorable.  Who says, nice guys can’t finish first?

Important Links, Mentions, and Resources From This Episode:


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