Even as a young girl, Heather McCrory was always sociable. The affable McCrory laughs as she recalls school report cards that always featured the same comment: ‘Heather talks too much. Heather would do much better if she didn’t talk so much.’ “Almost every report card I have says that!” quips the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts executive. “I was an average student; I wasn’t top of the class. I hated high school because I was bored to tears,” says the tall, lean exec in a quickening pace. “I just wanted to get through it so I started working full-time after graduating Grade 12, as soon as I could,” she says, barely taking in a breath.
McCrory has been working hard ever since. These days, she does double-duty as regional vice-president, Central Canada for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and as GM of The Fairmont Royal York. The effusive hotelier landed in the hotel industry in 1983. Her first job was in the laundry department of the mammoth Banff Springs Hotel. “I was going to be an accountant, so I definitely fell into this,” she says of her early days. “That’s why I can deal with owners now and those types of things aren’t so much of a struggle,” she adds, talking a mile a minute and radiating an air of confidence. Fondly recalling her time in the Rockies, McCrory’s still in touch with friends she worked with in Banff. “The majority of people I keep in touch with today are people I met in the mountains. They’re GMs now — they’re either in Pittsburgh or San Jose, or they’re regional people in sales in Bermuda,” she says.
After spending several years in sales, the energetic hotelier is now happily ensconced as GM of Toronto’s venerable Royal York hotel. With 1,365 rooms, the iconic hotel is one of the country’s largest, boasting a complement of 1,200 employees. And under her inspired and respected leadership, the Fairmont property report card is impressive — even during one of the worst recessions to ever hit. “Some of the best years this hotel has ever had have been the last three,” says the Queen’s MBA graduate. “We’ve continued to push the average rate at this hotel — it’s been a phenomenal success in financial terms.” Occupancy levels will mark an all-time high in 2012 at 75 per cent, representing a 1.5-per-cent increase over 2011.
The athletic, 5-11 executive says “2012 has seen RevPAR growth of over 13 per cent in the last four years.” Despite it being a difficult year — due to an influx of new luxury hotel supply and a dip in city-wide business — McCrory says RevPAR improved this year. “We’ve increased our transient business year over year by 17.9 per cent and these revenues are up $500,000 over last year.”
The Toronto landmark has consistently grown Fairmont’s market share every year exceeding “our fair share of business,” says Kerry Ann Kotani, Fairmont’s regional director, Sales and Marketing. “The hotel is positioned as the rate leader within the city and maintains more than 10 per cent premium over other similar hotels.” It’s also one of a few that does brisk business on the F&B front. In fact, “food and beverage revenue is steady at approximately $40 million — more than a million covers,” she says proudly.
McCrory attributes the hotel’s growth to several factors, primarily a good product and great employees. And, she’s a firm believer in walking the talk. “The messaging has to start at the top, then it cascades down through the hotel,” she states.
The hands-on hotelier believes in “hiring the best people, letting them do their thing and communicate, communicate, communicate.” She empowers employees to do their very best. “If we take care of our colleagues and provide the parameters for engaging service, colleagues will take care of the guest and deliver outstanding service.” And, with that mantra, in 2009 McCrory introduced the “Empowerman Initiative,” a program that continues to inspire. A tremendous amount of time was spent creating a strong, engaging service-culture within the hotel, under the empowerment slogan, “The Power to Act.” According to McCrory, “it starts with colleague engagement and evolves into empowering our colleagues to do whatever they need to do to satisfy the guest.”
A self-admitted A-type personality and perfectionist, McCrory doesn’t suffer fools well. “I expect people to think. I get quite frustrated if people aren’t thinking,” she says. The GM is a big believer in pushing employees past their comfort zone so they can flourish. Clearly, her team is switched on. They’ve raised revenues, improved overall colleague engagement scores as well as guest satisfaction. “Our service scores are actually quite good, ranging in the 800s out of an index of 1,000.” Referencing J.D. Power’s scores, McCrory says the measurement of service levels to the group market have steadily improved, “achieving 944 year-to-date, versus 937 last year, positioning us as one of the top three hotels in Canada within Fairmont,” she says.
Despite her busy schedule juggling myriad tasks, and her hectic travel schedule, McCrory still manages to find time to give back to community. The Fairmont Royal York boasts the number-1 fundraising team in Toronto, raising more than $195,000 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. The success has earned the hotelier a spot on the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s Board, where she enjoys a strong role in bolstering funding efforts. “We won CIBC’s Run for The Cure spirit award for the second year in a row for top corporate team in Toronto, bringing our fundraising efforts to just over $250,000,” she says.
The hotelier is also an active member on various Boards, including Tourism Toronto, The Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), and The Greater Toronto Hotel Association (GTHA). McCrory is a true believer in Toronto as a destination on the world stage. Unfazed by the coterie of new luxury competitors that have appeared on the Toronto landscape this past year, McCrory welcomes competition. “I believe the Ritz, Shangri-La, Trump and the new Four Seasons, are the best thing that could happen to Toronto. They give the city a luxury feel and allow Toronto to move into the right positioning it truly deserves. It can only be good for business,” she affirms.
As for the immediate future, McCrory looks forward to leading a $150-million renovation of the historic Royal York — the plan’s been struck but the timing has yet to be announced. And down the road, she hopes to work internationally. If her travels return her exclusively to the corporate world, where she spent several years before becoming GM of one of Canada’s most storied hotels, she’ll be happy.
McCrory exudes a school-girl sweetness as she looks back on her career. It’s clear she’s grateful for the opportunities the hospitality business has afforded her. “Never in my lifetime did I think I’d meet the Queen, or Obama or that the prime minister would walk up and say, “Hi Heather, how are you?” she enthuses. “Aga Khan, the Dalai Lama — it just goes on and on. It’s unbelievable the privilege of working here and what this hotel represents. Having the Queen ask for a private audience is the most spectacular thing that’s ever happened in my career,” she gushes. “I had to learn how to enter the room, exit the room, how to interact with her before we were allowed to go in.” And, presumably as the golden rules of royal etiquette dictate, to speak only when you’re spoken to.
photo courtesy of Margaret Mulligan