Dan McIlhone always wanted to be an athlete. Standing 6-6 it’s not a stretch to think the Toronto native could have played professional basketball. Instead, he had an affinity for baseball, playing the game throughout his youth. He even attended spring training for the Baltimore Orioles and tried out for the Montreal Expos.

But, sports weren’t meant to be his end goal. In between baseball seasons, McIlhone worked in hotels. “My first job was a summer position in security at the Carlton Inn in Toronto. I didn’t know anything about the business side when I began, but at 6-6, they thought I would suit their needs,” he quips.

These days, the strapping 48-year-old father of four has found his calling as GM of the recently rebranded TownePlace Suites in Mississauga, Ont. Though the brand is part of the Marriott portfolio, McIlhone actually works for SilverBirch Hotels, owners of the 173-suite extended-stay property.

It’s been a challenging two years for McIlhone as he’s led his team of 60 through the closing of the Sandalwood Suites in September 2011 and then the reopening and repositioning of the Towne- Place Suites, under the Marriott umbrella, a year later. As part of the $17-million redux, the hotel updated its public spaces, guestrooms, fitness centre and meeting rooms. “It’s been a great experience. I learned a lot about what it takes to build a hotel and team from the start.”

With the reno a fait d’accompli, McIlhone is now concentrating on growing revenues and increasing market share, while continuing to focus on operations. “The TownePlace Suites is new to Canada, so our role is to educate the public on the brand, what it offers and the benefits that come with it. The guests that stay with us love us, so operationally we’re on the right track.” That’s because, “we’re guest-obsessed,” stresses the hotelier.

But it’s all driven by employee buy-in, he admits. “Before our opening we asked associates to think about two things each day when they come to work. ‘What can I do today to improve the guest experience, and what can I do today to improve the associate experience?’ If you do that we’ll all be successful,” he told them. And, clearly, they listened. “We’re currently in the top 10 in overall satisfaction for the TownePlace Suites brand in North America with an overall guest satisfaction rate of 92.9 per cent.”

Ultimately, guest satisfaction should also lead to a healthy operation. “Having the ability to be bottom-line focused with an eye on creating a culture where associates can contribute in a positive, learning and respectful environment is how we operate our hotel,” he says. “It’s important I continue to learn every day but equally important for me to coach every day. Each day is an opportunity to make a difference, either with a guest or an associate. Whether it’s a thank you for a job well done, or a birthday wish, it can go a long way to building a positive relationship.”

At the end of the day, he says, it’s the GM who sets the tone for the culture of the property. “I’ve been able to be successful by not only leading the team but by being part of the team.”

photo courtesy of Christopher Dew


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