Lessons in Action, Part VIII … A Master of Innovation: Turning Costs Into Creative Investments

Every day I think of Michael O’Grady and the creative ways he coached and mentored so many to new heights. In this new series, Lessons in Action, I’ll I share my insights, breakthroughs tools, and techniques that honor his legacy of helping others grow.

Why did I find the red-carpeted hallways of the London Marriott Hotel West India Quay inexplicably soothing? Behind this, and more, was the creative thinking of GM Paul Downing.

1. Go with cartless housekeeping. “It started at the JW Marriott in Mexico City,” says Paul. “So I sent our resident manager, Nila Schreiber, south of the border to check it out. Upon her return, she commissioned a local audiovisual company to design a wheeled stainless steel case for shampoos, soaps, and other collateral. We also purchased plastic holders for cleaning supplies. Now our housekeepers have only three things to carry: a vacuum cleaner, a stainless steel case, and a supply holder. Guests and bellman no longer have to fight through bulky carts and laundry piles. Gone are corridors riddled with costly scrapes and paint marks. And since, in most hotels, carts are placed in front of an open door, our housekeepers now work safely behind locked doors. Plus, this approach prevents theft of guest valuables such as laptops and iPods. And, finally, going cartless stops guests from nicking soap, shampoo, pens, and towels. It’s a system that fosters luxury, safety, security, and cost-saving benefits.”

2. Create magical uniforms. “Uniforms make a powerful statement,” says Paul. “And we wanted a look that would match the vibrant Canary Wharf’s highly paid, work-hard/play-hard population. So, first, we worked with a costume designer. Then, we contacted “Mike the Tailor” from Bangkok to review the designs and fabrics, measure each staff member, and create the uniforms. We were elated with the results. The doorman’s uniform, a Lord Nelson-style nautical hat, silk cravat, and tails, creates an amazing first and last impression. Curve’s restaurant managers wear fitted Italian-style gray suits and black shirts with red threaded buttonholes. In the end, we didn’t pay a dollar more for the custom-made outfits. And hardly a day goes buy that we don’t see guests having their pictures taken with our doorman or hear questions like, “How can you afford Armani suits for your restaurant managers?”

3. Hire with class. “With openings, you have to interview hundreds of people,” says Paul. “I wanted to get away from the cattle call approach. So, I asked Jo Dowell, our director of human resources, to put ads in the local papers for each discipline: restaurants, housekeeping, front office, engineering, and security. To save time, we had a nearby employment center screen applicants for proper legal documents. Then, rather than have hundreds of applicants waiting around in a dank auditorium, we rented suites at the Museum of the Docklands, housed in a late Georgian warehouse. Interviewing candidates with a backdrop of artifacts from the original Roman settlement set an intriguing tone for the opening and beyond.”

4. Make training an adventure “Marriott has mandatory training courses. Most hoteliers send their people to nearby cities in the UK like Leeds, Birmingham, and Manchester. We found that with Easy-Jet and Ryan Air it was dirt cheap to send our people to exotic places like Majorca, Paris, Berlin, and Copenhagen. Now, when managers return after a Seven Habits course in Capri, they’re fired up. And, since our opening chef, David Dent. hadn’t worked outside the UK, I sent him on a discounted round-the-world trip to Dubai, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Singapore, and New York. He said he learned more on his 26-day adventure than he had in the last 10 years. While on tour, David was featured in magazine and TV spots, and he returned pumped and ready to apply his newfound skills. In the end, employees are invigorated by the experience-of-a-lifetime investment you make in them.

“Paul never stops,” exclaims Jo. “He’s always coming up with weird and wacky ideas. But, he never says ‘no’ or ‘it’s not possible.’ His philosophy is: ‘If it’s right for the guest and right for the associate, we’ll make it happen.’” Too many leaders focus just on the bottom line only to lose out in the end. Paul turned costs into investments with energizing returns.


About the Author

Bob Brown, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions,, pioneered Marriott’s Service Excellence Program. He has worked with clients such as Disney, Hilton, Morton’s of Chicago, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, and Ritz Carlton and works internationally with the prestigious Burj Al Arab in Dubai. He has appeared on the Food Network and is author of the bestselling The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success, selling over 100,000 copies worldwide. Contact Bob for keynotes, workshops, breakouts, and executive retreats at 571-246-2944 ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2016.

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