Richard Adie ’75, retired Statler GM, offers advice for fellow hotel general managers
The career of any hotelier is filled with memorable moments as they craft a rich history of experiences interacting with guests from around the world. Rick Adie ’75 is one such hotelier who led Cornell University’s Statler Hotel as its general manager for more than 16 years before he retired in August 2018.
Cornell Executive Education spoke with Adie as he reflected on his career in the hospitality industry and his experience at The Statler Hotel. Over the years, Adie had countless interactions with executive education participants during the General Managers Program (GMP), an in-person, classroom-based program for hotel general managers.
What have you valued most about serving as the general manager for The Statler Hotel during GMP?
Rick Adie: The program shows you what a global world it is, and I treasure the relationships I have built over the years. During my time at Cornell, I have interacted with almost 1,000 general managers during GMP. It is wonderful to meet people from all over the world and gain their perspective about hospitality and business conditions.
The relationships forged through GMP are incredible, even for me in the host role, and I have stayed in touch with many GMs from around the world. Most recently I even had the opportunity to visit a GMP participant’s hotel in Florence, where he showed my group amazing service and gracious hospitality by hosting us for a spectacular lunch at his property. It was a great opportunity to reconnect about his Cornell experience even after so much time had gone by.
Amongst the participants, I have loved seeing the transformation of strangers to friends as they shared the experience of learning, fun, and camaraderie. On the first night of the program, the group of 30–60 people doesn’t know one other, but by the last day of the program, they are lifelong friends.
Another favorite example was when a participant sitting next to me at the closing dinner shared how he could not have been prouder of the certificate he earned. He said, “My lifelong dream has come true now that I have this association with Cornell University.”
I must admit that it was also a lot of pressure being the general manager during GMP! These folks are from some of the best hotels in the world and come with very high standards. They are also looking at The Stater Hotel through the lens of “This is the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, so this has to be the best hospitality experience.” Our GMP participants are also gracious guests, and our Statler staff looks forward to the opportunity to forge personal connections with the group. It’s a special time in The Statler when GMP is in session.
What was the most rewarding aspect of a career in service as a general manager?
The staff members that I worked with over my long career both at Hyatt and here at Cornell. The wonderful caring people who come to work because they like the people that they work with and they like providing service.
Secondarily, the guests. The satisfaction of seeing an event or banquet go well, but also the number of guests who have become dear friends. One of my amazing relationships started with a complaint letter, but I turned that around into something positive. In this industry we also have a unique opportunity to turn a guest’s bad experience with things outside of our control—the airport, the taxi, or elsewhere—into something positive by helping them navigate the issue or making sure they are well cared for with us.
Specific to Cornell is the relationship with the students, who are now successful alumni, and knowing that in some way I may have had some sort of an impact on their career—that’s very special. Those are the things I will treasure forever.
What types of challenges do general managers face?
Most general managers would probably say that the biggest challenge that they deal with is dealing with their owners—trying to balance what the owners are looking for and what the customers are looking for. Owners have very high expectations and they have shareholders that they’re answering to.
Another challenge would be related to labor. For the last few years, it has been a challenge to find people who want to work in the hospitality industry, because of the hours, the pay, and in some cases, the working conditions. With the economy as robust as it is, people can be more selective about the type of jobs that they take. I follow local job advertisements, and it is amazing how many jobs are open in both restaurants and hotels because hospitality is not the first job people want to take.
Finally, I still think that even though we’re all better at managing our reviews, TripAdvisor scores, and social media accounts, that is a significant challenge facing anyone in this role. It’s not just that technology is changing, but how our guests engage with that technology changes very rapidly, and it’s difficult to balance being engaged with guests versus getting stuck in the office managing an online presence.
Reflecting on your experience, what advice would you give your younger self?
Being a general manager is understanding that you need to be a generalist and really have a keen appreciation for the functional experts that work underneath you. Allow your team to be the functional experts without you as the general manager thinking that you need to make each decision on your own.
I think probably one of the mistakes that I made in my career was trying to be too much of a micromanager. That does not endear trust from the people that you work with! Learn from others as much as you can. They are the functional experts who are dealing with the staff members and dealing with the customers.
Lifelong learning is also important. You have to keep up with what is going on in the industry by reading the trades, participating in educational and annual conferences, and understanding that you have to keep learning all the time. Make sure that you have your own personal business plan. You are the general manager of your own destiny.