The Woman in the Male-Dominated Hotel Real Estate Industry
Michelle Russo, Founder & CEO of hotelAVE, which is the leading hotel real estate asset manager and advisor in the hospitality industry. With over 30 years of hands-on experience with hotels, restaurants, resorts, convention centers, real estate and finance, Michelle is involved in defining the forward outlook that establishes how hotelAVE manages its portfolio to maximize results, strategic asset positioning, management contract negotiations, and interacting with senior-level brand & management executives on behalf of the portfolio.
I talked Michelle about diversity and inclusion because her company hotelAVE is innately committed to a diverse and inclusive culture. hotelAVE embodies this commitment throughout the recruitment process, with communication and purposeful lack of hierarchy, therefore driving authenticity and innovation.
Your first company culture statement is ‘No ego, no hierarchy’ because great ideas come from everyone, can you explain where this idea came from?
My past experiences are both positive and negative. My first job out of college was in a very flat organization and my boss, Steve Rushmore, would embrace good ideas from everyone, no matter age or tenure. Yet, I’ve also worked with individuals who are so territorial and hierarchical that it discourages diverse viewpoints. As hotelAVE grew, we brought in senior leadership who had a tendency to over control and demand a formal chain of command have disrupted the creativity/ collaboration and nimbleness of our business model. Therefore, this culture statement is more of a memorialization of who we are after this model got challenged.
The hotelAVE organization is almost 50% women, including in executive positions. It is not common to read these figures in most of the companies around the world, why do you think is that? What do you do those other leaders are not doing?
We believe in figuring out how to make it work for both working parents (men too!) with families and the company. When you work with great people, you need to manage to the different places they are at in their personal lives. It has supported retention.
I also coordinate around my associates’ schedules instead of making them work around my schedule. Allowing them to manage their travel calendar and giving them flexibility enables them to fulfill a leadership role as well as manage their family care.
HotelAVE participates in the Castell Project by sending women associates to the Castell Leadership Programs. The goal of the programs is to prepare women in mid- to senior level management to advance. What are the results you`ve got after your female employees are done with the program?
- More confidence
- More voice
- Improved oral communication skills
- Improved personal value
HotelAVE is a 100% Women Owned Business Entity certified through the Center for Women & Enterprise (CWE) what does this certification mean? In Latin America, it doesn`t exist.
It is a certification that designates that our business is owned and run by a woman. Women owned businesses in name only (not leadership) don’t necessarily qualify for this designation. Governments, public organizations, and other firms conscious of ESG value the certification. Correct, in LATAM it doesn’t exist! It is primarily leveraged for engagements with public entities.
You are a speaker at Castell College. How has your experience been?
It’s very rewarding to encourage young women. The participant engagement (whether speaking to college students or young professionals) is huge. They are looking for a role model and validation.
One of my frustrations about women leadership is that we are not doing enough to educate men. That is not the mission of Castell. I add this comment because I’m tired of it, and now generally decline to participate in ‘women in leadership discussions’ where the audience or panel is all women because we already know about the challenges and issues. Why are we talking to ourselves?
You have been named one of the 30 Influential Women in Hospitality by Hotel Management Magazine, what is your recipe to succeed in this industry?
Because I’m not a card-carrying member of the good old boy’s club,’ it has been based on working very hard to show results or an outcome.
What should companies do to have more inclusion, diversity, and gender equality at work?
- Take a new approach to hiring
- Ensure pay is equitable in job titles
- Prioritize results versus how (or when) results are achieved
- Avoiding clicks and engaging in group activities that are male dominated
- As diverse members of a company are typically the minority, they need to be sure to have mentorship and a voice. They will be most helpful in diversification if they agree that the environment and culture are sincere about equality and inclusion.