She may have arrived at her current career a little late in the game, but that hasn't stopped Debra Brash from embracing it wholeheartedly. The director of catering for Hyatt's Deerfield, Ill., property — located in the midst of many Fortune 500 corporate headquarters — already has moved quickly up the catering management chain in her nine years with the hotel group.
Not bad for a former “part-time consultant, full-time mom” who got her first catering sales gig with Hyatt “on a fluke,” as she tells it. At a time when her kids were entering adolescence and depending on her less, Brash says, “I saw an ad in the paper for the [Deerfield] Hyatt for a catering manager to handle the social market — someone well-versed in the community.” A longtime area resident and an enthusiastic planner of social events for family and friends, Brash thought, “‘That's me!’”
Once in place at Hyatt, she had to learn quickly, mostly through on-the-job training. Fortunately, at Hyatt's relatively small Deerfield property, Brash found many opportunities to multitask. She gained experience in corporate, social and convention business. Her successes at Deerfield led to a catering manager job offer at Hyatt's 1,100-room Regency O'Hare property in Chicago — a major turning point in her career.
Despite the confidence-boosting promotion, “I felt like the country mouse going to the city,” Brash recalls. “I went from 4,500 square feet [of event space] to 40,000 square feet, from 300 people max to 2,500 people.” While the move was daunting, it also inspired her. “I looked around at that room, and thought, ‘Look at what you can do here,’” she remembers. Brash found she also enjoyed the heightened exposure and accountability, not to mention the celebrity clientele.
Yet another promotion took Brash to the Hyatt Regency Chicago — the city's downtown property and one of Hyatt's largest. There, with 250,000 square feet of event space in her arsenal, she served as No. 2 to the hotel's senior director of catering.
As exciting as the job was, “You can't always move vertically at a bigger property,” she notes. So when she received the offer to return to Deerfield, this time in the top spot, Brash knew that she couldn't turn it down. “Now,” she says, “I think I'm a better director, having been in my managers' shoes before.” And while “I've come full circle,” she notes, “this is by no means my last stop.”
Hyatt Deerfield 1750 Lake Cook Road, Deerfield, IL 60015; 847/597-4525; www.hyattdeerfield.com
“Now, as a managing committee member, I have to put much more toward thinking about numbers. So much emphasis is put on service scores and quality. I've thought, ‘I'm a creative person, how did I get into all these numbers?’ It's a challenge, and it's fascinating.”
NO PAIN, NO GAIN
“With the ‘millennium generation,’ all these people are coming from hospitality programs saying, ‘I want to do events.’ I often think, ‘Do you realize you have to bring the event business in?’ They don't realize that as managers, they have to meet the goals they are set.”
“My son works for the Arena Football League on marketing, finance, events. My daughter works for a big restaurant chain on the operations side. Now I'm able to share experiences with them in the industry. It's great that after raising them, I get to listen to them talk about things and understand the way I see things. I'm really able to connect with them.”