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Gaylord Hotels' Mike Mason on Empowering Employees

Gaylord Hotels' Mike Mason on Empowering Employees

Mike Mason may not be an astronomer, but he still spends each working day of his life thinking about STARS. That's the acronym Nashville, Tenn.-based Gaylord Hotels has assigned to its workforce. It stands for “smiles, teamwork, attitude, reliability and service with a passion,” according to Mason, the company's senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Mason, who calls his 1999 move from Wyndham Hotels to Gaylord a milestone career shift, says that the STARS concept is vital to ensure satisfied employees, who in turn are vital to Gaylord's success. In a nutshell, he explains, “We will make dough at the end of the day if we have loyal customers. Loyal customers will come from extraordinary service, and extraordinary service will only be delivered at the levels we need if happy people are delivering it.”

At $948 million in annual revenue, the company keeps its employees — 42 of whom report to Mason — satisfied by enabling them to have an impact on their properties. Each department at Gaylord's three properties nominates a representative to serve on the property's advisory committee. Once a month, the committee meets with the hotel's general manager to share information and voice suggestions. “If you want nonfat dressing in the STARS salad bar, that's talked about. If the carpet is looking bad in a section of the atrium, it is addressed,” Mason says. “We as leaders are not the smartest people in the hotel. The smartest are the people who actually work every day in the hotels.”

In the spring, the STARS will come out at the newest Gaylord property — the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Prince George's County, Md., near Washington.

With 200,000 square feet of event and meeting space, 180,000 square feet of exhibition space, not to mention sprawling outdoor lawns and climate-controlled, glass-walled atrium spaces, Gaylord National will be able to accommodate groups that until now had not been able to meet in the Washington area, Mason says. When they get there, he notes, groups will find staff members who are trained and empowered to respond to their every need, and guarantee that event attendees “will never want to go anywhere else — everything they want will be right there.” And if that's not enough, he adds, the $950 million property will “still have that new-hotel smell.”

Gaylord Hotels One Gaylord Drive, Nashville, TN 37214-1207; 615/316-6000;


“What I love most about this company is its lack of fear in taking risks. We are a very competitive company, always questioning our position in the market and the industry. We don't make data-less decisions, but we are quick to make our decisions, and we move very fast. I love the fact that we allow our leaders and STARS to do their jobs. There's great freedom in it, great control. You can't buy that.”


“If I weren't in hotels and I could do anything, I'd want to be able to support my family with my own business — a small diner. My mom's Swiss, and what I know about cooking, I got from her. I love the atmosphere of diners — that hole-in-the-wall thing.”


“The year 2000 was the greatest year the hospitality industry had ever seen. But we got very big for our britches. Then, with business on the back end of 2001, we dropped very quickly. Junior salespeople found themselves flapping in the wind. Customers weren't loyal to them. Eventually the industry adjusted. I think something innate changed. No matter how good it gets again, we will never forget how important the relationship is with customers. I don't think hotels will ever put themselves in a position again where they're snubbing customers, saying, ‘Take it or leave it.’”

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