While the hospitality industry is diverse in a lot of aspects, its lack of female leadership in C-level positions is conspicuous. If we listened to Beyonce, like we all should, we’d know who runs the world: Girls.
Indeed, the hospitality industry is rife with opportunities for women—from designers to food-service worker to managerial positions and more. And one of those women who continues to climb the hospitality ladder is Niki Leondakis—a feminist icon (at least to me), an innovator in hospitality, and a strong leader. Starting her career at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, she worked her way to president and COO, helping expand the Kimpton brand. Now, as CEO of Commune Hotels + Resorts, Leondakis is a critical asset in the hotel’s growth, helping launch the new Tommie brand as well as growing the Joie de Vivre and Thompson brands.
She was on hand to speak with Hospitality Design magazine’s editor-in-chief Stacy Shoemaker Rauen during HD NextGen Forum‘s opening cocktail party last week in Chicago on topics ranging from hospitality to being a woman in a male-dominated role.
Leondakis answered questions with aplomb and candor, admitting it’s been a long and winding road as a woman in the industry while noting instances in her early career when she wasn’t respected just because she was a woman. But, she says, it’s “the adversity we face that becomes our greatest asset.”
Leondakis also took time to discuss other topics. Here are some top takeaways from the Q&A:
- Leondakis, whose first job in the hospitality industry was working at the fry station in Hardee’s, says the passion and creativity that goes into restaurants also goes into hotels. “What makes hotels great today is great design,” she says. “But it doesn’t end there.”
- One of the most important pieces of advice people should remember in any career: The people you align yourself with matter more than anything.
- The impetus for the Tommie brand, which is designed for the youthful-minded traveler, was to create a unique and locally relevant experience for travelers. There will be no “superfluous” elements when the Tommie brand debuts in New York in 2015, Leondakis says.
- Luxury is different than what it used to be. Travelers don’t want anything visibly indulgent. “We need to cut out the clutter in hotels,” she explains.
- Travelers want content directed to who they are and what their needs are. As designers and hoteliers, “we need to get more specific and more bold,” Leondakis says.