Tom Reilly from Aloft Dublin City is rewriting the rules
The beating heart of a hotel is its people. Facilities, décor, and location are all important of course, but the success of any hospitality venture hinges on the staff. Tom Reilly, Human Resources Manager for Aloft Dublin City, a Marriott Bonvoy hotel located in the Liberties neighbourhood in Dublin city, thoroughly agrees, and this is reflected in how he approaches his role. Hotel & Restaurant Times met with Tom to chat about the experiences that shaped his HR approach, and how he applies this to his position at the new and exciting Aloft Dublin City.
Tom, as befits his role, is a people person. He tells us he loved working in a busy, dynamic environment from a young age. He originally hails from a small village in North Tipperary, and his first brush with the hospitality industry began at the tender age of 16, working in pubs along Lough Derg in the summertime. “There was such a buzz, and I took to it like a duck to water,” he says. When the time came to choose further education, Tom knew he wanted to pursue hospitality, so he moved to Galway to study. While in college he clocked up experience on various work placements, including the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare, where he would continue to work on weekends and during holidays.
Upon graduating, Tom went to the U.K. to work in a hotel in the Lake District. “I had decided to move to the UK to broaden my experience. However, it did not offer sufficient opportunities for progression so I decided to return home to pursue other options”. In the summer of 98, Tom returned to the role of General Manager at The Waterman’s Lodge, a small property within the Manor House Hotels of Ireland , in Ballina, Co. Tipperary. “Staffing was small,” he recalls. “I was very much ‘hands on’. From breakfast chef in the morning to F&B & reception each day and even making up bedrooms in the event of staff shortages.”
After three years, Tom moved to Brooks Hotel, a four star boutique hotel on Drury Street in Dublin. It was here that Tom’s passion for personnel management came to the fore. He started as the hotel’s Deputy Manager, but soon assumed the property HR role, from job descriptions, to contracting, to appraisals. Tom says: “We worked long hours, and it was tough, but the culture of the hotel was fantastic, mainly due to the longevity of service within the senior management team.”
This desire to be part of and indeed instill a positive work culture became apparent to Tom as far back as when he was in college. “In my third year we had to do an international work placement, with a few of us were sent to Munich, to a large hotel with 467 bedrooms and an additional 12 floors with 46 private apartments per floor,” he explains. “All accommodation had access to the hotel’s food and beverage offering, so you can imagine how busy it was. During the Oktoberfest each year, the hotel was serving up to 2,000 breakfasts a day. During this time, there was one manager working hard, preparing trays of 10 covers each in the prepping area, and after the breakfast rush he stayed and polished the cutlery and chatted to us. He turned out to be the General Manager. His approach really made us feel like we were more than just a number, and I’ve carried that with me throughout my career. When people are valued, they’ll want to do more for you.”
Getting stuck in, no matter your “title” is incredibly important to Tom, he says. He pulled up his shirt sleeves whenever necessary throughout his 17 years at Brooks Hotel, and he has been doing the same in Aloft Dublin City. This ethos has really stood to Tom, particularly with the low staffing levels we’re seeing right across the industry. “Most recently I’ve covered as an accommodation supervisor, and where nowhere near the standards of our accommodation associates, it including making beds,” he says. “We have a staff meeting every morning and people help out wherever they are needed. Ironically, the staffing shortages helped develop a great culture here in Aloft. Irrespective of ‘seniority’ a person is at, for the hotel to function properly, it needs resources. People understood we may be in different departments, but we are one team and one unit, and whenever that unit needs support, people row in.”
When trying to build a positive culture and environment, the ethos of the hotel’s General Manager is, of course, crucial. Fortunately for Tom, he and Jonas are on the same page. “Jonas and I just click,” he tells us. “We have same understanding, beliefs, and vision and we want to go in the same direction. You’re lucky when you find someone like that.”
It’s certainly true that the traditional model of leadership is one very much based around a hierarchal structure. However, Tom tells us that he and Jonas have happily eschewed that model for one based around valuing each member of staff, regardless of their position in the hotel. “That old hierarchal model is outdated,” Tom explains. “There is of course the hierarchy pyramid, but the view Jonas and I hold is that it’s squashed down flat. In title we’re elevated, but at the end of the day, we’re all in it for the same thing, and that’s to provide an exceptional experience for our guests.”
This approach of valuing each member of staff harks right back to Tom’s experience all those years ago during his placement in Munich. He and Jonas walk the floor every morning, saying hello to everyone. It sends a message that they count, and that they are part of the hotel’s family, Tom says. “Linen porter, kitchen porter, all those deemed ‘back of house’ are an integral part of the business. If the heart isn’t working, nothing will. We don’t say back of house, we say heart of house.”
A big part of valuing staff is recognizing their talents and abilities, and springing from that, a desire to help them grow and develop. When a vacancy opens, Tom first looks at staff already working in the hotel to fill the position. He meets regularly with department heads to discuss succession planning, and if a staff member expresses an interest in developing their career, he works with them to put together a plan. “We want to give people opportunity,” he says.
So, when it comes to hiring, what are the most important things Tom looks for? Honesty, and a meaningful connection, he tells us.
“We ensure the interview isn’t intimidating, as you can’t really get to know someone properly if they feel intimidated. It is very important that any prospective employee both understands and fits the culture we have created. We want them to feel a part of this ‘family’ unit and we would hope that they start each day looking forward to coming to work. Honesty is also extremely important, both from us and from them. We tell them exactly how it is, for example, when our Executive Housekeeper was hired, we said from the outset that there was a lot of work to be done. Honesty from us promotes loyalty, so we said, “It’s going to be all hands to the pump for a while!”
We’re sure this is going to be the case for many hotels throughout this challenging period of reopening. To Tom, Jonas and the team, we say the very best of luck.