DEI Advisors Podcast

Marina MacDonald, Chief Marketing Officer, Red Roof, Interviewed by Rachel Humphrey

February 15, 2023 David Kong
DEI Advisors Podcast
Marina MacDonald, Chief Marketing Officer, Red Roof, Interviewed by Rachel Humphrey
Show Notes Transcript

Marina shares her story from executive assistant to the GM of her first hotel to chief marketing officer of a global brand. She credits being comfortable getting uncomfortable, taking risks, having incredible mentors, and overcoming her fears with so many of her decisions along the way. She shares her mantra "work life choices" and talks about the large, broad support system she has built around her and how she best relies on them as needed.  She discusses how she models advocating for yourself and giving others a safe space to advocate for themselves and then watch as it happens for others.

Rachel Humphrey:

I am Rachel Humphrey with d e I advisors. We are a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering personal success in the hospitality industry, and I am delighted to welcome to the show today, a longtime friend and mentor of mine, marina McDonald. Marina, welcome to the show.

Marina MacDonald:

Well, Rachel, it is an honor to be here with you today. Really? It is. You brought the sunshine here in Ohio.

Rachel Humphrey:

Oh, nice. Not here in Atlanta. We are gonna spend, as about 30 minutes together today, and we're gonna talk a little bit about your path to leadership and some of the lessons that you've learned along the way. And because we are gonna be short on time, we are gonna jump right into it. But one of the things that I really love about the hospitality industry is how unique every path can be. There's not one. Road that everybody has to take to achieve any level of success. Talk to me a little bit about what your path has looked like and then if there were any really pivotal moments in that you think have helped guide that journey for you.

Marina MacDonald:

I'd love to and thank you for the question. I would say for me listening and learning, Has been like a catapulted my career. I'm gonna start like right outta school. I'm from Philadelphia originally. I'm from Philadelphia. If you can't tell by my accent, I am a, my parents are from Italy. I'm a first generation in the US And my career like I said, was listening and learning, but I had this motto. I didn't know it at the time that I had, was. Be comfortable being uncomfortable, and I didn't know what that meant. So my first job that I had was in this big hotel. It was the Franklin Plaza, the wind of Franklin Plaza in Philadelphia. 760 rooms, big, lots of hundred thousand square feet of meeting space. And I didn't even know I wanted to be in hospitality or hotels, but I wanted to be in the city. And I take this job and I was executive a. To the general manager, director of sales, general manager, and I was the worst at it because I was so interested in what the sales people were doing and they would, and it was a big hotel, so there was 15 or 20 sales people, and every day at eight o'clock in the morning, they would come into the general manager's office and I was, I was supposed to take the. I'm supposed to go in, take the minutes of the meeting and I wouldn't, I would ask questions and I would listen and I would take notes. And the general manager finally realized that I was the world's worst assistant And he said, marina, what is your ambition? Like Marina and I, so I asked him and I said, I really wanna be in the sales. And literally the next day he said, you are in sales. Oh my goodness. In sales. And it was fantastic. And I did outside sales my first job. And he said, okay, you're in. Report to the sales department. I said, excellent. I know all of them. Here I go. And my first person that mentored me, she said, okay, Maureen, this is what we're gonna be doing every day. Okay, after the meeting at nine o'clock, we went, we did outside sales from nine to 11, come back, have lunch with the client, go back out, make sales calls from two to four, come back and report on your day every five days a week. I loved it. And then on the weekends, I was manager on duty. I just thought it was the best thing. The best. So I got comfortable. I didn't realize it at the time, but, and then I got comfortable doing it. I was uncomfortable at first saying, okay, I'm a salesperson. And then I moved up in, in that big hotel. And that was a really fantastic experience. And then I got an opportunity to move to Florida, to move to Tampa, Florida, and that was really uncomfortable. More for my parents. I have old. Italian father, Italian mother, and for me to leave to go to Florida was like, Madina, you have a husband where, why are I didn't have a husband. I was leaving. And so I went to Florida and living first time away from home and get comfortable being uncomfortable there had a great experience learned about the Florida market, et cetera, et cetera. And Then again, moved up again. Listening, learning, had mentors that believed in me when I didn't really see it for myself and became a director of sales, moved to Washington dc I was so excited, but completely un again, being comfortable, being completely uncomfortable out of my comfort zone, leading a team of people. But there, I worked at a little hotel at the time, 240 rooms. That was, it was a fantastic experience. I got married, I lived in four different places. See when you moved to DC it's either, do you live in Maryland or do you live in Virginia? So we had to live in both places. So did that, moving around and then moved again. Another opportunity, raise my hand and move back to. And became, got a bigger hotel, became a director of sales and marketing. Then moved up again, became a regional vice president of sales, same company. I worked for Wyndham and the company was growing at the time and the more growth, more opportunity. And I took advantage of that. And I had mentors along the way that helped me and but it was always this, one of my mentors would say, Marina, you have two ears in one mouth. Use them appropriately. So I always was, I'd go into a meeting and I would listen twice as much as I, I spoke, I, when I first, my first career as I was building my career, became a regional vice president. And then became, then moved to Dallas. Texas and became a vice president larger territory, west Coast Territory, Caribbean, lots of salespeople. We had a large organization at the time and had I moved to Dallas and the day I moved to Dallas, I found out I was pregnant, was fantastic, and so moved to a new city. New state, knew no one. And we had our daughter. And so we lived in Dallas for about five years, five or six years or so. And a mentor of mine told me about this opportunity with Red Roof. And I said, my whole career I've been in, large group hotels, business travel hotels, full service hotels, I don't know anything about economy lodging. And he said to me, but Marina, you have been building, more than you. Like it was one of those, he believed in me more than I believed in myself. And and and when, and I had women mentors too. Marina you can do this. And it was, but the interesting one thing was we, my husband and I lived by this motto as well of Bloom where you're planted. We lived in a lot of different places, so moved back to Ohio, which was really for us the first time. As long as we've been married, ever live near family, cuz his family was in is in Columbus, Ohio, in Dayton, Ohio. So it was fantastic. We came back and. My career started with Red Roof and got to build, that was when Red Roof separated from a core. And it was literally I saw it as a startup, literally. It was a brand that was 30 years old, but it was a startup cuz you had a, I had a start the whole like, strategy of marketing, finding agencies, building a plan. And it was very exciting and has been ever. It has been fantastic. Ever since. So it's been really for me I don't wanna say living the dream, but it is those fundamental things of listening and learning. Being comfortable, being uncomfortable has built my career, I would say. And that's, My story.

Rachel Humphrey:

You have so many incredible nuggets of wisdom built just into that path to leadership. I actually wanna develop on some of those thoughts because everybody has. Kind of what motivates them, what drives them, how each one has happened, but yours now, in hindsight, you're able to see this pattern or this similarity in each of those things. but I'm gonna flip it on its head for a second. While we are talking about career development, an important part of that is how we manage to be more than just a careerist, whether it is as a parent, a spouse, and other things. And I know that. Have recently entered a new chapter of empty nesting as I'm about to do. Yes. Talk to me about what advice you would give as people are trying to figure out whether it's as spouses, parents, or whether it's just having hobbies or passions or things outside of work, how you have evolved or maybe learned or advice you got along the way on really finding either management or harmony if you have in those various

Marina MacDonald:

roles. I think probably when I, when Sophia when when we had Sophia my husband, we were fortunate. He took a early retirement and he became a stay-at-home father, and that is really when I leaned into the notion of there's work life. That for me it was work. Like this whole notion for me of work-life balance really wasn't, it didn't resonate with me cuz I thought, but choices work-life choices and the choices that I made every day. of, okay, is it a family choice? And literally it would be how was the morning going to be the choices I'm going to make in the mor. I I would take it to that love. What are the choices in the morning? And then what's going to be my choices in the afternoon and the evening? And and then there was, so every day it was a choice. What choice was I going to to make on that particular day to support myself? my, my family to be the best we could be that day. Honestly, it was just how can we be the best that day? It wasn't long. We, we, when you have little ones at first, it's how do you survive the that and then getting into school work-life choices. And I remember when she started in school we would get the calendar for the year and I literally put it on my calendar and I travel. I travel a lot like you. Yeah. Like you do. And there were non-negotiables. I love it. And I was like, I am going to be here. I am sorry. I'm going to miss this meeting. And then there were times that I couldn't be, and I would have to say to, my husband is, they're, these are times that are, and they absolutely support support of that. But I would say that what worked for me was that mantra. work, work-life choices. What's my choice for the day? I

Rachel Humphrey:

think that's a great way of looking at it. I think I've had a similar strategy, but never identified it by. That title or by that way of thinking about it. And so that's a really great way of seeing it. And then when you make those choices and I to a my calendar fanatic, a traveler really being able to then see it laid out in its path. One of the other topics you touched on, Frequently in your journey is the role of mentors and champions, and one of the things that you said that resonated with me is people seeing things in me that I don't see in myself. And you use that phrase, which hits very close to home for me. Talk a little bit about, you've talked about the role of mentoring and championing others of you. Now at this stage in your career, you get to mentor and champion along the way. Talk about advice you would give for people to identify mentors and champions. How to approach possibly that relationship or what they can hope to

Marina MacDonald:

get out of that. Giving back is the joy of life. That is what fills my cup is being able to ide and sometimes I'll identify. I, we have as we, red Roof started the red reform on leadership for women entrepreneurs. And it is and it spreads the spectrum, right? Of owners, team members, partners, et cetera. It's it isn't, solely on one, one category, but when I talk, when I look at team members women that are coming in new in their career. And I identify a group of them, like five or six of them. And it's really fulfilling to see how just by identifying them and saying, we were gonna be your champion, just that, that pure thought of, oh my God, you're gonna be my champion and or mentor. And it is. We brought six women through Castell the BUILD program and. You could see from the first meeting with them to the last meeting how they really excelled and blossomed, how they worked together. But for me, it was the moments that when I would meet with them and we would never talk about whatever the topics were, we would talk about life and it was the moments of overcoming an obstacle or thinking about a situation instead of going head on. How do you go from the side? How do you overcome that obstacle? Not straight on, but to on the side view. And just giving those bits of wisdom and seeing it come back. And I learned from them too. So it's so fulfilling for me to see them grow in their career and move on and just, have a fulfilling life. I like the

Rachel Humphrey:

intentionality too though. You say we identify. Yes, and then we develop and build. And that is certainly the definition of champion. And one of the things I love about champions is we don't often know that someone is championing for us behind the scenes as well. It doesn't have to be always right out in the open. Yeah. Another theme that you touched on is taking risks. It is risk. To go from Philadelphia to Florida or from one job to another, or to say, you know what, maybe the assistant role isn't for me. Maybe it is sales. You've taken a tremendous number of risks in your career. Do you have a way that you evaluate them? Certainly you don't take all of'em that cross your path or is there a thought process you go through or how do you really know this is a risk that's worth taking for.

Marina MacDonald:

There was a poet, TS Elliot who says only those who risk going too far can possibly know how far one can go. Oh, that's great. And I just, I love that because I think that we always underestimate how far we can go and that's risk because it's it's scary. Yeah, to take the risk. And I would say every single time I took a risk, sometimes it was, sometimes it's, it isn't it's calculated and sometimes it's just go for it. Listen, I'm in marketing, so sometimes I just go for it, right? And the campaign is either a great one or it's not. And trust me, when it's a not a great one, my franchisees will tell me. But when but so it's calculated, but sometimes you just have to go for it. You just literally have to like and be courageous enough to realize that it's gonna be. Yeah. No matter what it is it's going to be, it will be okay as long as you did your best, but take the risks. And sometimes they're calculated and sometimes they're just not. And they're just you just go for it. That's

Rachel Humphrey:

great advice, and thank you for sharing that because you're right. You may have the best strategy in place and all reason may take you in a different direction, but at the end of the day, just jumping. I have talked a lot about support systems over the last couple years, and a friend recently shared with me the concept of a personal board of directors. and I always like to share with our audience how I selected a particular interview. I've been very fortunate in my career to have access to tremendous leaders, you included, and I wanna share that access with everybody else. But I wanna tell you something, and I've mentioned it to you before, but I don't know if you would think about it in this concept. Support systems. Each time I leave you, whether in person or on the phone, you say something so energizing and so positive and refreshing that I feel good leaving and so without even knowing I needed a little boost or a, this was great or a good call, or my cup is full, whatever it is at the time. You have an incredible way of. Ending on a very positive note, and maybe I just haven't been in meetings where they

Marina MacDonald:

come that way.

Rachel Humphrey:

Thank you. But talk about, and that's, really just to show that support systems can come, whether you know they're there or not, but also in ways that, that you don't even know about. Talk about your support system. Do you rely on one? How do you identify who maybe is in that inner circle for you? How do. to know who to turn to when you, maybe something doesn't go your way. Yeah. Or you have a big risk to evaluate and you wanna get someone's ear. Talk a little bit about your support

Marina MacDonald:

system. I have you can't, like all of us, you cannot get to certain levels of your career without an enormous support system starting with your family. Starting with the people that love you the most, that give you. A, the they know you the best, they give you the most sound advice. Like it or not. I, I always say, I go from, in my family, I have a 90 year old mother and a 19 year old daughter and everyone in between in my family can, aunts, uncles, cousins along the way at all different ages give me wisdom. And so they are definitely in my network of love, right? I have a, they love me, they know me and they support me and they give me transparent feedback. Then there's the unbelievable mentors that I look for that just have sage sound advice. They're incredible listeners. Wickedly smart. And they just have such wisdom that they, and they care for me. And they're the ones that really, when I'm stuck and I on a issue or project, they break it down for me, but they listen and they're able to encapsulize it into things that I didn't think about or see. So that is a group. And then I have my. that I just, my cycling friends that I just love to, I'm a cyclist. I don't know if you know that about me, but I I cycle for cancer research and and so they're just, that is a great group. I am a part of chief, I don't know if you know that. And it's an incredible organization and I have six women there. Literally are a sounding board every month. None of them are, in our industry, but we come together and just can be real about things that are going on. So I have a whole different network of different things and in just a community of people. It's a big group and I tap who I need at the. That when I need a lot of courage, I tap a certain group. When I need a lot of love, I talk another one. When I need a lot of fun, I tap another. So it just it's that network of support and love and so I love that

Rachel Humphrey:

it comes from so many dis different aspects of your life and I know the work you do for charity in the cycling is very important to you and happy to be a part of that as well. I wanna switch gears for a second now to, we've talked about mentors and champions, maybe advocating for. There is a generalization that as women we don't do a good job advocating for ourselves. What would you tell someone out there listening who may say, you know what? I am not good about raising my hand. I'm not good about negotiating for something that I want, or letting somebody know that I'm interested in an opportunity. You did it right off the bat when you're like, I'm not sure being an assistant is for me. But I think I'm really good at what you guys are sitting around doing. So clearly from the early part of your career, you have knowingly or not found a way to advocate for yourself. What would you tell others to do in that

Marina MacDonald:

I would say that now what I do is I advocate for them. I model it. One thing is that I will advocate or showcase an idea for someone and that's champion and that's advocating. But when they model it, and then I would take if I see that they're pausing or they're not comfortable, I would wait and say, she has a really great idea. He has a really great idea. We talked about why don't, and give them a safe space. Sometimes you just gotta give him. to because you see that they're uncomfortable. Like this whole notion of comfortable being uncomfortable because I know that so well, I know when someone is uncomfortable and they have a little bit of a bit of fear, and how can I make it a soft landing for them or, showcase them. And if I'm modeling it, then they see, and then I'll show that. How to do it. And then ask them, okay, in your next meeting, try just one time for yourself. And it's amazing what what'll happen next. They'll come back and say, oh my God I raised my hand, I added, I contributed, I did X, Y, Z. And it was a small thing. 1% moves if you do it every day is, big moves. And sometimes people think that they have to be really. The like out there and they don't, it ha it can be very small and subtle, but for them it's a big, they moved, big, they took a big step. They took one step forward and that's fantastic. I think it's modeling and it is advocating for others. When you do that for other people It just comes back. It just comes back to me anyway.

Rachel Humphrey:

I love the combination of modeling it and then providing a safe space for others to do it. Encouraging them and then having them come back and say when it's been successful. Cause I think you're right. Whether it is. Speaking in a meeting or public speaking or something else. You don't have to jump in to the deepest part of the ocean on your first jump. You can and should, I think in a lot of ways, do the, these bite sides that you're talking about in building up confidence. Others then will see that you're doing it and continue to give you opportunities. So I love that as a strategy. Yeah. I think one of the most important things we can do in our personal lives, our professional lives as leaders, is to reflect. I think we are a constant work in progress. Yes. I think we always are exploring growth for ourselves and others. And so I love the question of what advice would you give to 21 year old marina, because I do think that we learn so much along the way. So sitting here today, knowing how Played out for you, the path that you've taken. What would you tell? 21 year old

Marina MacDonald:

Marina? I would say don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. And have a voice, but, oh, use it wisely. Listen more. Listen. And. And really don't be afraid, but be courageous. Be courageous, be brave. But don't be afraid. Just don't be afraid. It's

Rachel Humphrey:

so interesting to me to hear you say that because it didn't sound like your 21 year old son I know was afraid you were jumping into

Marina MacDonald:

every opportunity that

Rachel Humphrey:

came your way. So again, your ability to share that today that, thank you so much for doing that, because I would not have gathered that from knowing you today. But I also. Wouldn't have gathered that from your sharing your path to leadership. The other thing we learn along the way is that none of us achieves any level of success, career-wise or personally without some challenges day-to-day, and we all tackle them differently. I would ask, I guess this in two parts. One is, do you have a strategy that you use for overcoming obstacles? And then do you maybe have one. You say, you know what? I learned a really great lesson from this challenge, this obstacle, maybe this thing that didn't go according to plan.

Marina MacDonald:

So I would say the obstacle of fear, you have to overcome the obstacle of fear and That's, yes, with bravery, you have to be brave. I talk about this, you've heard it now be comfortable being uncomfortable, but when I think about overcoming an obstacle, this is a physical, this is a, this is one that is a very it came to me in a very, I didn't realize this was gonna happen to me. So I went to a team build retreat, and it's one of those, okay, you climb the pole, you walk over, okay. So you understand what those things are, right? So here I am, I'm the last one up. Okay, climb the pole and now walk across the and majority of the people were falling, and you're strapped up. So I get across, and now I'm on the other side and. I'm on the other big pole, and now I have to just let go to be done. I'm done. And I'm holding on. Literally, I'm holding on to a pole, a telephone pole, and I won't let go. And I'm just holding onto it with Dear Mike. And that was a. And finally I let go and I didn't realize I had a problem letting go, And it was an obstacle that I learned. And I was like, so every time I come up with a, like an obstacle or something, I go, marina, you're wrapped around the pole. Oh wow. Let go. And I go, oh, I let go. It just melts and it's really gonna be okay. It's one of those obstacle of fear. And the obstacle of being courageous and letting go, but it's also what's the worst that can happen? I do that. Make that list real. Yeah. Literally. What is the worst that can happen? I do that with myself. I do that with, with my daughter, with my husband. Okay, what's the worst case scenario? Are you gonna be homeless? Like really? What's the what, what is it that you think is the, from this situation, that's going to be the worst thing that happens.

Rachel Humphrey:

What an incredible lesson, just from that one moment and how you're able to remember it. Yes. And carry it forward. Marina, as I expected, cuz I could sit and visit with you all day long. We are running short on time, but keeping in mind the mission of d e i advisors to empower personal success, what is one final piece of advice you would offer to our

Marina MacDonald:

audience? One piece of advice I would say, I'm gonna go back to don't be afraid. Don't be afraid, and embrace the uncom. And there you have it.

Rachel Humphrey:

So important. On behalf of my own personal career journey and the hospitality industry as a whole, thank you so much for your leadership. Thank you for continuing to inspire and guide the next generation of leaders. Thanks for taking part in d e I advisors and to those listening today. If you have liked what you've heard, we hope you will visit us at D e I. Dot org and hear from some of this industry's top leaders on their paths to leadership and the insights they've learned along the way, which are also available on all of your streaming channels where you stream podcasts. So we hope that you'll join us. But Marina, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for joining us Ins for supporting d e i advisors.

Marina MacDonald:

Thank you so much. Have a great day.