DEI Advisors Podcast

Lori Kiel, Chief Commercial Officer, Kessler Collection interviewed by Dorothy Dowling

December 27, 2023 David Kong
DEI Advisors Podcast
Lori Kiel, Chief Commercial Officer, Kessler Collection interviewed by Dorothy Dowling
Show Notes Transcript

Lori Kiel, a self-made leader in hospitality, embodies intentionality and accountability on her path to success. Her journey, marked by self-ownership and determination, has led her to excel as a commercial leader. Lori's commitment to learning and maintaining a growth mindset continues to fuel her growth while she passionately gives back to the industry.

Dorothy Dowling:

Greetings. I am Dorothy Dowling, a principal of DEI Advisors. We are a nonprofit organization dedicated to personal empowerment. I am delighted to welcome Lori Kiel, chief commercial officer with the Kessler Collection. Lori, it truly is an honor to have you with us today.

Lori Kiel:

Thank you for having me. I'm very excited to be here with you.

Dorothy Dowling:

We are excited to have you. So let's get to it. The first area that I thought you could share with us, Laurie, is really your career journey. You've held many roles throughout your journey and becoming a chief commercial officer. So I'm hoping you can share your development path and how this has really made you into the very successful executive that you are today.

Lori Kiel:

Thank you for asking. I would love to share it. I think that the I always I laugh because recently, I've realized that Robert Frost poem um, the road less traveled really describes my path Very well. And I did go to college for hospitality. I remember the day I went into the career counselor's office and I said I know I wanna do one of two things. I just don't know what. And she said what are the two things? And I said, I either wanna be a dental hygienist Or I wanna go to hospitality school, and she said, you are not cleaning people's teeth for a living. Let's get you enrolled. And I I wish I knew her name because boy do I owe her. It's been quite a career. I got my start working three to eleven front desk while I was in college and I like to say that I'm one of the founders of revenue management because from that place, I went into reservations, and I was a reservationist behind a front desk. Rates were on the brochure rack at the time, and I was taking the reservations off of the dot matrix printer behind me, and then I'm typing them into the PMS systems. I really value that history and that and where I came from because it makes me So appreciative to of where we are today. so I started that path. I started up through the rooms division and Got an opportunity to join a big convention center hotel, um, in their sales office. I knew I really wanted to see what that was like, what was sales like, Became a director of convention services and really enjoyed that part of the job. I find that I'm extremely Detail oriented and analytical. So really putting someone's um, contract to life, what you believe you wanted and bringing that vision into A life for you, whether it's a life event or a big corporate event. That was that was a really fun time. And I really got to see a side of sales and rooms still that I enjoyed. I think as importantly, Yeah. It's to tell you that I don't enjoy food and beverage. And so even that little glimpse because if you're a director of convention services, you're dealing with menus and chefs, and It really sealed the deal for me. I said, no, I won't be going through food and beverage. I'll stay on this side of the hospitality industry. But for much of my career, I first of all, I always have revenue management because I had that rooms background, and then revenue management as you recall, it wasn't a full time job. It was a it was always the side gig of either the reservations person or the front office person. And so as I moved up through my career, I always kept revenue management by my side. But then I thought that I was heading towards a GM, and so I worked my way to that position, became a GM. And once I got there, I thought, this is not at all what I wanna do. I really like the strategy and the numbers and the gamification That comes with that revenue side or commercial strategy side of the equation. In the GM seat, I really felt like everybody's mother. I hate to Say that, but it is a general role for a reason. You have to be a little bit of an expert at all things, and you have to have a lot of little solutions for all things, and It didn't inspire me, and so I did it for one year to the day. We sold the hotel that I was at, and at that point, the company I was with said, How about becoming full time regional revenue management? And I never looked back after that. As I moved into Kessler, where I've now been teen years. I walked in here as the corporate director of revenue. I felt very confident and secure in my knowledge and revenue management. And about a year after I got here, the vice president of sales had left, and they were looking to bring someone else in. And it was in that moment that I had a conversation with two of my former colleagues and said, it seems to me if sales and revenue We're under the same umbrella. We might be able to optimize the revenues more because then they wouldn't be working for their own alignment, for their own goals, For their own KPIs. And so I went to Richard Kessler and I proposed it. And I told him, listen, If this doesn't work out, you can take it back. Just let me give it a try. How many times has anyone ever walked in the door and said, I would like a promotion, But you don't have to you don't have to let me have it for good. We can just try it out. And if you don't like it, it's okay. I won't take it personally. It worked. It worked immediately. Then I did the same with marketing. It was many years later, and I just Kept seeing one VP of marketing after another coming through the doors of Kessler. And I realized that, Holy cow. We've gotta solve this, and it felt much like the same thing. If both if marketing was in the same lane as marketing, Uh, sales and revenue, what might that look like? So once again, I did it. I walked in and I said, put them in my department. Let's do this. And Before we were calling it commercial strategy, it was commercial strategy. And here I am today. I have a huge passion for it because I was Fortunate enough to take it one piece at a time and then plug this in and then plug that in. And along the way, try a zillion things out That didn't always work, but I had the trust of the company to try these things on to continue to move us forward. And now that's where the passion comes, where I really wanna do that for other hoteliers, for other commercial strategy professionals.

Dorothy Dowling:

Thank you for sharing that, Lori. And I know that you have been a real trailblazer in building out that integration across All of those revenue top line drivers and really building out how they come together to really propel business forward in an integrated way. I also think you bring that profitability mindset of working for an ownership group and understanding How to not only optimize top line, but really think about how to bring the best return for the company, which I'd like to explore a little bit later. But You have been a trailblazer. You were well before others saw and were able to connect the dots. And I do think starting in that discipline of revenue management that is heavily oriented towards business intelligence, um, has really propelled you and the industry more in terms of understanding how those jobs need to be connected. I know through your journey you've had, some important people and you are a tremendous driver of giving back. And I'm wondering if you have a personal mantra that helps shape, your commitment and your career success because you have been someone who has blazed a lot of trails and see the world and bring your passion to helping others see the world. So I'd love to hear more for you from you about that Laurie. I think that

Lori Kiel:

opens up the wild west, Dorothy, of a lot of things for me. I will tell you, I think first and foremost, It starts with gratitude. I have so much gratitude towards this industry and having the opportunities that have Showing themselves to me, um, and that is the desire that I have to give back because I don't know how many industries you can get into where you can truly start as a Bellman and you can end up as the CEO of a company. But there are a lot of Lori Keels out there that did not start out fortunate enough to have the college opportunities that many did. And, and again, I'm not no slight to anybody out there, but unfortunately or fortunately for me, in my case, I had to start at a community college. I didn't have a university experience. I did not have university money. And it's okay. At the time, I didn't know it was gonna be okay. At the time, I'm in it and I'm doing it and I'm so grateful for going to college, but I remember the first time I got around a boardroom and people were talking about their college experience, and it was Cornell, and it was UCF and it was Johnson and Wales and it was all of these colleges and I remember being mortified thinking, Oh, gosh. I hope they don't ask me. I hope this does not go around the table. I don't wanna tell them that I graduated a state college. It took years to understand that where you start is not always where you finish, but where you intend Is truly the goal. My intention was that I was gonna set my sights and I was gonna get there. And so there is a tremendous amount of resilience and perseverance and stubbornness deeply ingrained in me. And so when I Put my sights on general manager. I got there, and I sat in that seat. And then I decided because hospitality lets you pivot. I think I don't wanna do this. I think what I want is revenue, and I put my sights on that and I got there. And then when I got there, I put my sights on sales. I put my sights on but every Single moment. Every single thing I've done, I made sure there was an intention. There was a very Well thought out intention as to what I was gonna do, why I wanted to do it. And then when I got there, I would then decide if that was going to be it or if there would be something else. And so I think that's I'm gonna say gratitude An intention is really what has gotten me here.

Dorothy Dowling:

And I think that is a brilliant roadmap for others to learn from you, Laurie, because I do think that road mapping your determination. I would also offer I'm a big fan of Angela Duckworth's book on grit. bUt your grittiness in terms of really focusing on where you wanted to get to and your determination to do that, I think those are all things that individuals can learn because I do agree with you. Being intentional about your time and your effort and your career plan, I think really propels people through to things that they make them possible. So so thank you for being so authentic and we often talk to Individuals that, have some of those confidence issues on, where they went to school or whether they didn't even get to go to college. But it really is that imposter syndrome that we often have to deal with in our own head and overcome some of that because cause we don't necessarily see the way others see us, which, when I have had the opportunity to work with you or you are so brilliant and so passionate and so determined, and you bring all of us with you in terms of seeing the world the way you see it. So I thank you for that. I know recently I had the opportunity of listening to you when you We're on stage, um, about some of the career champions that have been truly difference makers in your career. So I'm wondering if you would mind sharing a little bit of that story because I thought it was though impactful.

Lori Kiel:

Sure. So I think first and foremost, The privilege that I just had to give Kimberly Furlong a career achievement award, I have to start there. And, there's so many pieces of that story that are I think they're so informative to anyone else's journey. First of all, Kimberly was younger than I, so she was you know, I was taking direction from someone younger than I was, and we've we all end up in that place at some point. I'm not there anymore. Now I'm always the oldest in the room, which I love that. I am owning my wisdom. But, learning First of all, learning how to respect the intelligence of someone younger than you and be willing to listen. There was a lot of stubbornness that went through that relationship and it really got us both very far along. So Kimberly Furlong is a Huge mentor of mine. She is one that I have called on numerous times when I've had to make a tough decision to say, How does this sound to you? How is this landing for you? And she's always given me solid advice. She's never steered Deered me wrong yet. So she is one for sure. I would say, Another, if I'm being so bold, is Richard Kessler, believe it or not. And I wouldn't have planned to have said this, but I'm telling you this because I also have had the benefit of working for a visionary, and you don't know really what a visionary is until you work for one. And the way that I would define that and the benefit that he has given me is that he will see something And he will tell me, Laurie, I am gonna take this hundred year old power plant that has the Savannah River running through it because the seawall is busted into it. And this is going to be a luxury hotel that you are going to sell rooms at four hundred dollars a night. And I would stand there and I would be like, He has lost his mind. This is never happening. And today, that's the JW Savannah in Plant Riverside District, And it is beautiful, and it is successful, and it is everything and more that he said it would be. And so I've learned through fifteen years of working with him that just because you can't see it doesn't mean that it isn't Possible. And so it's learning to trust. Who can you trust in their vision? And it's okay to follow that vision. You don't Always have to lead. It doesn't always have to be your idea. And quite frankly, you don't have to be able to see it, but you can achieve it When again, when you're willing to be in that mix and being in his favor and being in his world has served me very well. I have learned So much from Richard Kessler that I could not possibly have learned from anyone else or a hospitality school.

Dorothy Dowling:

I think there's some very important lessons there, Lori, that we can all take from that. One is about the individuals that you get to report to and the gift of leadership that they bring to us and being intentional about hiring those people in terms of your career path. But I also think that element of being open to allowing others to bring a vision to you and not dismiss it. And, that's been part of my journey too, because often we're doubting because we can't see it, but to be open to it and to allow yourself to explore and learn from someone else and allow their passion To change the way you see the world, I think is it's a gift. So thank you for sharing that and how some of these individuals have made such a difference in your life. I know you talked about some of the risks that you've taken and how you presented, the risks to others to hopefully take the bet with you. But I wonder if you could explain a little bit more about some of those significant risks that you've taken in your career or your life and really how it impacted your personal and growth. Yeah.

Lori Kiel:

Thinking on that, on risk, I First and foremost, I will say that the first thing that comes to mind I'll give you two examples of that. The first thing that comes to mind is the risk that I am able to take In this role that I'm in today, I talked to many other of my chief commercial officer in, VPs of sales and revenue and marketing out there. And I asked them, why not try this or why not try that or why not? And I realize that I am in some very rare air here that I can try things. I can spend the money. I can fail. I can lose a little bit of money, and it's all gonna be okay because There is a trust here that allows for that to happen. And, I there was, Oh, the quote that came from oh, goodness. I'm I'm drawing a blank, but there is a quote in a book recently that we were reading. I believe it was Simon Sinek book Leaders Eat Last, that said, if you manage or lead With a philosophy that no one can be fired. If you take being fired off the table, what might happen? And I'm gonna tell you What happens here is that when you losing, what your biggest risk is I'm gonna take a risk, And if I lose what then? We're always thinking of the worst case scenario. But if the worst case scenario is not the worst thing that you know would happen, which is being fired, You're gonna take a lot more risks, and the organization is going to win all the time. Because again, you're not holding back. You're not reserving. You're not being conservative. Listen. Today's economy, you can't afford to be conservative. When I'm looking at our financial targets for next year, you better be willing to take some rest and take some big ones because you Cannot get there based on the things that we always do. Personally, I would say the risk that I have taken is in embedding on myself. I'm willing to bet on myself because I absolutely know I will never let myself down. And I guess that has to do a lot with just the I have a tremendous amount of confidence, and that confidence has built It's been built through the years. It has been built on me being willing to walk in, and ask for something, and I don't get yes every time. There's many times it's a no. But I know for a fact that I will not fail because I will never fail in my own eyes. And I think if you're willing to bet on yourself And you're willing to go forward with confidence and knowledge, I don't think you can lose, but you do have to be willing to put The time in. Me walking around with it with a big head of confidence is not what this is about. What it is about is I do the work. I do the work every single day. I make sure that enrichment is something that is on my calendar consistently in the books that I read and the things that I watch and the people that I choose to work with and be around. And so I think that's a big part of it is Be the very best at what you do and it puts you in a different place. It'll help build that confidence. And again, Dorothy, you I know how it is. You get into these rooms and maybe you feel a little intimidated the first time you walk into that room, but then when you realize I speak the language, Oh my gosh. I speak the language. And, again, this goes back to the college conversation. I have told this story before. The day that I had that moment, I was at a boardroom table in Taos, New Mexico. We were doing budgets, so all the executives around were around the table. And here is this girl from Daytona State College, AS degree in hospitality, bachelor's degree in leadership, want very badly to do my master's, but Holy cow that costs a bit. Beside me is someone from Harvard. She has an MBA from Harvard, and we're sitting at the same table. And that was the moment I said, wow. You did that. You did that. Your education didn't do that. Your education gave you the foundation for that, but you did that. You got yourself to that table. And Yeah. There is no true future. There is no in my world, there is nothing without risk. There is risk everywhere, but if you're willing to take that leap and be prepared for that leap, you're gonna land.

Dorothy Dowling:

I think your journey of learning, because that's how I would characterize the way that you have grown Laurie, as you've taken bets they've been measured bets because you've always done the work associated with it, but it is around that commitment to learn and grow from all of the opportunities and again I think that's a very important lesson, but I also think that culture of risk taking that you're allowing others to bring Their business intelligence and to take those measured kind of risks in terms of driving business outcomes. That's in a very important culture and I do believe that in today's environment, we are being challenged to think about things differently. We have Some outsized results that are being expected of us, so we have to be able to take some of those bigger bets to be able to drive those outcomes. But I really appreciate Your conversation about if you were the IPO, you take that bet on yourself and you have invested in yourself to allow your career to really be nurtured and fostered the way you have. I'm wondering if I could change a little bit about Your growth in terms of how you have built such meaningful professional relationships, because I've also seen the way you nurture and grow others and also peers. So I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about that investment that you have made in your career.

Lori Kiel:

Yeah. I would say that the gift of being introduced to HSMAI, um, really opened that up wide. I Fortunately, worked for a hotel company for ten years, and that hotel company sold off all of their assets. And then This very large um, hundred and forty three hotels worth of corporate staff and support staff and revenue teams, we ended up Everywhere. We ended up all over the United States. So there was someone from the former Logian hotels working at every company across the United States. So that was the first place that really helped grow my network as my network just it's like buckshot as they It was their bird shop, whatever it is, all over the place. And I kept those relationships. Those relationships were very important to me, and so I made sure that I continued and held those connections very close. And then having the introduction to HSMAI many years ago and truly Being able to interface with people that speak my language, that's what I always say. I'm going to see the people that speak my language this week, and I'm gonna come back So charged up because, again um, I feel understood in that environment. And I wanna know what other I'm very Curious. I guess it really comes back to that. I'm a very curious person. I wanna learn. I wanna know. I wanna know, why did you make the decisions you made And how did you end up where you ended up? And what's working for you? What's not working for you? And I think it's just out of that curiosity That I have continued to build that network. I think the other key for me, believe it or not, has been LinkedIn. When I realized that LinkedIn was such a important professional network, I made sure that I put the time in To really put myself on display, if you will, and that was making sure that I could show you all of the things that I had done in my profile. But then the real deal for me was when I started writing. I have been writing for a lot of years. I write a blog on the side that, it doesn't have my name on it. It's just always been a passion project. And I felt really you know what stirred me up. It was sitting at NYU in the audience, and that was the first article. I felt very Passionate about that. First it was the general session that really kicked off NYU that year, And that was the first article. I wrote an article on LinkedIn and it hit. And I said, oh my gosh. This is really appealing to people. This isn't just how I feel. Other people feel the same way, and now we've started a conversation. And so it was from there that as I continue to have this inspiration to write, I would write the articles on LinkedIn, and then it would start a conversation. And it was either a conversation I was having over cocktails or it was a podcast or it was, Um, in the comments and the engagement and that in itself, again, I think it's from, my first hospitality experience and staying so close to those individuals, the h HSMAI network, and then the work that I've done building commercial strategy thought Leadership on LinkedIn has truly given me this amazing I don't, they're like a tribe, Dorothy. I have to tell you. I was just so inspired. Last week, I was with a number of our hospitality Um, peers and, just really engaging in conversation with them. And I have to tell you, when this community shows up, they really show up. And I've seen us do it for others and I see them doing it. For me, it's just it's inspiring. It's awe inspiring.

Dorothy Dowling:

You know I share a lot of the same perspectives that you do, Lori, and HSMAI has been really important to me in terms of meeting wonderful People like you the peer networking that, occurs through HSMAI, but I also just think a lot of the professional development opportunities that are affords. And I think it's wonderful that you're taking on the foundation board chair. I know that's an amazing um, leadership role and you're going to bring your own points of view to that role. But I also think your intentionality in terms of building your network and then really sharing your leadership with others through LinkedIn. You have built your personal brand in a remarkable way And for those that are listening to this podcast, I would suggest that you follow and link in with Laurie because I think you won't only learn from her thought leadership, but you will learn about building your own personal brand in the LinkedIn community. So I thank you for sharing that and the intentionality of what you have done in that space, Laurie. I'm just wondering if we could talk a little bit about diversity because all of us face that in our journey. And I'm wondering if there's any particular lessons that you might share with the audience that they might take from your

Lori Kiel:

journey. On diversity specifically? Adversity. Adversity. I could talk about both. Adversity. You know, I feel like I'm a little bit of a walking billboard for adversity because I didn't nothing has been easy. And I've taught my children I have three adult children now, and I've taught them All through their lives, nothing worth having comes easy, and that is a life lesson that they Truly understand. And as I watch them become adults and as I watch them now build their own careers, I'm so proud because they're willing to do the work. They're willing to take the hard road to get what they want and that's truly Um, key in dealing with adversity at any level is having resilience, having patience, and having tolerance. And so again, it's that getting back up when you get knocked down. You're going to get knocked down. If you're not getting knocked down, you're not taking risks. You're not putting yourself out there, so be willing to get knocked down. I think having patience is not something that I'm known for. And again, In a revenue person, I often say to my peers, I'm like, you don't want a revenue professional that's patient because bottom line is we need to convert some revenue. We gotta get this Same going. But in leadership, I have learned that patience is truly a virtue. Allowing yourself to sit back And allow others to be able to shine in that light is very important. And again, in the adversity aspect of that, When there is a topic on the table, let's say, that is causing some strife, I'm learning now. It's better to sit back and be silent and watch it play out than to immediately dispel your wisdom. And so these are some of these these new learnings that I'm picking up along the way. Last but not least is the tolerance. We have to be tolerant of each other. We have to be tolerant of other people's thoughts. We have to be tolerant of the environment that we're in, and that is a word that I don't think I think sometimes we use that as a I'm being tolerant almost as a threat, but tolerance truly is being willing to sit back and go, let me see how this plays out. Let me see how this plays out, and then I will decide. I will intend my next move. a Little bit different than patients. A little bit different than patients.

Dorothy Dowling:

And thank you for sharing that Laurie because I do think your aspect effective taking risks and learning and failing and learning, It's part of that leadership journey and I do think the way you speak about tolerance and patience when you're working with others, because that is part of that next step in leadership when you have people that are at a different stage in their learning journey, but supporting them in a different way and learning that your role is to be more of a support person as opposed to actually the driver of that business outcome. So I thank you for again being so open and honest in terms of how that has propelled your career forward. We're coming up near the end of our interview, Lori. And one of the things we always ask everyone that or takes in these advisor interviews with us is if there is any final advice that you would like to offer, Um, to others that are listening or watching this podcast because DEI's advisors, Our tagline is empowering personal success. So I'm just wondering if there's anything else from your journey that you'd like to impart to the audience. I think that,

Lori Kiel:

The the part of The HSMAI Foundation, that is extremely appealing to me and the reason that I have been so honored to engage in beyond that forward this year and then have the opportunity to chair next year. It is in about the engaging Um, engaging talent, developing talent. I want to make sure that people realize that ability To learn is all around us. You do not it doesn't come in one package. It doesn't come in one form. It comes even like today. It's having a great conversation between two amazing women that have made their way And understanding what has worked and what didn't work and then taking that lesson for yourself and applying it as you will. I learned as much from the bad as I did the good coming up. Every one of us does. And sometimes I like to say, I think I've learned more from the bad. Because when you see something that you know, you have those moments when you go, oh my gosh, I'll never do that, and you typically never do. It's different than those things that you say, oh, I'm gonna try that. Maybe you don't. But the never dos, you never do. But, bottom line is the true I think the true secret sauce to empowering your own personal SAS is just that. It's how are you empowering your personal success? What are you doing to push yourself along? What are you doing to propel? What are you doing to remove the obstacles? Because ultimately, there will be obstacles put in your way that you cannot Change. Alright. My one of my biggest mantras right now in this moment in time that I'm in is I will not Be concerned with those things that I cannot control. I will not concern myself with those things I cannot control. So I don't Spend a tremendous amount of time on things I cannot affect. I spend all my time on those things that I can do. And so what is that path that you're taking? What can you do? What are you willing to do? And if you've set your mind on something, do all of your actions match that intention? And I'm telling you, Dorothy, I am not perfect at this. There have been many times. Right now, my intention is to lose some weight. But at lunch, I was eating Oreos. So my actions are not proving that goal is going to be met this month, right? So Again, it's laughable, but it's so true. There's so many times along the way that someone says I really wanna be a vice president of marketing. And I say, Tell me what it is that you're doing to work towards that goal. I, I was just waiting to see wait When you were going to see that in me, no, waiting to see, how about you model that? How about you become the BPM marketing before anyone even knows they need one? Every single role I had, I did the role long before the title came my way, and I think that's still tried and true. So I hope that in empowering personal success that people realize that empowering part, that comes from within. That's something that you do. That engine is right in here. It's it's within.

Dorothy Dowling:

Laurie, thank you. I hear two things that has been a theme throughout all of your words of wisdom, but this element of owning your own career path, taking accountability and being extraordinarily intentional about the choices that you make. It you've built an amazing story in terms of helping all of us have clarity in terms of really managing our careers, having dreams, but having a very clear path on how to get there. So I thank you for sharing that. I also wanna just thank you for the leadership and the passion that you bring to this industry. Because I am a big fan of your LinkedIn content, but I am a big fan of Laura Kiel because You inspire all of us with your passion and leadership all the time. So thank you for being with us today. Thank you for sharing all of your wisdom. And I'm hoping that I can also speak to our audience and say, if you have enjoyed this interview with Lori Kiel, I hope you will also visit That's on our website, deiadvisors dot org, where you will see webcasts and podcasts from other industry leaders that will empower your knowledge and feel your spirit. So I hope to see you there. Laurie, thank you again. Thank you. It's always a pleasure to be in the room with you.