DEI Advisors Podcast

Gissell Moronta, Senior VP, Sales & Marketing, Atrium Hospitality interviewed by Dorothy Dowling

June 05, 2024 David Kong
Gissell Moronta, Senior VP, Sales & Marketing, Atrium Hospitality interviewed by Dorothy Dowling
DEI Advisors Podcast
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DEI Advisors Podcast
Gissell Moronta, Senior VP, Sales & Marketing, Atrium Hospitality interviewed by Dorothy Dowling
Jun 05, 2024
David Kong

Join Dorothy Dowling as Gissell shares her inspiring journey to America, honing her leadership skills to become an amazing executive. Gissell's self-made path, balancing work, part-time school, and parenting, inspires us all. Don't miss her incredible story!

Show Notes Transcript

Join Dorothy Dowling as Gissell shares her inspiring journey to America, honing her leadership skills to become an amazing executive. Gissell's self-made path, balancing work, part-time school, and parenting, inspires us all. Don't miss her incredible story!

Dorothy Dowling:

Greetings. I am Dorothy Dowling, a Principal of DEI Advisors. We are a non profit organization dedicated to personal empowerment. I am delighted to welcome Giselle Maronta, SVP of Sales and Marketing at Atrium Hospitality. Giselle, it is such an honor to have you with us today.

Gissell Moronta:

Thank you, Dorothy. I believe the honor and privilege is mine. This space has become really a great inspirational space to speak about leadership. So the honor is mine. Thank you.

Dorothy Dowling:

Thank you, Giselle. So I'm hoping we always start with every DEI advisor and ask them to share their career journey with us. And Giselle, you just had an amazingly progressive career in sales and marketing leadership with large brands and management companies, as well as on property leadership roles. And you also have an Ivy League education, which is extraordinarily impressive in terms of your credentials. So I'm hoping that you can tell us about your start in the Dominican and how that has led to your senior executive role.

Gissell Moronta:

Yes. Thank you. It has been a 30 plus years of a very rewarding career. I think you already said it. I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and educated in the Dominican Republic. I came to United States. Already as an adult at the age of 23, but my career started in Santa Domingo after I finished college I got a job as a business transient manager and Downtown property in Santa Domingo and that's way back when sales was different when we had to knock on doors every day and come back at the end of the day and just Write, hand write, write a report of how the date went. And then when I moved to United States it was, seemed very interesting because even though I studied English all my life in the Dominican Republic as a second language, my parents forced me to it all throughout the teenage years. At that time, I didn't see the benefit of it, but today I'm very grateful. When I arrived to the United States, I knew grammar. And I knew reading and comprehension, but I was not fluent. Like whenever you learn a language, but you don't practice it every day, you're not fluent. So I had to take a step back and I decided to take a job as a front office agent, because I was very fearful of my accent. I was very fearful of speaking and I just could not envision myself. In a sales job, when I was so fearful, even to leave a voicemail, how can I entertain a customer or, nevermind asking for a sale. So I went to a an applied to front office agent. And I remember the first time that I my very first job in the United States, I received two offers on that first week. And one was at the Westin Wild Thumb. I first came to Massachusetts and I lived on the outskirts of Boston. And one was at the Westin Wild Thumb and the other one was at the Hampton Inn in Natick, Massachusetts. And I remember saying, Oh my God, how can I even work at a Westin? In my opinion, that's such a high end brand. There is no way I am up to part to service or check in or check out any, anyone with this. English. And I consciously took the job at a select service hotel Hampton Inn with half the pay because I just didn't think my English was good enough. And it wasn't in all fairness at that time. So I started at the Hampton Inn and sure enough, in three or four months, I was already, Speaking fluently in with a heavy accent, but fluently, and I started immediately doing well. I was promoted to supervisor and assistant front office manager. And within a year, a sales job was opening at the Hampton Inn and that's where I started. When I transfer. So that's when I started my journey in the United States in sales, had to take a step back to really go back into sales. And then from there, I move into Starwood hotels, which I lasted a whole decade there. I often think in Starwood is where I grew up professionally in this country, because I started as a catering and convention services and director of catering. Literally the first eight years of my career was in catering in this country, in, in the sales discipline. And I remember having the most fun that I have had in my career back then, because just carrying that, being present in the journey of a customer from the moment you buy until the execution, there was something about that. From then I had my first shot as a director of sales in a very small rundown hotel at that time. I think it's okay to say it now. It was the Sheraton Lexington Inn. It was a hotel that we used to joke that let's try to sell it sight unseen because if the customer would see it, he would not buy it. And then it had some. We are mistakes in the systems and in the contracts. And when I got there it turned out that all of the business on the books was really not on the books. And I remember on that first meeting with my regional team the regional director of sales and marketing said to me Giselle, a zero, it's a good number to start. And that was my first director of sales job. And it's, I remember that experience with such a fondness because at the end of the second year in that first role, we ended up winning sales team of the year for starwood hotels. And it just made me think in looking back how brave would become when there's not much to lose at that time. I knew that everybody knew that I was so behind pace. I was starting from zero and nobody had any expectations of me. So we were brave and aggressive with everything that we end up forming a really amazing team. And then from there, I went back to full service hotels and did a few hotels in within Starwood in the Northeast region. I was always very fortunate to be really intentional of any next role that I would take. I will look at it as. What else is it going to add to my resume? If someone would call me or there was an opportunity for something that it was a like hotel or like market, I would respectfully pass or not go for it because I needed to know what else am I going to learn or what else am I going to be. Stretch to contribute in this next role. So I did several years, different hotels, different markets in within Starwood. My last post with Starwood was something for global sales that I thought it was the most interesting thing I had done up to that point, because. It was, we all know today, Starwood no longer exists, but back then when you dial 1 800 STARWOOD, it ran in the team that I was leading. And I was asked to create the very first Inbound RFP team for starboard hotels. And it was based out of call center. And I remember when I was hired and I was given a pilot with a PowerPoint with 10 slides, and that was all, it was an idea. And three years later I left. Leaving a multimillion dollar operation. And that one was especially interested because it was the first time in my career that I was in charge with something more than just sales. I was like the CEO of this team. I was given 30 agents and a space in a call center. And I was suddenly the finance guy that needed to produce a P and L. I was the HR person that needed to hire and resolve HR issues and develop training. And then. Create all this operation in learned about call centers and how phone systems work. So it's stretched my brain and my experience beyond sales. And that's why I always feel that was so rewarding for me. After that, I jumped from a big brand. Into management company. That's when I make the leap. And the reason I make that leap is because it was everyone at that time told me that I was crazy living star with such an amazing company. And it was an amazing company, but at that time I needed other experiences. I need a multi property. I needed other brands. I only knew Starwood. I didn't know what other brands were. Or other markets. So I have I progressed through that with some area and regional roles in different, a couple of different companies in the Northeast that gave me the experience of select service, midsize hotels, large hotels, Marriott. Things that I didn't know up to that point in my career, and that's why I value so much that experience because it stretched me learning so many other things. And even being part when I was in TPG, which was the last management company prior to this one that I'm in. I was in Providence and it gave me the experience of leading the flagship hotel for a management company and the headquarter hotel for a city and being able to partner with the CBB and being part of either the city making a deal or not making a deal because my hotels were the key to the city. Really landing a particular citywide, it was another level of partnership that I never knew up to that point. So I treasure that so much. And then from them, I, I jump into Atrium, which is the position I have today. And even in Atrium, it's going to be nine years and it has been quite a journey. I have had three steps and promotions and different roles and different things that I lead. And Every time that someone says you've been with Atrium eight, nine years, almost nine years, doesn't it get boring? And I'm like, if you would only know how challenging my job is every couple of years, there's something new that we are doing. And today I'm in a role that I lead five different departments. And they each 5 of them generate revenue or contribute to the top line of the organization in a very unique way. So the challenge in itself keeps me so motivated and and so so excited. It's a long career. It's a long different things. But I just have felt that it's important to try to challenge yourself and contribute in different ways. So you can continue to add one more experience to that resume every time you make a change.

Dorothy Dowling:

Thank you for sharing your career journey with us, Giselle. And I love the intentionality in terms of. Really building your future. There's a book that I referenced. I was at the forward event not too long ago, and it's called career forward, and that's just a mindset. And it talks about particularly women do not really own their career journey with the intentionality that you certainly have. But it is having that forward vision in terms of Really thinking about the growth trajectory and being intentional about planning your career about where you want to get to. So I thank you for that. And I I also give you a lot of credit for having that commitment to drive your personal brand and your growth journey the way that you have. I'm sure there's been a personal mantra that has influenced that decision making. I don't know if you can share that with us in terms of how it has shaped you.

Gissell Moronta:

Yes. And it's a little bit of what I almost I mentioned earlier is I would not be in the pursuit of just the title. Or the money. No, that money's not important. And title is not important. They're both things that are very important, but they are not the decision making. I think you need to, my mantra has always been is. What else am I going to learn and how in what different way am I going to be able to contribute to that role that it will shape not only those that I'm working with and it will shape me. If it's not different, if it's not more challenging, if it's not it will, Challenge my mind to learn something. I would not pursue it. I would not pursue it.

Dorothy Dowling:

Carol Dweck talks about that growth mindset. So you obviously had it before that phrase was even coined Giselle. So again, kudos to you for having that determination to continue your growth and your education through. That lived experience and in broadening your sales and marketing and all of the elements that have really built your career. Have you had anyone that has mentored or championed your career that has been important to you?

Gissell Moronta:

Oh, I'm not sure anyone could have such a a large career journey without great mentors along the way. And I think each one of them I think there's a, Few people that come to mind, but each one of them come came at a, at the perfect time in my career. I don't know if you have heard of the phrases when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I feel that's how for me early, early in my career. I was catering manager at the Sheraton Framingham. There was a general manager that. Shaped my early times in business because she was very direct and very intentional with me. She was very tough. And I remember a lot of people around me saying, doesn't it bother you that she's so aggressive or tough with you? And I kept saying, no, it doesn't because I. First of all, I trust that she had the best interest at heart, but also she was one that would not spend time with pleasantries. She would say, move away. Let me show you how to really write this correctly in English. Giselle, things like that today, maybe new generation would take offense or we'll take someone to HR because of those things. But for things that simple or even how to dress properly, Appropriately for a meeting in the boardroom because senior leadership was coming to the hotel, how to behave, how to eat at a business meeting, those things were critical for me 30 years ago, and I remember a lot of people that told me. The way she talks to me is not right. And I was just so appreciative. I was sponge and grateful until this day we continue to be closed. And I tell her, I know it was hard, but thank you for being brave enough to plow through without being fear fearful of any repercussions. I appreciated all of that. There were some others throughout my career that taught me different things. I had a general manager in Providence. That taught me was the first person that started to teach me about what it meant and the importance of emotional intelligence in that period of my career in Providence. We had a lot of union issues and negotiations and things like that. And for me, watching this gentleman, Exhibit grace under pressure. He taught me what grace under pressure was. He taught me what it was to really maintain business appearance and tone, even when others were not and that taught me, though, that mentor is it's not only the person that decides to teach you how to Sit down with you or teach you or train you something, but mentor is that one that creates a great example. So it's on you to then catch that and learn from that and emulate the right behaviors and then try not to imitate the ones that are not right. It is for you to discern which ones to learn from and the situations not to. And then even till this day I work for an amazing leader that it's all about leading by example and micro coaching moments. And it's I like surrounding myself by people that I can learn from that challenge me that every once in a while we'll say something that I don't quite understand. And I need to ask for clarification so I can continue to grow. I think the beauty of. My career and what you would call that a strong resume today is that give me that choice. Give me the choice of working with the people that I want to work because I feel I could learn from and I can contribute in a safe way and in an open way and I have that today and it's because of this people that along the way taught me different things that at that moment I needed it. I am just grateful, honestly, that I was able to discern at those moments, because when you're so young, you might not really know what you need. But but I was grateful that I was able to do it.

Dorothy Dowling:

I appreciate you sharing that and sharing how these people wants to Giselle because I have great admiration for your grace and charisma. Now, I understand that was part of your learning journey where people not only gave you very direct advice, but that observational learning that you had from watching others, but you have carried that through. So I'm sure those mentors are extraordinarily proud of the Giselle that they know today, and they probably take some pride in how they might have, Part of that shaping of who you are today.

Gissell Moronta:

Absolutely. I'm not shy, not letting them know how grateful I am.

Dorothy Dowling:

I am sure. So I know you've talked a little bit adversity when you emigrated to the United States, but I'm just wondering if there's anything else in terms of challenging situations that you faced in your career where you had to, approach it and learn from it and overcome it. I'm just wondering if there's anything.

Gissell Moronta:

Yes I think I can refer back to. Even when I started advancing in my career in the early years in Starwood, when I was promoted to director of sales and started growing in my career, winning Some words, the fact remain that English is a second language for me. I will always have an accent back then it was a lot stronger and my grammar was not necessarily very businesslike and I can say that today because I feel I have evolved so much, but back then was a real handicap and it created a lot of insecurities for me. I I would, I was always fearful to even write a marketing plan without checking it 10 times, or if I was invited to present in a ballroom, I was afraid that my accent was too thick and that they will not understand what I would say. So there was a lot of years in which advancing or having a successful year Tremendous amount of energy and more energy and mental space and what he really needed to because of that, those insecurities. So I, what I did was I said I cannot continue this the rest of my life. I need to refine my business writing and my business speaking. And I started taking classes. And at that time. I was bold and I started taking classes in a very ambitious program at the time, and I kept my full time job, which I always say it. It's one of the most difficult things that I have done because some people would going back to school, but put their careers on hold, but financially I didn't have that option. So I had to continue working and I kept my. Full time job. I have, I was a full time wife and a full time mom and it took me a lot longer this program than anybody else because I had to take only two classes per semester and it took me three and a half years. And during those three and a half years, I had to get out of work at five, drive an hour to school, being class until 10 and I would get home. 1130 and then do it again the next day. And then on weekends do homework. And that was for a long time, three and a half years. I usually try to face whatever challenge with let me train myself to do it better. Let me seek the education to do it better. I can tell you that time when I look back. What I, the lessons that I feel it taught me is first and foremost, the single most important decision that anyone can make in their life is choosing their partner because the partner you choose will either help you or prevent you from realizing your full potential. And I was pretty smart choosing mine. The other one is do not underestimate like the small steps, right? I could have many times given up because I was not, it was taking me forever. I saw so many people that I started with graduating and I never did until years later. And and then. Keep at it. Resilience, consistent in small steps. It's what matters. So I just tend to always seek the training. But back then I remember how much and how fearful and how much I struggle because I was not, my English was not good enough that it doesn't play a part anymore because I embrace my accent now. And I understand it's not, but. It was not, and I understand also it is not an issue today because I did study and I did make my business speaking skills better through that program and through several programs. So it is a matter of facing it head on and to choose those around you that will support you and the never forget who's watching till this day. My two boys say that they remember that time as the time that set the bar. So do not forget who's watching when you are doing whatever it is that you're doing.

Dorothy Dowling:

That's an amazingly inspiring story to sell the kind of sacrifices that you made and also the sacrifices your family made to support you and I appreciate you sharing that because it is a journey for the entire family, whether you're working parents in the household, but I do think setting that bar and being a role model for your Children. I'm sure it's very inspiring, not only for them, but I'm sure for you, it makes you very proud in terms of how you set some of that example for them.

Gissell Moronta:

Yeah. Yes, it is. Thank you.

Dorothy Dowling:

So I'd like to move a little bit on to some of the volunteer work that you do because you have taken on this amazingly outsized role with HSMAI, Hospitalized Sales and Marketing Association, as this certification program and training for commercial sales has been going to be very soon released. And it's a really important initiative for HSMAI. And I know for you, it has been. And another big commitment that you have taken on to support the industry and also To support organization. So I'm just wondering if you'd tell us a little bit more about this certification and what it might mean to our audience and why sales in terms of that element of leadership development is important for everyone in their careers.

Gissell Moronta:

Yes. I started volunteering at HSMAI three years ago, and I currently serve in their sales advisor board. I think the sales discipline. Throughout the last couple of decades has. Transform in a way that it has not grow as fast as other disciplines like marketing and as revenue management. When I started my career, two decades ago, sales was in charge of all top line revenues in a hotel and anyone in the hotel would go to sell the sales leader for approval on anything revenue. And I think over the last couple of decades, maybe because technology disruptors evolved faster than what we. Ever imagined. Revenue management evolved with it. So that marketing from inventory optimization systems to the OTAs and the marketing side, they evolve and embrace technology. And as discipline, they surpassed us. And I, that's a very tricky thing to say because I don't want to offend us sales discipline, but the truth is that We stayed somewhat stagnant and we didn't evolve as fast. We didn't embrace technology at the same level that they did. And I feel we have lost a little bit of that swag and that seat at the table and the importance of our seat of the table. And the proof is that in the last, in recent years, when commercial strategy was born as a discipline, those that rose as, Leader of commercial strategy are coming through the path of analytics, right? Of revenue management or distribution or digital marketing. Very rarely. There are a few very smart people that are very proud of them, but very rarely you see a commercial leader that their path has been sales. So I think this or this certification that it just, I it's working on and it's about to be released. I volunteer with. With both feet, I jump into it because I saw it as the opportunity for us to use it as a tool and to inspire the sales leaders that are out there to really want to become commercial leaders, or at least want to be known as they can. To be commercial leaders, and it was created with that very concept of mine. It's a very unique certification different than others that I just, I has and because revenue management is very revenue management driven. And so it's digital marketing. This sales 1 is created with a commercial knowledge in mind. It will have. All the functions of managing a sales department efficiently and generating revenue from a direct sales standpoint and leadership and the things that are necessary to be a great director of sales, but at the same token, it would have business acumen principles of revenue management. There's three chapters in marketing and digital marketing. And. And AI, how you can use it to generate revenue and to better your communications with customers is very well rounded. I think it's a great start. Whether you are a seasoned professional that you just want to certify that you are well rounded commercial leader, or you are a leader that would like to develop. Your sales team to have the commercial mindset and you can use this as a training tool. You can create small vignettes of training and do it on your sales meetings every week and start teaching your salespeople to think like owners and to think commercially, because I think that is the gap that we need to feel that we need to fill. The, We're creating a new generation of sellers that are so used to going to general manager to going to revenue management to say, tell me what rate to quote, rather than presenting a business case, understanding if the piece of business is good or not, and how every single decision that we make. Affects the bottom line. I think it should be part of any sales meeting of saying, let's take 10 minutes and do an exercise of owner's mindset. And let's think like an owner for 5, 10 minutes and do that every week. So you can raise. A team, a generation of sellers that are commercially minded so we can all make better decisions. And I think this certification is going to do just that. I am super excited. The privilege of my life has been to be part of that. We assemble experts and experts. every single area in recruited contributors. So the chapters are not from one person, but from experts in every discipline. It is the most complete program that there's out there for hospitality sales and commercial sales.

Dorothy Dowling:

I'd like to say thank you, Sal. I certainly agree with you that sales has not kept pace with some of the other disciplines and the commercial framing, and I do think it's long overdue, and I appreciate that you have taken such a comprehensive approach, but also just the personal commitment that you have made, because it is a very significant project that you have led and, you've invited a lot of different voices to be part of. Of that product, so I know it's going to be very well received and really help that growth trajectory for many others that want to be commercial leaders in our industry.

Gissell Moronta:

Yes I feel that whether you want to be a commercial leader or not. You should be commercially minded if you are in charge of a hotel or an organization. And I feel it was yes, you're right. A lot of off hours on this project, but it was a labor of love to the sales discipline. I hope that this serves as an inspiration and the catalyst to elevate the sales discipline to also be considered commercial leaders.

Dorothy Dowling:

I think you just said that so brilliantly in terms of making that catalyst to elevate. The last question that I'd really like to ask you about, Giselle, is really about diversity and leadership and, this perspective about why it's important to have representation and why women in particular having senior level positions does really, it really is an important conversation. I'm just wondering if you have any stories that you might share. With our listeners and viewers in terms of why this matters,

Gissell Moronta:

Is it's incredible that how important representation matters. And I have been guilty to not really embrace it or follow it being an immigrant that has had a successful career because I always prided myself. before, whether right or wrong, that I never wanted to be a great Hispanic professional. I always aim to be simply a great professional. And for that, I never wanted to either differentiate myself or talk a lot that I was Hispanic or an immigrant or the challenges, but I, something happened to me a couple of months ago and and I feel it was the moment for me in which I realized how much representation matter. And I didn't not knowing, but from now I'm being very intentional. Moving forward about this. I was invited the leadership conference in my company to be emcee the entire company, the entire conference. So I was on stage for two and a half days doing various things. And during the two and a half days, I also got to moderate a panel of the executive committee. I got to do a small panel Presentation on personal branding and emotional intelligence for our leaders. And I had a time also within their work dinner. So I was on stage all the time and I never thought much of it at the end of the last night, as I am taking the mics off and off my dress. The ballroom was empty and people were clearing out the ballroom. This gentleman from the artificial department comes to me. And at this point, there's a lot of people that are saying, great job. And I was so happy and embracing and receiving with so much pride and grace. All the compliments but this gentleman stopped me and he waited until everyone said left the ballroom. This gentleman stopped me and said that he was part of one of the artificial technicians. And he has watched me the entire couple of days. And he wanted me to know how much it meant to him that not only a Hispanic was on stage, leading a conference. in the United States, but a woman that was Hispanic. He said, you have been the talk behind stage of all the waiters and all the people setting up and cleaning the rooms. I call my daughter and that's the part that I got emotional. He said, I call my daughter and I told her you need to see this woman because this could be her, this could be you. That day. I said, wow. Never in my life I thought I could be either making anyone proud just because I was a woman, because I was Hispanic. And people that I didn't notice throughout the two and a half days were noticing me and talking about me and calling their families. And this gentle gentleman I call my husband that night in tears. Because for him to say that he called his daughter and said, you need to meet this woman to me was big. I can tell you that the very next day I have always been very hesitant to post. In social media, anything about me, I would, if you see my track has always been about my company or someone else, because I, there's a fine line between bragging and advocating for yourself. And it's a skill that I feel I'm still developing. But that day I understood the importance of it that day. I understood. And I and I made a post on LinkedIn. Professional network. And it was the most brave, outrageous thing I have ever done, because it's five pictures of Giselle on stage. And I thought it was. Could be pretentious a little, but it was about how I just uncovered that the true meaning of representation and that we need to be the best advocate for ourselves that nobody else is doing your career. Take the shot. If you are given that shot, take it and make sure you tell others because you don't know who you are inspiring. And I, that was a good pivot in my career for sure.

Dorothy Dowling:

That is a beautiful story to sell. And I have to say, I was a little overcome myself as you were sharing it, but that is that theme of diversity is that if you can see it, you can be it. And it's making it relatable for others so that they can see that dream as possible. So I thank you for being such an impactful leader. And as I said to earlier, I have always been a great admirer of your charm and grace and every public environment that I have seen. So you always represent everyone so thoughtfully. So I thank you for all that you do for the industry. I appreciate very much your leadership role with HSMAI and being such a strong advocate for the sales community. And also just the service that you bring back to our industry that. That in and of itself is something that we can all learn from your tremendous role model. So thank you.

Gissell Moronta:

Thank you for the invitation. As I said at the beginning, this has become a very thought after space and I was honored with your invite and I thank you for what you do. You were one that early on gave me the time to advise me in the things that I should and should continue in my career. So I appreciate your time and the example that you lead because helping each other and advocating for each other is how we will rise.

Dorothy Dowling:

There is absolutely no question about that, Giselle. Again, I appreciate you and I thank you for your kind words. And if I may, because we're coming up to the end of our interview, I just would like to. Also, thank our audience and say if you have enjoyed this interview with Giselle, I hope you'll visit us on our website, DEIAdvisors. org, where you're going to see other leaders like Giselle, their webcasts and podcasts, and hopefully they will continue to empower your knowledge and feel your spirit just like Giselle has done for us today. So I hope to see you there. Thank you.

Gissell Moronta:

Thank you.