Courtesy of St. Regis Hotels & Resorts
“This Woman’s Work” is an ongoing series meant to highlight how women in different industries are living their lives. We hope to show that there’s no one “right” way to succeed. There are so many ways, and so many different experiences.
Lisa Holladay’s job as global brand leader and vice president at The Ritz-Carlton and its affiliates has dreamy credentials: She gets to define luxury travel, see some of the world’s most stunning corners, and, ahem, attend events that require her to be in a 10-yard radius of Prince Harry, including this month’s Sentebale Polo Match, in which the Duke of Sussex will play. (The St. Regis, a division of The Ritz-Carlton, is a longtime supporter of Sentebale, the charity founded by The Duke of Sussex and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, which aids vulnerable children and young people affected by HIV in Lesotho and Botswana.)
Even if an HRH adjacency isn’t a thing your profession could reasonably involve (a person can still dream), Holladay’s smart words of work wisdom will inspire nonetheless.
How do you describe what you do?
“I ask someone to think about their last hotel stay–everything from the check-in process and the design of the lobby to their room key, the look and feel of their room, the bath amenities in the shower, and the room service menu. That is my job, defining and helping create the experience our guests will have when staying at a Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis hotel. My job isn’t to sell you a room, but to provide you with an experience. I guide how we tell our brand stories and speak to consumers.”
What’s an average day like?
“Every day is different, which I love. An average day might include visiting one of our properties, whether to see a renovation, meet with a general manager, or just to check in. And on the road or not, I am constantly in contact with my amazing team to discuss everything from partnership and sponsorship ideas, marketing strategies, brand activations and events, and the guest experience. Since I’m working with people based all around the world, when my days starts and ends can be quite irregular to accommodate different time zones. I do try to start my day with a workout because it’s a great way to get my mind and body moving.”
What’s the most challenging part of your work? The most fulfilling?
“I love what I do, so it’s hard to call it a job. Travel is one of my favorite hobbies and something I’m passionate about, so I feel incredibly lucky to work in the industry. In addition to the travel, the best part of my job is the people I work with and meet. Since my job is global in scope, I have been given the opportunity to not only see and experience some remarkable destinations, but have also had the chance to interact with people from around the world. The hospitality industry is an amazing community, and I love that anywhere I go in the world I can find a friend. The most fulfilling part of my job is hearing stories from guests who have had a positive experience at one of our properties or who left with a happy memory. It really is an honor to be able to play a role in people’s special moments.
“The biggest challenge, which I would actually call an opportunity, is staying on top of what our guests expect out of a stay and determining how to evolve the guest experience in response. For example, as it became clear that the modern luxury traveler was looking for more of a destination-driven experience we completely evolved The Ritz-Carlton design strategy. Where Ritz-Carlton hotels were all once designed very similarly, they are now deeply rooted in the local culture through design, food and beverage offerings, and programming.”
Do you have a mentor?
“I’ve had many mentors, beginning with my parents and followed by my first boss. It’s important to seek out people who have experience and expertise in different areas and believe strongly in the power of these relationships. I’ve found that people have a lot to teach if you take the time to learn. In fact, I take pride in serving as a mentor to two students from my alma mater, Clemson University, acting as a sounding board and helping to give them a sense of direction for their own future careers.”
Looking back at your career, what are some of the commonalities between different jobs?
“I have always loved storytelling and all of my jobs have included that element. I was with Mercedes-Benz for 12 years, holding various positions, and that’s where I really grew up professionally and realized that working with brands, particularly within the luxury industry, was a true passion of mine. I have a real appreciation for the heritage and history of luxury brands as well as the quality and craftsmanship of product.”
How closely does your current job align with what you thought you wanted to do in college?
“It doesn’t align at all! When I graduated college I never would have dreamed I would be so lucky. In college I actually studied to be a high school English teacher–again with a love and appreciation for storytelling–but student teaching showed me that this wasn’t the path for me. Since I loved writing, after graduating I ended up going into public relations and then marketing, but it wasn’t until I went to graduate school that I discovered that I really loved brand management. Funnily enough, working in the hospitality industry really combines everything I love in my personal life with my professional life: travel, entertaining, and hosting and taking care of people. I really think I ended up where I was supposed to.”
What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to people looking to take the next step in their career?
“Take risks and don’t be afraid to fail.”
If you could go back and change anything about how you got to where you are today, what would you change?
“I honestly don’t think I would change a thing. All of the lessons and experiences I’ve had have helped lead me to this job that I love and shaped me into the leader and professional that I am today. People often stress about finding their dream job right away, but I think it’s healthy for there to be a little trial and error.”
Do you have a ‘work spouse’? A tribe? How has community or friendship affected or helped your work?
“I have the best work squad around. The people you work with play such an important role in your happiness, which subsequently impacts your product and performance. I work with wonderful people that support me, challenge me, and make me laugh every day. I couldn’t do any of this alone.”