Harpwest Hospitality Institute had the pleasure of interviewing Rosa Cook, the esteemed General Manager of the Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort.
With Disneyland only 1.5 miles away from the Sheraton Park Inn has an exhilarating sweeping view of the entire theme park, Rosa’s property accommodates travelers from every inhabited continent in the world. With her 20 plus years in the tourism and travel industry, Mrs. Cook has undoubtedly garnered invaluable career insight that she graciously shares with the Harpwest community in this month’s Hospitality Hero’s Spotlight. Read along as Rosa takes time from her schedule to give us an insider’s perspective on what it takes to be a hotel general manager.
Harpwest Hospitality Institute: On behalf of Harpwest, it’s students, and community thank you for speaking with us. We are truly excited to share your career journey with our school. First can you share what was your first job in the hospitality industry & did you originally know you wanted to be a General Manager?
In 1994 I stumbled into a Sales Administrative Assistant at the Anaheim Hilton. Prior to that, I was working as a Receptionist/Secretary for a Workman’s Compensation company. When I left, the Hilton had an ad, and that’s how I got my foot in the door.
HHI: Can you take us through your professional journey to your current position?
RC: One year into working at the Hilton, the management team had plans to place the administrative assistants into a typing pool, which would have completely changed the nature of my work. It would have taken away the personal aspect of the job I loved so much, so I started looking for another job.
The Sheraton Park was looking for an Executive Administrative Assistant to support two Sales Managers and one General Manager; so I applied and was hired for the job in September 1995. Shortly after, the Sheraton Park was acquired by another company and their management came in and started cutting jobs. It was scary because my General Manager was let go, but luckily I was able to stay on. Even though I lost my General Manager, the new General Manager – Russ Cox – became my mentor!
Russ was a firm believer in promoting from within. He even told our team outright, “Anyone who’s interested in furthering their career, come speak to me.” A few weeks later I plucked up the courage, walked into his office and said, “I’m a single mom and one day I’d like to be sitting in your seat.” Russ looked at me and said, “I’ll open the doors but you have to do the work.” I was thankful for the opportunity and knew I had to commit in order to be successful. This wasn’t a job position where I could say “no weekends, no nights.” Whenever anyone needed assistance – banquets, housekeeping etc – I was there. Russ really taught me what went on behind-the-scenes because I acted as his interpreter as well. So I went from being an Executive Administrative Assistant, to a Human Resources Manager, to the Restaurant Manager, to a Sales Manager. After investing 10 years, in May 2005 I was promoted to my first General Manager position. I wouldn’t have learned what I learned without working side by side with my staff.
HHI: What’s one quality a General Manager must possess to be successful?
RC: You have to love and enjoy what you do, and work side by side with your staff. Your staff is a reflection of you: if they succeed, you succeed, and if they fail, you fail.
HHI: What is next for you in the Hospitality field and what tools or resources are you utilizing to achieve it?
RC: My ultimate goal is to go back to school, get my Bachelor’s degree and become a Regional Manager. I’m interested in overseeing several properties and working side by side in supporting and developing General Managers. In terms of resources, I work really closely with my Regional Manager…shadowing, overseeing and asking questions whenever possible; but every once in a while I use online resources. I belong to the Anaheim Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau where we’re always talking about who’s moving, who’s looking for what and what’s happening in general. I’m always reaching out to others since everyone sees things differently. It’s amazing what we can learn by being out in the community. Training never ends!
HHI: How have you as a General Manager helped to professionally develop your employees? Is there an example or particular employee that stands out to you?
RC: Oh I really like this question! A General Manager’s responsibility is to build future leaders. I need to continue the tradition of promoting from within in order to tell human resources, “Jane Doe is ready and developed”. My job is to build my future replacement.
Just like my mentor, I’m opening doors and informing my team that they have to put in the work to get a career. General Managers need to talk with their staff about who wants to grow by asking questions like, “you’ve been here for X years, what’s in store for the next two to five years, and how can I help?” Some people are happy where they are and don’t want to advance, but others do. A handful of my associates have become Assistant General Managers, General Managers, and one who even became a Regional Director.
HHI: What would you tell someone who is thinking of becoming a General Manager?
RC: It’s not an easy road but it’s definitely worth it, but the passion definitely has to be there. Without passion it’s hard to have your staff believe in you or to be successful. It’s rewarding to see a successful hotel with high GSS (guest satisfaction scores), developed associates, and increased hotel revenue.
HHI: What do you wish someone had told you about becoming a General Manager?
RC: My mentor was straightforward and honest, so I was warned about what crazy business I was getting into! You have to always be accessible to your property so the phone can ring at all times. If you empower your staff to take care of guests, you won’t be getting called 24/7.
HHI: What’s your favorite activity or hobby?
RC: I love running half and full marathons! The last one I did was the San Francisco half marathon and I’m preparing for the Rock and Roll in Los Angeles. The next full marathon will be in December in Honolulu. I get to visit different states and what better way to see them than through running?
HHI: Who do you admire most?
RC: The individuals who keep me motivated and keep me going. I have one 23 year-old daughter and twins who are 16 years-old, one of whom was diagnosed with autism. Life changes completely with kids. You start doing things for the future of your kids, which keeps me motivated and moving since I’m providing for them.
HHI: Thank you again, Rosa, for taking the time to give our readers a glimpse into the live of a Hotel General Manager. Your experience is truly valuable and motivating, and will surely be useful to our readers.
RC: My Pleasure!
Rosa Cook’s journey to General Manager can be just as you unique as your’s one day! If you believe that your passion, purpose, and future is leading you to a career in Hospitality Management, please contact a Harpwest Hospitality Insitute Career Counselor at 1 (855) 431-4277; option 1. Our passion and purpose resides in partnering with our students to provide the education and training foundation for their next promotion opportunity.