Fortify

Fortify.

Verb. to make strong. To strengthen or invigorate (someone) mentally or physically.

When I was born, my mother and father brought me home.

Home was a 30-room, independent property called Bainbridge Motel. My parents owned and operated it. We lived on-property as well.

My brother and I would play with a horse toy in the hallway. I would hide under the swing in the living room. In the seating area, we played with a toy train that ran circles around us.  Fly swatters hung from the walls. My mom would give us a swift whack with one if we were bad. It was the simplest time of my life.

As opportunities sprang up in different cities, we started to move.

Sugar Land, Texas.

Lima, Ohio.

Miamisburg, Ohio.

Owning and operating hotels was a source of pride for my parents. They were immigrants from India and England. They were lord and master of their own domain. I was so proud of them, even as a little girl.

I learned four important lessons from growing up in hotels with my family that are the foundation of my personal philosophy, which I will share later on.

When my folks managed a Quality Inn in Dayton, Ohio, we moved into a house. It had shingles on the roof. A fence. A backyard. A driveway. A place to put up Christmas lights.  A front porch to place a pumpkin.

I was four years old. I appreciated those 4 years in the house. My parents had realized the American real estate dream. They came to this country. Worked hard. Had a family.

Bought a house.  

But—There was a new buzz in the Asian American community. Houston was the place of opportunity for hotel owners. We would be moving again. My parents bought a 32-room Super 8 Motel in League City, Texas.

Looking back, 1996-2006 were the simplest years of my life. I think about all the lessons I learned observing my parents as they moved from hotel to hotel.

Here are the four important lessons that I learned:

1. Do the work.

As a kid, my friends called me the “Indian Paris Hilton.” It’s because we owned a branded (Wyndham) property. However, that’s where my similarities with the heiress ended. I had to fill in at the front desk when staff didn’t show up. I jumped in on weekends to do laundry and make beds. She was probably watching Saturday morning cartoons.

I was confused. Why did my parents have to do all this work as owners? 

“It doesn’t matter if you own the place or just work there. You have to pull up your sleeves and do the work when no one else can or will. Your guest does not care if housekeeping didn’t show up. When your guest arrives, they expect a clean room and good service.”

We sold the Wyndham property last summer. I was still making rooms on days the housekeepers didn’t show up.

2. Pay attention to the details.

Pick up cigarette butts in the parking lot. Pick up any trash in the hallways. Position the bed pillows the same way. Position the corners of the bed covers so they are parallel with the ground. No streaks on surfaces. Put everything back in its place.

I have ADD and I HATED having to attend to all these of details.  I did it. The alternative was a tongue lashing from my parents. What was the point? I’m sure the guests don’t notice. I’m sure they don’t care.

My parents would say “This is our home. This is our place of business. We are inviting someone to visit with us.  When friends and relatives visit us in our apartment upstairs, we welcome them into a clean space. We must do that with the hotel guests.”

A positive first impression sets the tone for the rest of experience. The details are important. I still get frustrated like I did when I was younger, but I pay attention to the details.

3. Be compassionate.

My mother was super kind to everyone. She would buy gifts for the staff for the holidays. She made an extra plate of food for those working the front desk shift late at night.

I asked my mom, “Why do you feed them? Do they not have enough money?”

The front desk was manned by college kids who worked for pocket money. They left their families behind. My mom took pity on them. “They spend 8 hours of their day here at our home. It is the least I can do to make them feel like at home and show appreciation in my own way. We don’t lose anything by being kind.” 

When I came of age and started bringing down the plates of food, I saw the smiles on their faces. “Thank you.”

From observing my parents, I learned to have boundaries with our direct reports. But I learned that compassion goes a long way. It fuels motivation and purpose.

4. Don’t forget your humanity.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina rocked southeast Louisiana.  People lost everything. Thousands sought refuge in Houston. Many found a home in our Days Inn.

My parents appealed to local leadership for donations. My brother and I asked friends and school administrators for donations. Soon, we had a room full of clothes, toys, toiletries, and books.

It was evident that many of our hotel guests weren’t going back to Louisiana. My mom provided parents with information on schools are in the area. She stocked the front lobby with new resident brochures.

In 2017, when Hurricane Harvey hit southeast Texas, folks lost everything. This time, the victims were local. I was the Assistant GM of the Super 8.  I knew what to do. I had learned by watching my parents. I extended the same helping hand.

I had learned the value of showing humanity, even in business.

In the end of 2019, I launched my hospitality company during a turbulent time.  I was scared. Scared to fail. Scared to compromise. Scared for the worst thing that could happen

However, my mind and spirit were invigorated by the journeys of the two generations before me. They fortified me too.

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