Name: Denise Coll ’75 Position: Former President Company: North America Division Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Location: Boston Program: Undergraduate Major: Hospitality & Tourism Management
In sharing professional development insights with Isenberg students, Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) graduate Denise Coll ’75 has been a stellar role model for all Isenberg alumni. “Each year, I typically mentor five HTM students, four of them by phone and one face-to-face,” she observes. “As a successful female executive, I am more than happy to share my story, especially with young women.” In October, Denise was one of four panelists who offered HTM freshmen an insider’s view of the hospitality profession. And in a late August, also as a panelist, she shared professional reflections and career advice with Isenberg’s first-year full-time MBA students.
Denise has a wealth of experiences from which to draw. Her 36 years as a hotel industry professional culminated in 2007-2013 when she excelled as president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide North America. The $11 billion dollar division encompasses 500+ hotels across the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and French Polynesia. As president, Denise directed strategic planning, strategic and operational execution, financial oversight, leadership development, product branding, and other activities.
During the challenging economic recession of 2008-2009, Denise led her division in increasing its portfolio from 447 to 553 hotels. It earned record guest satisfaction scores and achieved double-digit growth. And she championed its entry into the boutique hotel segment with the launch of two new hotel brands.
The foundation of her career, Denise emphasizes, has been in hotel operations. Complementing that, she has expanded her industry experience through managerial challenges on the individual hotel, regional, and corporate levels. And in mid-career, she helped secure her upward professional mobility by earning an MBA.
Advice to Aspiring Professionals. Is it a better bet to hire hospitality professionals who are innately hospitable or can anyone be trained to excel in those roles? “I used to say that we hire for attitude—passion and commitment—and train for skill,” Denise replies. “In any event, the industry is growing at warp speed. The hospitality ‘space’ is very exciting for Isenberg graduates and the students that I mentor.”
“Allow time for networking throughout your career; it’s a crucial investment,” she observes. “Never lose sight of your connections with successful people around you. That means face-to-face connections with people whom you know; with people who share your area of interest and who you can learn from. What your network looks like is can reflect your own long-term success.”
Over the years, hospitality, notes Denise, has evolved into a business with higher management standards. But it remains a people business—“a fun way to be in business where no two days are alike.” “Ultimately, you succeed with your team,” she emphasizes. To that end, “I learned to trust my team and to delegate; to avoid holding on to everything.” That is doubly important, she says, because “it gives others on the team a chance to grow.”