Suite Success
UNH alums put the "hospitable" in hospitality management

Fresh out of UNH, Lynne Dougherty '78 took on the responsibility of hiring the entire staff for a new 350-room hotel.

WHEN LYNNE DOUGHERTY GRADUATED from the hospitality management program in 1978, she had a clear goal—to become the general manager of a 1,500-room hotel. "I knew there were no women running massive hotels at that time," she recalls, "so I said yes to every opportunity to advance." Saying yes meant moving 14 times in 17 years. It meant calling a hotel home (12 different hotels, actually), lugging her Christmas tree into the freight elevator, and reassuring boyfriends who wanted to know, "Am I supposed to say hello to the bellhop?"

Being a woman may have made achieving her goal more difficult, but she had some other things going in her favor, she says. One advantage was the location of the UNH hospitality program in the Whittemore School of Business (as opposed to a home economics department, for example), which ensured that she got a strong dose of business subjects like marketing, finance and strategic planning. The industry happened to be booming when she graduated, and she was ready to follow her ambition.

"Even though we make a very small footprint in terms of the number of students in the program," says Raymond Goodman, professor and chair of the hospitality management program, "their career track far outweighs the numbers. There may be 30 or 40 students graduating a year, but where they go initially—and where they end up—is amazing."

Dougherty is a perfect example. From UNH, she joined a Sheraton management-training program. At 23, she was named director of human resources at a brand new Sheraton in Charleston, S.C., and was charged with hiring the entire staff for the 350-room hotel. And her responsibilities hardly ended there. On one occasion, she had to evacuate the hotel in response to a bomb threat.

At 26, Dougherty managed a 200-room hotel, and she eventually achieved her goal when she became general manager of a 1,500-room hotel, the Sheraton Washington in Washington, D.C. Today she is senior vice president for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, heading the franchise operations for more than 200 properties, including Westin, Sheraton and Luxury Collection hotels.

In 2003, after a $25 million modernization and renovation, the historic landmark Wentworth by the Sea Hotel reopened—orchestrated by Tom Varley '80.

The bomb threat in Charleston was just Dougherty's first opportunity to take charge in a crisis. "Once I was living in a hotel when the security guard and front desk clerk called in the middle of the night to tell me a woman was giving birth in the hotel," she says. In addition to birthing the occasional baby, she has also had to crawl on the floor beneath a cloud of smoke to evacuate a hotel during a fire. Even seemingly mundane responsibilities can carry great weight. "If you don't train housekeeping right, you can have illnesses," she explains. "It is life or death stuff."

New technology has made the job of managing a hotel a bit easier. Dougherty was required to live in the hotels she managed because "in those days we didn't have cell phones, BlackBerrys or e-mail. So we had to have a key decision maker in the hotel in case of crisis or challenge." (New alumnae will also find the hospitality management industry more, well, hospitable. Sixty percent of the students in the UNH program today are women, as are nearly half of the managers in the industry.)

Changes in technology haven't changed the fundamental nature of the job, which is all about leadership, according to Dougherty. To be successful requires not only excellent organizational and communication skills—both speaking and listening—but also "creativity and passion," she says. "You have to love what you do."

Making Things Happen

In addition to the "life or death" decisions Dougherty describes, managers shoulder a lot of financial responsibility in an industry that employs 12 million people and produces billions in revenue every year. Sometimes there are less tangible things at stake as well, like the preservation of history, a reputation or the hopes and dreams of many local citizens. All of these came to bear on Tom Varley '80 when he oversaw the reopening of Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle, N.H., one of the few remaining grand seaside resorts in the country.

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