Around the Water Cooler With a Holiday Inn Executive

Whether your employees are scrubbing toilets or cooking 5-star meals, make them feel valued.

Holiday Inn President Kirk Kinsell
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Kirk Kinsell could request the finest champagne, or demand chocolates on his pillow every night, but the president of the largest hotel company in the world likes to keep his room service orders simple. All he asks for is a bowl of granola and blueberries in the morning, and some water on the side.

The 58-year-old is a fourth-generation hotelier. His great-grandfather built what is now known as the Clift San Francisco, a Morgans Hotel, which his grandfather ran as the general manager. Kinsell's father deviated from the hospitality business by becoming a pediatrician, and Kinsell admits he once entertained going into medicine. "Then I found out I liked surfing more than organic chemistry," he jokes.

Today, Kinsell is responsible for 3,600 hotels that are part of the InterContinental Hotels Group in the Americas. While travelers may not recognize the IHG corporate name, they've likely stayed in one of its brands – Holiday Inn Express, Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, to name a few. Kinsell joined IHG in 2002 as chief development officer for the Americas region and later on spent four years as IHG president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

U.S. News spoke with Kinsell from Atlanta on a recent Friday, expecting him to be looking forward to the weekend. It turned out, he felt quite opposite. "Monday is actually my favorite day of the week," he says. "It's my chance to come back and be with my team." We asked him more about his team of 190,000 employees in 23 countries, and how he makes everyone, from maids to concierges, feel their job is essential. His responses have been edited.

You received a master's degree in hotel administration from Cornell. How important is it for people entering the hotel industry to get an education in hospitality?

Getting a degree and going off to college is important. There's never any kind of jeopardy or disadvantage to getting more education. Getting education in the hospitality space can improve and hone your skills for our industry and getting an advanced degree can be beneficial, but one of the things about the hotel business we like to say is, "We don't create jobs, we create careers." We have lots of evidence across our company and our industry of people who came in at low-level jobs and didn't have the benefit of education. They didn't have access to it perhaps or it just wasn't within their mindset, and they took a job and today they are leading many important parts of IHG's business or the industry.

[See: Best Hotels in the USA.]

For a business with employees all over the world, what's the best way to communicate a message to ensure it's followed through?

Understand your own purpose and how you communicate that to people about aligning it with a company. Then you can work on others and help them understand what their purpose is. I've traveled and worked across a great deal of the world. The one common thing I find about everybody, and I mean from cultural, age, gender to geographic differences, is everybody wants their work to have meaning. So you have to take the context of your message and what you want people to do and translate how that work is going to contribute to a greater good. Therefore, that energy and that fuel that makes Mondays the favorite day of the week stems from their enthusiasm to come to work and to do good work for that reason.

For people whose jobs involve cleaning up after others – like maids, for example – how can managers keep them motivated to do their daily tasks when maybe their daily tasks are not so fun?

First, it's understanding who those people are. Get to know them personally. Know their names. Know their families. Know their backgrounds. Know what's of interest to them. Make them feel valued, No. 1. Whether they're with you for a day or with you for 30 years, it's important to know your employee base.

[Quiz: 6 Dirty Jobs Somebody Has to Do.]

No. 2 is what they do matters. Help them make that connection. The one thing people want when they travel is to know they are going to have a safe and clean room. For someone who is a room attendant to understand that is really the core of table stakes. In the absence of that, the rest of someone's trip is ruined. But if you can deliver that, then you can deliver a great guest experience.