Robert (Bob) Leoppky, vice president, Western Canada, for Atlific Hotels & Resorts, has certainly made a mark on the British Columbia hotel scene, having trained a number of general managers of Vancouver and area hotels. Kris Szylowski, GM Holiday Inn Vancouver Downtown; Janice MacDonald, GM Best Western Bakerview Inn; Suzanne Allemeier, GM Residence Inn by Marriott Vancouver Downtown; and Jared Sissons, GM Executive Suites Hotel and Resort Squamish are just a few of the hoteliers he has encouraged over the years. In fact, said Sissons, the four of them all worked together at the Holiday Inn Vancouver Downtown at the same time. CLN spoke to Leoppky about the importance of mentorship in the hospitality industry.
By Colleen Isherwood
When Bob Leoppky was a young man, his father asked him what he was going to do for a job.
Leoppky told his father he wasn’t looking for a job. He was looking for a career.
And what’s the difference?
“With a job, you get up to go to work. A career is something I want to do.”
Leoppky’s family had once been part of a small restaurant and hotel in Southern Alberta, but had since moved on.
“When I said I wanted to go into the hotel business, my father looked at me as though I had four heads,” Leoppky told CLN.
“My father was an entrepreneur in private business. He couldn’t understand why I would want to work for someone else. The questions my father asked were good ones.”
After a little bit of self assessment and a little prodding, Leoppky went to work as a banquet porter for what was then called Westin International Hotels.
He applied for their management training program, and didn’t make the cut. But six months later, someone dropped out, and Leoppky was accepted.
The program was beneficial. At that time, companies sponsored their protegees, and the program included both on-campus and off-campus learning.
When he graduated, he worked for Westin. But he found that most of the people in senior positions were 50 years and older—and he decided to look for a company with more progressive senior management.
He joined Atlific Hotels & Resorts as their director of purchasing, a management trainee position. That was in 1972. Last year, he celebrated 40 years with the company.
Companies still have management training
While the best hospitality companies still have management training programs, they don’t provide 100 per cent sponsorship as they did when Leoppky went through the Westin program.
It’s more segmented these days—prospective management trainees have to pursue the opportunities themselves, organizing their own path of study and employment.
“And then you can train some wonderful people, and six months later, they go and work for your competitor,” he said.
Customer service is one aspect of the hotel business that has remained constant during Leoppky’s four decades in the business.
If anything, “the delivery of [customer service] is continually improving. I don’t think we’ll ever get it perfect—we’ll continue to experiment with different ways.”
One experiment that hasn’t worked is checking people in online, using kiosks such as those found at the airport.
“We’ve tested it, tried it and it doesn’t work,” he said. “Interaction between customers and service staff is the same—though it’s improved 10, 100 or 1,000-fold. This is the fundamental principle of our business.”
“I get up every morning and want to get to work”
Leoppky oversees a team of four area managers, plus the directors of operations and finance. His territory takes in 32 hotels from Winnipeg to Victoria.
He oversees operations and finance, does development and site selection, plus some work on new builds.
He said he gets up every morning and wants to get to work.
“If you don’t love [this industry], you’ll probably hate it,” he said. “It’s 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I love everything about my job. I can honestly say there’s very little I dislike. My pet peeve is that I don’t have enough time to do many of the things that I’d like to do.”
Giving back to the industry
Leoppky strongly believes that you’re not doing justice to the industry unless you’re giving back, developing new people to come up in the industry. These people will do something even better than you have done, and eventually take your place.
He looks for people who are able to forge strong relationships, and who are willing to invest social capital. If there is the desire to do that, then you can truly become a mentor, he said.