By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
Paul Verciglio, general manager of the Park Hyatt Hotel Toronto strikes up a conversation with the man who has joined him waiting for the hotel elevator.
He notes that he had met several people from the man’s company working out at the hotel gym. “And as a group, they were more fit than most people I meet at the gym,” he adds.
“I’ll pass that along to them,” the man says, beaming.
Verciglio was putting his management style into action. It’s conversations like this that make a person’s stay memorable and inspire them to return, he says. One of the few Toronto hoteliers who lives with his wife Trudy at the hotel, he doesn’t need an e-mail to tell him if there are problems in the gym or with the hotel breakfast—he’s on the scene.
“You can’t change the demands of the job. I have been on call 24 hours a day for the last 42 years.” He recalls one time when he was called back from fishing on the French River, south of Sudbury. Still wearing his flannel shirt and fishing clothes, he sat on a cooler in a van all the way down to Highway 401, where he was picked up by a limousine that took him to the hotel.
Verciglio began his career in the hospitality industry 52 years ago, when he was hired by the Hotel Niagara in Niagara Falls, NY as what was then termed a “busboy” at the tender age of 15, earning 62 cents an hour. From there he progressed to jobs as bellman, banquet server and bartender.
After high school, he didn’t particularly want to go to college. “My father gave me a choice—and in those days kids did what their fathers said. If I didn’t want to go to college, I could join the army. I decided to go to college for hotel management.”
In the 1960s, that was an unusual thing to do. There were only a handful of schools offering hotel management in the U.S.
Verciglio avoided Cornell and other schools because they required chemistry—“which I knew was beyond me.” He ended up at University of Denver School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, simply because they didn’t require chemistry.
“I was not a directed sort of young person —in the neighbourhood I grew up in you had to figure your way out. My father was a factory worker,” Verciglio explains. “I basically got into the hotel industry because I didn’t know anything else.” He did qualify for law school after completing his undergraduate degree, but decided to stay in the lodging business.
“I feel sorry for those who never fail”
If there’s one quality that will ensure success, not just as a general manger, but also in life, it’s respect, notes Verciglio. “For you to be good at your job, you need to be extremely respectful of your staff, your guests and your colleagues. You learn that in a traditional old Italian home. If you don’t have respect, then you’ll probably have some issues.
“Your career never goes straight to the top; there are always ups and downs. If you haven’t had failure, you don’t have the same kind of humility. I almost feel sorry for people who haven’t had any failure in their life. You learn just as much by being wrong as by being right.”
When Verciglio retires he will not only be leaving his job but also the place he has called home for the past 19 years. “I can’t take the beautiful Park Hyatt Toronto with me, but what I can treasure is my fondest memories—notes and cards from people I have helped do well, kind notes when I said I was retiring. I’ve saved them, and at some point someone will look at them and know what kind of person their father and grandfather was.”
And what was the worst part of the job? “Fire alarms,” says Verciglio. “That goes with living in the hotel—there’s nothing worse than a fire alarm at 2 a.m.!
“Challenging things happen. There are a lot of life stories in a hotel, a lot of happiness and a lot of sadness, people starting their lives in hotels and people ending their lives.”
Technology the biggest change
Technology is the biggest change by far, says Verciglio looking back over his career. “When I started there were no copy machines, no fax machines, no electronic calculators, and no PMS systems. Everything was manual. At budgeting time, we sharpened our No. 6 pencils, got big sheets of paper and started writing numbers down.”
The number of female travellers has changed as well. When Verciglio started women didn’t even represent 10 per cent of guests. “Hotels, especially in the Midwest, were strictly male-driven, with Willy Loman-type sales people exchanging product samples in the parking lot. The bars were busy, and people drank and smoked. Even the servers and cooks had an ashtray going.”
Both situations have reversed. “We have slightly more female than male travellers at the hotel, and of 346 guest rooms at the Park Hyatt, we only allow smoking in 12.”
“I’m going to retire”
Verciglio says he doesn’t want to be a consultant, teach or trade this job for another one—that he is really going to retire. One of his friends put it well in a note to him recently.
“Paul,” he wrote, “I hope that you exchange your hectic life for one of leisure, long visits with family, and taking pleasure in life’s simple joys.”
By dividing his time between a summer home on Grand Island, NY and a winter home in The Villages community north of Orlando, FL, Verciglio plans to do just that. Retirement will also include visits to Cleveland and the Catskill Mountains to visit his two sons and their families, including a two-year-old grandson and a second grandchild due in May.
“Considering where I started in life, as the son of immigrants, what I have ended up doing in life is so far away from what I thought I could achieve. I have never forgotten where I came from and always appreciated what I have.
“I have been a good steward for the Pritzker family that owns the Park Hyatt, and spent their money as if it were my own.”