Dorothy Dowling: Likability and CQ

As someone who has made it to the top echelon of a major hotel company, Dorothy Dowling is often asked her recipe for success as a woman and a marketer.

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

PHOENIX — When Dorothy Dowling, executive vice-president of sales and marketing at Best Western, was in her mid-20s, she attended a sales session where participants had to stand up and chant, “People do business with people they know and like.” The experience was embarrassing for a young, introverted  sales person, and Dowling initially dismissed it. 

“But the moment stuck with me,” she told Canadian Lodging News in a wide-ranging interview. “Over the years, I learned that relationships are the currency of life. You still have to have numbers on the board and clear business actualization plans, but if you don’t have that likability factor, you won’t be successful.”

As someone who has made it to the top echelon of a major hotel company, Dowling is often asked her recipe for success as a woman and a marketer.  While she stresses that there is no playbook and that each person’s career is a journey, she also talks about a new dimension — the curiosity quotient or CQ — as one of the characteristics of success.

The CQ refers to people who are mentally hungry, want to learn and can embrace change. “It’s a commitment to not being stuck and being open to change from learning,” she said.

But, she added, “The next generation belongs to women — they will really hit their stride, demonstrating that they are poised to grow.”

Roots in Canada

Dowling is a dual Canadian and U.S. citizen, born in Toronto and attending University of Waterloo. Her early career took her from Toronto to the U.S. and then back to Canada. “Half of my career has been in Canada,” said Dowling, including work for the predecessor to Destination Canada (Canadian Government Office of Tourism), teaching at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont., working for Laventhol and Horvath, Relax Hotels & Resorts and Forte (Travelodge). She has been president of Travelodge Canada, worked at Aramark and arrived at Best Western 10 years ago.

“My roots are in Canada, our extended family is in the Greater Toronto Area, and my son is a hockey player who goes to summer camp up there. I still stay connected,” she said.

Asked about a typical day in the life, Dowling smiled. “There’s not much typical anything at Best Western.” She travels about 200 days a year, dealing with project management. She gets up very early to call European partners, deals with domestic issues in the daytime, and in the evening works at closing the gap with Asian/Pacific stakeholders. “I’m a big believer that you have to be in front of parties to meet their needs,” she said.

The foundation of Best Western is as a collective; a lot of individual stakeholders contribute. The framework includes more than 2,000 North American members, with decisions made by a balloting process. “With international affiliates, we are conservative in our approach. We want best outcomes and understand how we have to shape and reshape [our approach].”

Dowling says that it is also important for North American organizations to ensure that decisions and programs applied to the U.S. are nuanced for Canadian sensibilities and are appropriate for that market. 

Balancing work and family life

Dowling says that she is blessed to be married to Stephen James, her husband of more than 30 years. “My husband and I went to graduate school together. He couldn’t work in the  U.S. when we first came, and our son was only two years old when we moved. Stephen put his career on the back burner and our son had the good fortune to have his father fully dedicate his time to him.” Her son recently celebrated his 21st birthday, attends university in Boston and is doing well, she added.

Dowling sees David Kong, Best Western’s president and CEO since 2004, as “a transformational leader for our [Best Western] brand. He has a level of fellowship with hoteliers that is unsurpassed in our history. He understands how to build a good business case for change.” Notable is his quest for quality — over the last 10 years Best Western has separated from more than 1,000 hotels. “The collective and organization health is his first criteria.”

Awards and accolades

In September 2013 Dowling was named vice president of the Global Business Travel Association Allied Leadership Council. Dowling currently serves on, and is a former chair of the HSMAI Americas Board of Directors, and is past president of HSMAI Canada. 

She has been honored with a number of awards, including being named one of the most influential CMOs in the world by Forbes/Appinion, receiving the prestigious American Hotel Foundation Award for Best Practices in Guest Loyalty Programs, and twice being listed among HSMAI’s Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing. In 2014, Dowling was inducted into the Direct Marketing News Marketing Hall of Femme. 

Before joining Best Western, Dowling held executive-level positions with ARAMARK’s parks, resorts and conventions divisions. She began her hospitality career in Canada after earning a joint Masters of Arts degree in sociology and leisure studies from the University of Waterloo in Ontario. In 2008, Dorothy received the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award.