Long-term employees give the insiders' view

TORONTO — They know the hotel more intimately than anyone. Canadian Lodging News interviewed six people who have worked at the Chelsea Hotel for more than 15 years, and got their perspective on guest actions and attitudes and the changes in the hotel industry.

Scott Dyson, Lead Bell Captain, 42+ years

Scott Dyson of Chelsea Hotel, Toronto was winner of the 2016 Greater Toronto Hotel
Association (GTHA) Spirit Awards Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and has been a dedicated employee of the hotel for the past 42 years. 

Having joined the hotel in 1976, Scott began his extensive career as a Bellperson and through
his hard work, can-do attitude and dedication, he was promoted to Lead Bell Captain, a position
he proudly holds to this day. Throughout his tenure at the hotel, his passion for the industry
and his consistent, superior service has been well received by both guests and colleagues,
making him an Ambassador of the hotel’s mission and values.

His positive attitude and
commitment to guest service is best exemplified in his acceptance speech, “…and there is really
only three things that matter. First, you take care of the guests…you take care of the building
and you take care of the staff, and then everything else will take care of you.” 

Tracy Ford, director of public relations for the hotel, recalls one weekend when she was duty manager for the hotel. Part of the role is to pretend you are a guest.  She got Scott to take her luggage up to her room. He checked the room for her, and showed her how to change the temperature. “It's that kind of personal service that makes a difference,” said Ford. “He asked if my stay was personal or business, and talked about what to do in the city.

Dyson is also very particular when he checks the room. “If there's an indentation on the bed or the washroom has been used, a woman might be creeped out,” he said. “I check every stick of furniture in every room.”

Dyson had just turned 17 when he started working at the Chelsea, just three months after the hotel opened. At 18, he became the youngest Bell Captain in the city. He will celebrate 43 years with the hotel in February.

Outside of work, Dyson raises championship-winning dogs, including Whippets. “I was very pleased to win the hotel trophy,” he says of the GTHA Lifetime achievement award. “I have so many trophies for the dogs — now there is one for me!”

Annette Harper, Housekeeping Department, 41 years

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Annette used to work at the Toronto police station on Jarvis Street. Then she went to New York City on holiday, liked it, and stayed for five years including one year at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. When she came back to Toronto in 1977, a friend of a friend told her about a job opening at the Chelsea.

“I spent five years as a room attendant, and five years as a floor manager, doing administration and scheduling for 150 people. Before, we did this manually — it's much easier with the computer.

“When the lights are out, we have to do it manually,” she said, recalling the great blackout in August, 2003. “I can do it manually if it's needed.”

The most enjoyable part of the job is meeting new employees and talking to guests on the phone, she said. One of her responsibilities is managing the lost and found.

Annette, who lives in Scarborough, gets up at 3:00 a.m. each morning to be at work by 5:00 a.m. for a job that starts at 5:30 a.m. “I usually leave here at 3:00 p.m., when everything settles,” she said.

Over the years, Annette has seen the hotel grow from one 800-room tower to two towers with 1,600 rooms — Canada's largest hotel. There have been many changes at the hotel during her 41 years there. “The only thing that isn't changed is me!”

Gary Myers, Director of Security and Guest Services, 37 years

Gary Myers started his career at the TD Centre's old head office, working as security supervisor for a few years. When the security company lost the contract, Myers moved over to the Chelsea.

“I was a young guy when I started here. It's a terrific place.  People don't stay unless they're pretty happy,” he said.

Myers' job entails a little bit of everything — he's responsible for bell persons, door persons, security, concierges, recreation, guest services managers and the customer care centre.  Of the 75-plus people Myers oversees, only 12 are security.

“Over the years there have been a lot of great stories and challenges as well,” he told CLN. “We had Amber Alerts, where we found the children here, heart attacks where we've used the defibrillator, and then we've done simple things for people, like walking someone over to the hospital or the drug store. Once a security officer overheard a child who would be going to Sick Kids [hospital], saying she wanted a special drink. The officer went and got the bartender to make her a Shirley Temple.

“We've merged security with service — security doesn't have the hard edge it once had.”

Gary is a doer — the worst part of his job is the administration, but he thrives on the action and the variety. “Every day is different,” he says. “You can go from a quiet moment to all hell breaking loose. 

“Things directly affect us because we're right downtown — like the G20 [riots in Toronto] and the blackout [of 2003]. Everyone comes together regardless of the incident. During the G20, we had to lock down our building a couple of times. The hospitals were locked down. We received so many accolades from the Toronto Police Services and our customers. A lot can go on in a hotel of this size that sees two million guests per year.”

Asked what has changed during his tenure at the hotel, he said, “Changes on the technology side are astronomical. We're able to use it to enhance guest services with electronic locks and keys. We now have information to expedite checking in and out — we know what the guests want because they've told us.”

“At the Chelsea, we've put through so many employees who have gone through and enhanced their careers to become GMs and VPs. We measure our success by the number of people who stay in touch and stick their heads in the door to say hello.”

Josef Ebner, Regional VP and Managing Director, 26 years

When Josef Ebner came to the Delta Chelsea hotel 26 years ago in November, he faced some organizational challenges. “We used to have lineups all the way of to Bay, Gerrard and Yonge streets, all coming to the same front desk. There was mayhem at check in,” he said.

He asked the staff what they should do. The solution was separate check-ins for separate groups. There was a tourist check-in at the entrance near Bay. They created a separate check-in for Delta Privilege Members, now 1865. There was a kids' check-in, and a check-in for airline crew, and a special theatre check-in on the weekends. 

At that point, the Delta Chelsea was the host hotel for Livent and Mirvish theatre companies, and sold over $1 million in theatre tickets. Guests would reserve rooms and theatre tickets — the motto was “one call does it all.”

“We're not a convention hotel, and we're always trying to think of innovative ways to get business,” said Josef. “In 2003, the year of SARS, we put the waterslide in. It was a big expense, but we did something different. It's been a huge, huge success for family business.”

More recently, the Chelsea streamlined their foodservice operations, closing BB33 restaurant and their big bar. The revamped operations included the Market Garden, a bright, spacious self-service space, and a smaller bar called T Bar. “We doubled our profits from the days when we had everything open,” he said.

“In the old days, a lot of bookings came through travel agents. Then, lo and behold, OTAs came along, taking over the travel industry. Expedia and Bookings.com got bigger and bigger. Social media changed things so much — if you're not in this game, forget it! You have to be good at it.”

But the big goals are the same as when Ebner first came to the Chelsea. “Get good service from a quality standpoint. We still run a quality operation in a big hotel. Chelsea spirit is about how we treat our customers and fellow employees. 

“That's what dedication and loyalty are all about. People stay because they like their place of work. We have 10 to 12 per cent turnover, in an industry where the average is 25 to 30 per cent, and we get very, very high marks on employee surveys. World class results are 65 to 70 per cent positive; two years ago, ours came in at 92 per cent.”

Roy Lattibeaudiere, Doorman, 21 years

Roy transferred to what was then the Delta Chelsea from the Delta Armouries in London, Ontario 21 years ago. Before that, he had worked as a security guard at University Hospital and Saint Joseph Hospital in London. He hails from Jamaica.

“I transferred because there was an opening here for a doorman. When I came to the interview, the interviewer said he had investigated me and all he could get was good news.  The managers from here came to London and they looked at how I was doing the work. They said, 'bring him here now,' and the transfer happened fast.” One of the people who helped was Gary Myers. “It's been a pleasure working with him as a manager every day,” Roy said.

The best part about his work as a doorman is meeting all the different guests who come to the hotel, said Roy. “I like the air crew and staff.  They always say thank you. One air crew person from Italy asked me if I was a Christian. He said the service here is so great, like no other hotel. Three or four other air crew said the same thing. Every time they come back, they all say they all missed me.

“There have been changes here, with different staff, new staff. Otherwise, I don't see changes. Some of the guests have been coming to the hotel for many, many years. It's stayed the same — people say it's the best hotel they ever stayed in. The service of the staff, and especially the front desk staff, is excellent.”

Asked if he is going to retire, Roy said. “The doctor tells me as long as I can work I should; it will keep me in better health.” 

Bud Harvey, Director of Human Resources, 17 years

Bud's pre-Chelsea career was eclectic. He had been in justice, then in child care, and then ended up working at Delta Hotels, parent company of the Chelsea at the time. “I worked at four different Deltas in 12 months — two in Vancouver, one in Calgary and one here.”

“Hospitality and I found a perfect marriage,” he said of ending up at the Chelsea. “My work here is a little bit of everything. We don't work in a silo here. I deal with food and beverage, rooms, sales initiatives and events. Human resources is more than being a party planner — it's a bottom line contributor to this hotel.”

The number of people he hires fluctuates from year to year, but averages around 130 to 140, many of them seasonal. Most of the recruitment is done in-house; they very seldom use headhunters. “The Chelsea is a strong brand in itself. We have a strong presence in this city and across the country, and we're known as a good place to grow a career.

“The industry average for employee turnover is 25 per cent; we aim for 10.5 per cent and year to date, it's only been 5.5 per cent.”  The Chelsea employs 627 people — down from 1,000 years ago.

One of the best things at the Chelsea is employee empowerment. He says to employees, “It's your problem — you fix it. You have that power to end it here and correct the problem. If you do that, all of the sudden, you have a loyal customer for life.”

Like Myers, he never knows what he is going to do when he walks into the building. “It's like living in a big snowball — you have to run fast to keep up! We work hard and play hard,” he said with a smile.

The part he dislikes is having to deal with people who are disengaged and don't appreciate their job — “the negative Ned or Nellie.  I have a short fuse with those people,” he said.

“Guests are much more savvy these days,” he added. In response, “we have moved the spectrum from guest service to guest experience. We want to have them take away memories. We have an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives.”