Will White took a job in the hotel industry at age 16 so that he could buy a car, and 25 years later he still hasn’t driven away.
ORLANDO, Florida—Will White needed to buy a car.
“I was 16 years old, and all of my friends were getting cars. I went to my parents and said, ‘What kind of car do I get?’ And they said, ‘Well, get a job,’” White said.
That’s just what White did. His stepfather, who was GM of a hotel, offered him a job with the housekeeping staff for $5 per hour. From there, he was quickly promoted to dishwasher. His career then took him through all operations of a hotel at multiple properties, from server to banquet captain to front-desk agent and supervisor to night auditor, gift-shop attendant, housekeeping supervisor, executive housekeeper and front-office manager.
Now White is GM of the Delta Orlando Lake Buena Vista, which is the first Delta property in the United States. Marriott International acquired the Canadian brand in April 2015, and the hotel celebrated its official grand opening last month. The hotel is owned by Greenville, South Carolina-based JHM Hotels.
White’s career as a GM spans 17 years. He took his first GM job at 24 years old when he was hired to oversee operations of a 161-room independent property.
“I said, ‘There is no way that I can do this,’” White, now 41, laughed.
A year later, he received a call from Sid Wall, now VP of select-service operations and shared services at JHM Hotels, offering him a position as GM of another property. While White declined at that time, he found his way to JHM six months later when his company wanted to relocate him to Savannah, Georgia.
“I pick up the newspaper and look at the want ads. It’s March of 2000. I see that Sid’s property at the time with JHM was looking for an assistant manager at a Hampton Inn,” White said. In April 2000, White joined the JHM team and has been there ever since.
Finding a niche
White admitted that becoming a GM at such a young age was nerve-wracking.
“It was incredibly scary,” he said. “I remember not sleeping a lot at night thinking, ‘What did I get myself into?’ I take leading people very seriously because I understand I control how their day is going to be; I set the tone. So I didn’t want to screw it up.”
But, White said, the career move clicked for him. He found a love for managing and leading people.
“I found my niche,” he said.
Working through a variety of operational departments of a hotel helped White be a better GM, he said.
“You have to understand the people you’re leading, and what they’re doing and what they’re faced with,” he said. “If you know what they go through in their job, I think you can appreciate what they have to do. It helps in understanding them and why things go a certain way and how things happen, as well as giving them more support, tools and resources to do the job better.”
White said it’s important that as a GM he doesn’t put himself above anyone on his team.
“It’s understood who I am at the property, and my position, but I don’t carry myself any differently than any other associate here,” he said.
White said his team is connected and engaged, and his goal as GM is to create a family atmosphere. He said he looks for team members who have a great personality with the right attitude that will fit that culture.
“When you have that family atmosphere, everybody has each other’s back,” he said.
White said he solicits his team’s feedback regularly to keep employee engagement high. Prior to the Delta opening, he gathered his freshly hired team to brainstorm creative ideas for the property. Certain drinks at the bar were crafted by team members, and some design ideas were conceived by employees. The buy-in process translates to a team of engaged employees, White said.
“It makes them feel good,” he said. “A successful hotel is a hotel that has engaged associates that are supported, listened to and given opportunities just like I was.”
Editor’s note: Marriott International paid for all travel expenses and comped one roomnight for the grand opening of the Delta Orlando Lake Buena Vista, where the interview for this article was conducted. Complete editorial control was at the discretion of the Hotel News Now editorial team; Marriott had no influence on the coverage provided.