Reggie Kumar’s journey to the position of general manager at the AC Hotel San Francisco Airport/Oyster Point Waterfront has involved lots of hands-on education and knowing how to prioritize.
Growing up in Monterey, Calif., Kumar said the hospitality industry always had a strong footprint in the area. “I found the hospitality industry highly intriguing and a reputable sector to work in,” he recalled. “The industry certainly challenges you [to] start elevating your thought process, perfecting conflict-resolution-type situations and becoming result oriented.” These traits are highly important for both self-growth and also for better career enhancement, he added.
Working Up the Ladder
While studying for his bachelor’s degree in business at California State University, Monterey Bay, Kumar took a position as a front office and reservation manager at the Best Western Monterey Beach Resort. “My experience at a young age in the hospitality sector forced me to mature a lot quicker based on the different elements of our business, which I found to be highly valuable both personally and professionally,” he said.
After graduating and spending two years working for Federal Express (“I wanted to try something different for a bit”), Kumar returned to hospitality in 2005, first as director of front office and later as assistant general manager for the Carmel Mission Inn in Carmel, Calif., where GM Bob Buescher became one of his first mentors in the field. In January 2010, owning company Pacific Valley Investors moved him to the Sanctuary Beach Resort in nearby Monterey Bay as general manager. When Hersha Hospitality acquired the hotel in 2015, he expected the new owners to bring in a new GM. Instead, he was kept on, and stayed at the hotel for more than two years, overseeing the full rebranding of the hotel.
Reggie Kumar. Photo credit: Reggie Kumar
After more than seven years at the Sanctuary Beach Resort, he was ready to move into a bigger market, and joined Davidson Hotels and Resorts to be director of operations for the Hotel Zephyr in San Francisco while he waited for a GM position to become available. “I knew I was eventually going to get back into the GM role no matter what,” he recalled. “But just getting my foot into the city was the main [thing].” In May 2018, less than a year after joining the Zephyr, he had the opportunity to join OTO Development as GM of the AC Hotel San Francisco. “I always kept a close eye on OTO Development and the company’s accession in our industry,” he said. “When the opportunity presented itself—not only with OTO but also related to the AC Marriott, which is considered one of its flagship properties—I knew this was a great opportunity that I had to apply for.”
Working for several major operators had “a dramatic impact” on Kumar, exposing him to “many facets” of the industry as well as the challenges and opportunities each hotel and company provides. Each company, he said, had its own unique culture and management environment, and as he moved from property to property he learned how a hotel can reflect its GM’s personality. “It was a good experience to see how certain things, if not done well, can really resonate with employees,” he said. “Decisions have a lasting impact on how you treat people. That’s what I took away from there.”
Working for OTO, he added, has provided the best results for his style of leadership: “Things happen for a reason, as they say, and I do believe all these factors played a role, and I ended up working for one of the best companies in the lodging industry.” Before the pandemic, some larger scale hotels had reached out, he said, and while that would have been “very lucrative, financially,” he recognized that he was in the right place at the right time. “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” he said. “The relationships you form, the people you work with, the environment that you create—I think that supersedes certain things … I’d much rather wait and grow within the company, and the financial gain will follow rather than going to a new company just for that lucrative aspect, and then finding out six months down the road that this is a terrible environment. That’s very important, at least for me.”
“The biggest challenge would be our ‘current’ state related to COVID-19 and how dramatically it has impacted our industry.”
“I have made a point to remain steadfast and consistent in our day-to-day approach. It’s important to ensure our team delivers results and neither doubt nor fear enters the mind despite so many challenges that are affecting our business every day. I’d be lying to you to say I didn’t have doubts, but the most important thing for me has been to channel that within and fight through it. Employees look for leaders to make sure they lead in time of crisis.”
Advice for GMs:
“Focus on building strong relationships [that] will help set the foundation of a strong work culture,” Kumar said. “Our industry has changed in many facets over the years; however, the core value of what our industry is about will never change, which is about people.” This involves listening more than talking, taking action and inspiring a team through a strong work ethic rather than speech predicated on bravado, he added.
Secrets to Success
Commit: “The person who is most committed to his or her craft will always succeed and overcome any obstacle, but one must be truly all in.”
Act like you own the place: “One must operate with ‘entrepreneurial ownership,’ hence whatever you are doing or chasing, you do with the same vigor and passion that resonates with your personal ambition and drive in life.”
Love what you do: “You have to truly love what you do because it will be evident both to yourself and your colleagues through your actions.”