April 2024

Leadership Creates Results: The Journey to First, A Hotel Story

By Jim Nalepa

In the crowded world of hospitality, where competition is fierce and guest expectations are ever evolving, the journey from a once shuttered establishment to the prestigious title of "Hotel of the Year" is a tale of resilience, innovation, and unwavering dedication to excellence. Once on the brink of obscurity, The Drake Oak Brook Hotel now shines as a radiant beacon of hospitality excellence. Its transformative journey has captivated guests, earning accolades as the epitome of luxury and service. This is the story of how one hotel defied the odds, transcended its challenges, and ascended to the pinnacle of the industry, setting a new standard for excellence in hospitality.

In 1962, an expansion of the renowned Drake Hotel in Chicago emerged in Oak Brook, Illinois, just as the suburb was poised for rapid growth. Oak Brook soon became host to the fashionable Oak Brook Mall and the global headquarters of McDonald's.

Among its illustrious guests were a constellation of celebrities, politicians, athletes, and influential figures, including Robert Kennedy, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, and Prince Charles. Additionally, golfing icons Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have graced its halls with their presence.

Regrettably, inadequate leadership and unwise investments led to the closure of this magnificent property in 2009, seemingly for good. Nevertheless, in December 2013, investors James and Tely Nagle stepped in to save the day, acquiring the property and offering a vision of its potential revival. Following years of thorough renovations, The Drake Oak Brook has surpassed its former glory, emerging better than ever before.

In 2016, I selected The Drake Oak Brook as the venue for hosting the Leadership Excellence Course in the Chicago Market. During this time, I formed a connection with Jim Nagle, who exhibited a keen interest in the course. Recognizing the importance of not only reviving the hotel's physical aesthetics but also cultivating a strong leadership team for achieving prominence and ensuring an exceptional customer experience, Jim was deeply invested. After thoughtful discussions, we reached an agreement to enroll his top managers, in the course spanning over a two-year duration.

His decision and the impact of our world-class training paid off. The Drake Oak Brook Hotel with the upgrade in its décor and accommodations coupled with a substantial investment and commitment to leadership development, was named “Hotel of the Year” and was presented that honor earlier this year.

To uncover the transformative journey the team members made from manager to leader, I engaged with the hotel's leadership team to explore the profound effect our training program had on their professional growth.

Carlos Moctezuma, General Manager said:

“The training I received from Academy Leadership has been immensely beneficial to both myself and my team. The concepts presented, once employed, have enabled us to achieve truly outstanding results. Personally, it empowered me to concentrate on the significant factors that will impact our team's success, known in the course as “High Payoff Activities”- HPAs. It also helped us create a culture of Accountability, which ensures everyone remains focused on our collective goals. As a result, we've seen significant tangible improvements in our performance and productivity. It’s no wonder why we were named ’Hotel of the Year.’”

Carlos has also employed a tactic of reviewing lessons learned in the course during his weekly General Managers staff meeting. These consistent reviews have focused the leadership team on maintaining a positive motivational environment, creating the culture of accountability, essential and frequent leadership communication, and hands on coaching of their next generation of leaders.

Jill Hare, Director of Sales and Marketing*, has many years of experience in the hospitality industry and also experienced personal transformation. She said:

“After attending the Academy Leadership training, my team had their best year yet. Why? The training helped me develop my Personal Leadership Philosophy which gave my team a very clear and unambiguous understanding of what I truly expected from them as well as what they could expect from me. They brought alignment to our team and together, as a team, we were able to accomplish our goals and drive results by clearly defining and understanding our priorities. This course deliverable is absolutely invaluable.”

These testimonials demonstrate that regardless of your years of experience or current position, there's always space for growth and opportunities to enhance your skill set for better outcomes. Among the leaders I coached during the course, Jeffrey Mabilangan stands out as experiencing the most significant impact. Originally serving as the Director of Rooms, Jeffrey has since been promoted to Assistant General Manager, a progression he attributes to the course's influence, as reflected in his testimonial:

“Going through Academy Leadership training with Jim Nalepa was just the course I needed at that moment of my life and career. After the program, I was incredibly inspired and motivated to get focused, elevate my career, and lead my team to new heights. Within 2 months of the course, I earned a promotion that I didn’t think I could get. My new leadership approach and the immediate successes my team achieved gave my boss the confidence to promote me. In 1 year of being in my new role, I helped our organization achieve ‘Hotel of the Year’ within our company. I never doubted my success, but Academy Leadership helped accelerate it. The program instantly changed my life and boosted my confidence in myself as a leader.”

The triumphant team at the Drake Oak Brook Hotel has embedded qualities like achieving excellence, greater results, clear communication, and creating a culture of accountability deep within their ethos. With their unwavering dedication to these guiding principles and their exceptional focus, I have no doubt they will continue to lead the pack for years to come. Congratulations!

Jim Nalepa graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1978. He served six years on active duty including three years with the famed 82nd Airborne Division. He is a combat veteran of The Grenada Rescue Mission in 1983. Jim's passion for the subject of leadership and energetic delivery has been the hallmark of his success. He has conducted Leadership training on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. He is also the co-author of the Amazon Best Seller, Follow Me Leadership.

* Now available for download, Jill Hare, Director of Sales and Marketing, has given us permission to share her very own Personal Leadership Philosophy with you.