By Mike Nixon, President 

As president of a successful and growing hotel company, my deep thoughts are generally centered around the idea of hospitality and servant leadership – welcoming people into our homes.

My oldest son asked me one day how what I do for a living makes a difference in the world.

He said: “Dad, you’re just making money … you’re not making a difference. This is what’s wrong with America.”

Number One: He was wrong. I enjoy wholeheartedly what I do. I do make a difference.

That is evidenced in the fact that a former housekeeper who hasn’t worked for me in 20 years stays in touch with me regularly to update me on what’s going on in her life. If that employee was missing something in her life and I filled that for her, that’s hospitality. Maybe I’m the father she never had, and she’s sharing her accomplishments with me. That’s pretty special.

I’ll hear from others who say, “You gave me a chance when I didn’t have any experience. I became what I am today because of that chance.”

That’s just on the employee side.

On the guest side, we’re doing this daily with people we don’t even know … with complete strangers.

This is the spirit I want to instill in everyone who works with me at Innisfree.

Often, what we do is not tangible. It’s spiritual, I guess, for lack of a better word. It becomes almost ethereal, because we’re providing experiences that change lives. If we keep that first and foremost, the rest of it usually flows.

I do know that hospitality is not for everyone. Not everyone has that same drive, and what they need to do is to build an engine, or balance somebody’s financial statement, or put a building together – and there are jobs for those people.

Their lives are affected by the hospitality folks. There’s a place for everybody.

Hospitality is more of a vocation than an occupation. You are called to do it.

I say that because nobody in their right mind would work for what might be considered substandard pay, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Even Walmart closes twice a year. But we don’t. Every other business on the planet closes, except us.

So who do we hire? It’s somebody who brings that spirit with them, not necessarily someone with experience. It’s someone who believes all people are good and deserve to be treated like human beings. If we can get that, lots of those other skills are really easy to teach.

In general, we’re doing basic math. We’re doing very simple writing. We’re saying please and thank you. In the hospitality industry, the skills we require for completion of tasks are really quite basic.

Yet, those people skills so often are things you really can’t teach. We have to figure out really early on if employees possess these skills or not.

There are different management styles. One you will often see is management by fear and intimidation. We don’t want managers like that. It’s a very effective style by which businesses can be highly profitable, but we don’t condone it.

We want our managers to lead with nurturing and collaboration, encouragement and coaching. We want all of our managers to be like that. Not most of them, but all.

I bet you didn’t know that most of the corporate leaders at Innisfree are not formally educated in the field of hospitality.

For me, working in hotels paid for college. When I got to the point that I was graduating from school (with a degree in Russian, married with one small child and another on the way) I could have used my degree to go work for the CIA or any other governmental agency.

Or, I could stay in the hotel business.

As a 22-year-old, was I going to abandon my degree, the four years I put in, and not use it? You bet I was. The calling to serve in hospitality was much greater than any loss I might have felt.

I have very few regrets to this day. I don’t dwell on it, and I have enjoyed using my degree speaking Russian with employees and guests.

(There’s great shock value, and it’s a pretty good party trick.)

Bottom line: Hospitality is a calling. If you feel called to the industry, Innisfree Hotels may be the place for you.

– As told to Ashley Kahn Salley, Lead Storyteller