Lots of Hospitality Hats
Meet Sheila Woodard, our Short Course Alumni this quarter. With 30 years in the hospitality industry, she says “there’s not a lot of titles that I haven’t had.”
Currently, Sheila is Corporate Controller for Esperanto Developments, but past titles include Accounting Clerk, Payroll Supervisor, Sales Manager, Director of Front Office Operations, Director of Human Resources, Director of Catering, General Manager and more for brands including Marriott, Hilton, Red Lion, and Wyndham (Microtel, Hawthorn, Wingate & Wyndham) hotels.
Born in Fairbanks Alaska, she’s a well-traveled self-proclaimed “gypsy” and has lived and worked in St. Croix and St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and California among many other interesting places.
Questions to ask Short Course Alumni
What is your name and job title?
Sheila Woodard, Corporate Controller. However, in my 30 years in the hospitality business, there’s a not a lot of titles that I have not had. Accounting Clerk; Payroll Supervisor; Accounts Payable Supervisor; Sales Manager; Director of Front Office Operations (CHS certified); Director of Human Resources (CHRE certified); Director of Catering; Director of Sales & Catering; Director of Sales & Marketing; Regional Director of Sales; General Manager; Multi-Property Regional General Manager and now Corporate Controller.
I’ve co-managed our full-service restaurant for 6 weeks and of course as a GM, was too familiar with cleaning rooms, running the front desk and doing those last minute (double-shift) night audits. So like many GM’s; I have worn many hats. I have worked for Marriott, Hilton, Red Lion (Guest House) and Wyndham (Microtel, Hawthorn, Wingate & Wyndham) brand hotels. My current company has a very diverse list of hotel brands that they own/manage.
How long have you been with this brand or company?
I have worked for Esperanto Developments since 2015. Esperanto Developments is a development company that builds, owns and manages real estate/projects; with our largest emphasis in hotels. We are a US based company with our sights on international development; to include not only hotels, but senior-living centers as well.
What was your first hotel industry job?
I started out in the hotel business as an Accounting Clerk working for the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Beach Resort in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. What an experience! When I worked for the Marriott, we had 517 rooms; 7 F&B outlets and two separate lodging facilities; the main facility being on the cliff and the secondary facility (bungalows) on Morningside Beach. Some of our resort amenities included a ferry boat dock, helicopter pad, tennis courts; special wedding facility; swimming pools; outdoor restaurant and bars; live entertainment venue; water recreational beach vendors, etc.
One of the most interesting facets of the property was our salt desalination plant. We would process salt water into grey water. It was a fantastic idea and way to conserve. Though I started out as a simple part-time Accounting Clerk (working with a group of 17 accounting employees); I progressed rapidly and found myself assisting with many different areas of accounting; including preparing large group billing packages; payroll processing; accounts receivable; Payroll Supervisor and Accounts Payable Supervisor.
The Comptroller offered me an assistant position, but I was going to the University of the Virgin Islands at the time, and I just needed to keep focused on school; while working part-time. (I did graduate with an Associate degree in Business Management from USVI and later obtained my Bachelors while working as DOS at the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham).
What is your hometown?
At some point in my life, I started telling people that I was a gypsy! I was born in Fairbanks, Alaska; but have lived in 4 states (many times traveling back and forth between California and Alaska); that includes living in 8 cities before I met my husband, which includes attending 7 different schools. Then we lived in St. Croix and St. Thomas, for a stint of 7.5 years.
Throughout my life, I have been blessed to have traveled extensively across the US, Europe, and the Caribbean; all the while learning of different people; their languages and cultures. I think my travels have led me to become more adaptable, tolerant, and open-minded to the variances that occur in languages, food, and customs of others. I think it has been my experiences in these travels that have shaped who I am; my love for good people, regardless of their skin color or culture; my passion for hot and spicy food; beautiful, historical architecture; the arts; history; and certainly my travels have educated me somewhat in geography.
What would you say are hotel must-haves?
While the best hotels will offer a clean, updated product (rooms, F&B) with all the amenities that savvy guest travelers have come to expect; I believe the best hotels will have employees with passion. Those who perform their tasks with heart; compassion for the guest; a sense of urgency to get things done, not only for the external customers but for the internal customers as well; making sure that what is done advances the objectives of the business and owners alike.
I have tried to teach my own children (now grown); that whatever you do in life, do it with a passion. This means that even though you are having a bad day; you are determined to get through because you have a love of what you do. Certainly being in the hospitality field, you need to love to help others. I heard a saying once when I was attending a HMLA luncheon that I haven’t forgotten. “Always be proud of your property, but never satisfied”. I think this is a good reminder; that while you may be on top, you need to fight to stay the best and that there is always room for improvement.
What is the best advice you ever received?
I have had a lot of good advice through the years; but I would say from my dad, who told me once, “put a pencil to it”. I think like a business manager or working in accounting; if you can’t make sense of your cash flow (budget/expenses), etc., you need to think twice about what you are doing. This business; the economy and our guests are very dynamic; and as such require us to be imaginative, sometimes, with a limited budget. Whatever you do, it needs to make good business sense.
Who invested in you attending Short Course?
My General Manager/Owner (of 21 years) nominated me, and I wrote a letter on why I wanted to attend. The local THMLA chapter sent me to the course through their education fund. It was greatly appreciated!
What inspires you?
To be honest, when I see people doing good deeds for others, I am inspired.
So many times in this life we just hear of negative things that happen. When you hear of good deeds done for others; like the many stories I have heard through the years when our associates would ‘go above and beyond’ for customers; it warms your heart.
Who do you look up to at work?
I have been blessed to have some wonderful bosses. Whether they were a Comptroller, GM/Owner or Owner/Developer, I have been very lucky. These individuals were good people. They were tough, very tough at times; but because they demanded ‘better’ from all of us; they made me work harder. They had the wisdom to recognize conscientiousness, passion and a yearning to learn, in me, and I am glad they did.
I am so thankful that these bosses took the time to help me grow in the business. Regardless of whatever title I had at the time, I always considered myself as their business partner. They invested in me, and I invested my loyalty right back. I was always proud to work wherever I was, and I appreciated their faith in me; their autonomy in letting me grow and learn; and hopefully become a good mentor to others. It has been a great career.
How has attending Short Course influenced your job?
The passion for working in hotels, I believe, was nurtured at the short course. While I was there, I learned more about the various areas of hotels; about hospitality law and realized with our ‘talent show’ that hoteliers are just a bunch of thespians! It was a lot of fun and informative.
What was your most memorable moment at Short Course?
I was impressed with the F&B of the host hotel and I thoroughly enjoyed the Hospitality Law class and the Talent Show.
What advice do you have for those who are in our industry?
Lead with passion and be contagious!
Why would you recommend others to attend Short Course?
The Short Course is a great opportunity for new associates in our field to learn about the various hotel departments; their area of responsibility and to learn how to work together with others. It could help them decide their hotel direction/career.
I love where I am working now. I see myself progressing with the company; possibly in a different position; only time will tell as the company continues to grow. I am simultaneously teaching part-time at the local Community College; teaching (of course) Hospitality.
Teaching has brought fun into my life, as I share my work and travel experiences with the students; with the hope that I will inspire them to become our future –‘hoteliers with heart’.