More than Minimum

In an industry that purports big economic impact and tangibles in the dollars, it’s important to remember the people that make up tourism.
Like Leonard Massey. He’s the general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites on Bay Street, a popular hotel in the heart of the historic district.
He’s the picture of success, but his story didn’t start out that way.
Massey was raised in Savannah by a single parent with 6 children. If he were to follow the pattern laid out before him, he would walk down the path of poverty.
“I could have taken an easy way out and done something to get money fast,” said Massey.
Instead he took a job as a dishwasher at a local hotel when he was 16 years old and a junior at Savannah High School.
It was minimum wage, but Massey quickly recognized the potential the industry offered.
“My heart goes out to the people affected by poverty,” added Massey. “It’s not easy to break out of letting your environment define you.”
After 3 months of hard work, he asked his manager if there was an opportunity to grow. He moved into serving at banquets and then worked as a bellman. His managers took notice and kept giving him more opportunities.
“Tourism gave me an opportunity to have a high paying job with on-the-job, paid training,” Massey said. “I may have started as a dishwasher but now I get paid well with a great bonus package.”
Now the 29 year old is looking for the next up and comers in the industry. He likes the idea of promoting from within and finding the hidden treasures in people.
Massey’s story is just one of many in this industry locally. His boss, Mark Dana started as a bellman.
Jamie Parks, regional director of food and beverage for Savor began his career as a dishwasher, so did Paul Kennedy who owns Paul Kennedy Catering.
Kevin McPherson, partner at Belford’s Seafood and Steaks, one of Savannah’s most popular restaurants, started out bussing tables.
The Westin’s General Manager, Mark Spadoni launched his career as a server.
All of these tourism leaders have some things in common; they all started out at minimum wage, and they all started their careers without a college degree.
In the last article I wrote about the charitable side of tourism, I received a comment about my industry being a model of building profits on minimum wage and no benefits.
The comment piqued my attention because there’s no better conversation than the one that goes both ways. I immediately thought of Massey and the several people I work with who started out as a housekeeper and ended up leading the team.
Most other jobs require training that takes time, money, and connections. In hospitality, your training comes on the job with a paycheck.
It’s true that not every job is the highest paying, but I rest easy knowing that my industry, tourism, is one that gives kids like Massey a chance to break out of poverty.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014