Hospitality Lessons Learned from My Mentor: Howard Feiertag.
By Doug Kennedy
Sunday, 6th December 2009
Having just begun my career in the hospitality industry, I first started reading Howard's articles in the mid 1980's when I was working in the hotel industry.

Whenever my next issue of Hotel & Motel Management would arrive, Howard's Column Sales Clinic was one I always opened to first. I can still recall the name of the very column he wrote in 1987 which inspired my ideas for my own career of 20+ years: "It's Time To Train Our Staff To Become Front Desk Salespersons." So it wasn't by accident that when I decided to start my first hospitality training company in 1989, Howard was on my short list of hotel industry icons to contact for advice on the business plan I was formulating.

Since all the books on starting a business said to ask successful people for help, I wrote Howard a letter asking for a meeting so I could solicit his input on the plan I had spent countless hours organizing. How surprised I was when he phoned me the very day he received my letter to immediately schedule a meeting! Despite that he was very busy as Senior VP of Marketing for Servico, which was at the time one of the largest hotel management companies, he carved-out two hours of his day to provide some excellent advice for this young entrepreneur.

Not did Howard see value in the training services I was introducing, he gave me great ideas for training exercises, such as placing live calls to competitive properties, which I still use today. But Howard did more than just meet and offer advice; he also started referring some of his consulting clients to my new company, often having me tag along to conduct my training during his consulting engagements.

It was also Howard who, at that very first meeting, had encouraged me to submit articles for publication in Hotel & Motel Management. Although it took seven years, I eventually did write those articles which HM&M began running in 1996, and have been a regular monthly columnist in the online edition since 2001. In looking back at 13 years of articles, I still sometimes wonder I can ever keep thinking of new ideas to write about in the future.

Then I stop to consider that Howard has been writing his column for 40 years and he's not reun out of ideas yet! Even his very latest column where Howard writes about the often-overlooked SMERF market segment of military reunions, show's he's still on top of the latest emerging trends and in touch with those who are the driving forces behind them.

Although I was aware there were many others that Howard had helped out over the years, it wasn't until much later in our friendship that I began to fully appreciate just how many.

One remarkable sign was that when my hotel training company began sending Howard on a Nationwide series of Hotel Sales Clinic Seminars and we could not believe the turnout which was well beyond anything we'd imagined. Perhaps my biggest revelation of Howard Feiertag's iconic stature in our industry came in 2002, when I had traveled with Howard to Chicago to attend the American Hotel & Lodging Association's annual conference, where he was to receive a "Lifetime Achievement Award."

As Howard and I began walking through the exhibit hall, it seemed we couldn't go 20 yards without person after person approaching him to thank him for some past favor or inspiration, most of which he had long ago forgotten. It must have taken us three hours to go down maybe 10 rows of exhibits. It was at that moment I began to comprehend just how many lives Howard has touched; how many careers he has inspired; how many aspiring hoteliers he'd extended his hand to.

In looking back at my own 20 years of knowing Howard as a career mentor, it is easy to see that he is a man who lives out the true spirit of hospitality every day, and certainly practices what he preaches when it comes to the "best practices" of sales.

Here is a recap of some of the lessons myself and others continue to learn by being a student of Howard Feiertag.

  • Pick up your phone when possible. Still to this day, it's easy to reach Howard directly by phone at Virginia Tech, unless of course he's teaching one of his several courses. If he's in his office he's always been sure to pick-up, and even back in the "old days" when most executives of his stature had an assistant to screen their calls.
  • Update your voicemail greeting and return calls promptly. To this day, if you don't get Howard directly on the first call, you are sure to hear his update on where he can be reached. For decades at the end of his workday, Howard has even updated his message at day's end with his home number, indicating he can be reached there. I asked him one day how many calls he received at home after hours and he said "None, but that's not the point!" Before the era of cell phones and PDA's, I can still picture Howard during the breaks at his seminars out at the pay phone bank returning his calls. Thank goodness they had long distance calling cards then or his suit pockets would be worn out carrying quarters for all those call backs!
  • Respond promptly to all correspondence. As I later found out, in the "snail mail" era during which I had first contacted him, Howard was averaging dozens of letters and personal notes each month from his readers, returning each with a personalized message. Later when fax machines first came out, Howard always gave his fax number in the articles and received dozens of messages each week. Again, each would receive a personalized note back via fax, and promptly too. Now today it's e-mails he receives, and you can be sure it's a lot more messages in this "click and send" world, but he's still as timely as ever.
  • Talk to those hospitality industry suppliers and vendors. While many hoteliers tend to become more resistant to change over time, Howard has continued to expand his exposure to new trends in hotel sales-related technology. Very often the content of his articles is based on ideas he's learned from the same hospitality industry suppliers that others refuse to acknowledge.
  • Help everyone you can through networking; it just might come back to benefit you. Having been in Howard's "network" for so many years now, it's easy to see he's a master at "connecting the dots" between others. It's hard to even try to quantify the number of people I've met through him. Whether a hospitality student looking for an interview for a term paper, a new supplier debuting a new innovative new product, or just a stressed out Director of Sales working on the annual marketing plan, a call to Howard for help will always be answered. Interestingly, many of those young hoteliers Howard has helped have over the years have since risen to positions of prominence, later hiring Howard to work with their operations as a consultant, guest speaker, or sales trainer. Of course this is not to say that getting a direct benefit back from his benevolence was Howard's objective; but it is certainly supports the concept of what goes round eventually comes round in business and in life.
Yet now as we honor Howard Feiertag for his 30 years (and counting!) of successes, it's important to recognize that he has more than "just" one of the most brilliant minds in the field of hospitality sales and marketing.

I know well that I speak for the countless thousands of former colleagues, co-workers, Virginia Tech college students, workshop participants, and Sales Clinic readers when I say he also has one of the biggest hearts of any human being you could ever met.

Founded in 2006, Kennedy Training Network (KTN) is the lodging industry's best source for training programs and services in the topic areas of reservations sales, hospitality and guest service, and front desk revenue optimization. Services including customized, on-site training workshops, private, individual hotel team webinars, and reservations/front desk mystery shopping assessment and coaching reports. Additionally, KTN is also a resource for conference keynote and break-out sessions for management companies, brands, and associations.

For more information, visit www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com for details or e-mail doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com
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