Karen Wollard, Ed. D., Research Manager, HSMAI Foundation
Insights from Kerry Mack
Who is Kerry Mack?
Kerry Mack, executive vice president of revenue & distribution, joined Highgate Hotels in 2005. She has 30 years of hotel experience, with 25 of those years in revenue management. In 2004, before many hotels had a dedicated revenue manager, she won an award for “Highest RevPAR Growth in North America.” She is an active HSMAI member and, in 2017, was honored as a HSMAI Top 25 Extraordinary Mind in Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Management. Her portfolio now includes 500 diverse hotels.
So why, in her extremely limited “spare time,” has she spent more than 20 years as an adjunct professor of Revenue Management at New York University’s Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management? For one reason: Talent.
Developing Revenue Management Talent
Twenty years ago, Kerry realized that her students, especially the graduate students, wanted opportunities to work hands-on and learn about revenue management. She started with an informal system of asking some General Managers to take time with her students and give them solid grounding in the discipline. Soon, she realized that a more formal system made sense and created an internship program. To qualify for the internship, students must be at least a junior in college and have taken at least one course in revenue management.
At the same time, Highgate was growing along with the need for talent. The formal program started small, grew to 12 or 15 a year, and then to as many as 25 student interns. The successful program never coddles the students, they are treated as a new hire and given an 8-week opportunity to learn the systems, whether branded or independent. Students also get a close look at the task of setting budgets a year in advance. For the past 8 years, interns have been paid. Three have already been lined up for positions upon graduation.
The program paused during the pandemic, returning with a class of 12 this summer. The pandemic forced all classes for three semesters to be fully remote, where it was hard to interact and especially difficult to determine which students were struggling. Kerry added that the pandemic caused the loss of two years of getting people excited about hotel revenue management. It was hard to show the passion when opportunities for hands-on work were limited. This year’s class seems less prepared, lacking the concepts and basic skills, including math knowledge. This may be one of the lessons learned about remote learning.
The Evolution of the Revenue Management Education
Revenue management education has changed enormously since 2002, when Kerry started her first class without a book or syllabus. Early texts were very “tech-y” – GDS, Consortia, prospect, tentative, perm, etc. They taught the math behind the algorithms. There are now several solid textbook options ranging from basic to advanced. In addition to texts, Kerry has evolved a lot of teaching scenarios that demonstrate differences between small and large hotels, brand vs. independent challenges, and the implications of diverse guests.
After 21 years, Kerry finds her course plans are constantly evolving as new systems and technologies change how revenue optimization is practiced. Her position in the industry makes it easy to update the course materials and discussions. She finds grading papers to be the toughest part of the job.
There are many outcomes of this best practice. Kerry has one early student who is now a Vice President on her team, one who teaches with her, and one who has become a good friend. Teaching and recruiting students for internships rejuvenates her. Both students and her hotel managers appreciate and praise her efforts that ensure a steady stream of talent. Above all, in 21 years there have been approximately 250 interns in positions, and 50% of interns have received job offers.
Kerry grew into revenue management by asking to transfer from front desk to reservations just as it was morphing into revenue management. Those early lessons taught her that top line success is assured when revenue managers have the tools, resources, and talent to grow the company. She hasn’t lost that enthusiasm, remarking that, “There’s nothing like a good STR report to make my day.”
How Revenue Professionals Can Tap into the University Pipeline
- Go to the local university and get involved. Volunteer to teach or be a guest speaker. Working professionals teaching in a fast-changing field is a big win.
- Start a paid internship program. The key to creating a revenue management talent pipeline is getting interested students through the door. Paid internships are essential for many students to afford their education, so make the commitment to help them be successful.
- Tell students that revenue management is a great field for people who love strategy, math, art, and science. It thrives on people who love to be right, work well under pressure, and want to travel!
- Help students contact revenue professionals through HSMAI chapters or on-site visits.
- Encourage and/or mentor women and students from underrepresented groups to go into revenue management.
- Promote revenue management careers to Gen Z and others that want flexibility in schedule and location and have personalities that are detail-minded, responsible, and good at managing risk.
Karen Wollard, Ed. D. is Research Manager for the HSMAI Foundation. She learned about Kerry Mack’s successful internship pipeline during the Revenue Management Faculty Academic Forum. To learn more about these virtual roundtable discussions for hospitality deans and directors, plus those for faculty teaching sales, marketing, or revenue management, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.