TRAVEL - INTERVIEW
Rand Tower Hotel, Minneapolis, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio Hotel
TRAVEL - INTERVIEW
by Melisa Kaya
The names of the legends are kept alive in many different forms. Rufus R. Rand, who served as an active pilot in World War I and as a manager in World War II, became a prominent figure in business in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota in the 1920s. Rufus R. Rand built the Rand Tower, an Art Deco-style building in downtown of the city that still preserves his family's legacy and name. This unique building, which has served as an office building for approximately 90 years and is listed in The National Register of Historic Places, will host the Rand Tower Hotel. The General Manager, Dennis Wilson, who has taken the responsibility of the Rand Tower Hotel on his shoulders, is a manager who has served in the military like Rufus R. Rand. The Director of Sales & Marketing Jennifer Rose served in the Air Force just like her colleague who served in the Navy. I had the opportunity to meet with Dennis Wilson and Jennifer Rose, who use what the military has taught them about crisis management to bring a hotel to life in this difficult pandemic. I asked them about their careers and about the Rand Tower Hotel, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio property that will soon open its doors. Let's get to know both the two managers of military origin and the Rand Tower Hotel.
Dennis and Jennifer, it is very nice to meet you. Today, many hotel managers have grown up in the hospitality industry from the very first days of their careers. However, both of you made the transition from a different point, the military. Could you briefly tell us about yourself and, if possible, your roles in the Navy and the Air Force?
Dennis Wilson - My time in the Navy was a journey. I started in 2001 just after the 9/11 attacks. I graduated Boot Camp in November of 2001 and then went to Navy Class A School in Chicago. After that, I was stationed on the DD- 982 Nicholson, which was decommissioned as I was on board and is no longer in service. Then, I went to Navy Class C school and became a Seabee. It was some of the best and hardest times.
Jennifer Rose - I joined the Air Force shortly after high school to get GI Bill benefits to pay for college. My field was Avionic Electronics specializing on the F-16 Fighter Jet, B-1 Bomber, and B-2 Stealth. My intent was to serve for four years then transition into college full-time. However, after September 11th happened, I was compelled to sign up for another four years so I ultimately served eight years.
What inspired you to advance in the hospitality industry after your years in the military?
Dennis Wilson - After the Military, I went into construction and was a concrete mason. I realized that it was not something I wanted to do long term, so I went into sales and marketing. I spent some time selling home improvements and then advertisements. I had always had a passion for golf, even in the military, so I tried my hand at becoming a golf professional. I taught and worked in a clubhouse as an assistant professional and in the winter, I worked in hotels. There is when my career lifted into hospitality.
Jennifer Rose - I was on active duty during my first four years with the military and re-signed as a Reservist for my latter four years. So as a Reservist, I was able to attend college full-time. It was during this time that I also took my first position as a front desk agent at a small hotel near Ellsworth Air Force Base/ Mt. Rushmore. I’d always had a fondness for the industry but taking that front desk position sealed my fate.
What experiences and abilities have you gained from your years in the military as an active duty member?
Dennis Wilson - There were so many things I learned in the military that translate so well into being a civilian. Most of it is a strong work ethic and problem-solving.
Jennifer Rose - One of the very surprising (and favorite) take-aways from the military was realizing that many times we live in our own little "bubble" and the military brings those "bubbles" together. A favorite eye-opening moment was one hot summer, I suggested going to 7-11 to get a Slurpee. To which someone said, "what’s 7-11"? (for those that do not know, 7-11 is a popular convenience store that is known for its frozen Slurpees, but does not have locations in every state). It seems silly and trivial but my mind was blown that someone had never heard of 7-11! But at the same time, I was very fascinated. I experienced many of these ‘eye-opening’ moments along the way in my military career. There are a lot of parallels that exist between the military and hospitality and experiencing new "bubbles" is one of them. I love to travel so I’m a big proponent of it and encourage others to do so too, but when people think about traveling, their first instinct is to go to a big city or international destination. I encourage people to also experience what’s in the backyard of their own state! Or if you live on a coast, explore the Midwest and vice versa! I’m confident you’ll be surprised at your experience and that it might feel like you ARE in a country other than your own.
How did your active duty affect your managerial abilities and perspective? What kind of experience have you had in helping you with hotel management?
Dennis Wilson - I think the biggest thing is they are two very different styles. One is much more dominant and rank-based, while the other is more focused on people and making people happy. There are some great similarities in the styles, but mainly you learn how to motivate people in different ways. Watching drill instructors and leaders in our squad and platoon gave me some great insight in how to manage. I could see when someone wasn’t responding well to certain feedback and instruction and was able to learn how to adapt my approach on an individual basis.
Jennifer Rose - I would definitely say my emphasis on establishing a team environment. And not just within the sales team, but with every department and colleague at the hotel. We are all at better odds at achieving success together rather than individually.
Active duty in the military is always a stressful process. So, how do you benefit from the experience of wearing the formal dress for many years and working in the military system, in this process where you take full responsibility for the establishment of a brand new hotel?
Dennis Wilson - Well, it certainly was stressful, but for me, it was a lot less stressful than what we are trying to accomplish in the environment we are in currently. I think given the market conditions and the global health crisis this is what we were trained for. Quick problem solving and finding a way to get it done. Our saying was and always will be “The difficult we do right away, the impossible may take just a little longer.”
Jennifer Rose - There is a common denominator between the military and hotels; they are both a 365 day a year operation. So there is certainly a foundation you gain from the military that prepares you for the hotel world.
Which rules did you experience in the military make your job easier in the hotel management process?
Dennis Wilson - Being present and presenting yourself in a positive manner.
In your decision to become a part of the Rand Tower Hotel, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio, did the fact that Rufus R. Rand, a war hero, is a part of the hotel's history, has any effect? Could you briefly tell us about Rufus R. Rand and his contribution to Minneapolis?
Dennis Wilson - I think for me, once I heard the full story and background on Rufus Rand and the direction we are taking his story, or if you will, paying our Tribute to him, made this the only hotel I wanted to be a part of opening and sharing the story. Rufus was a huge part of Minneapolis and Minnesota in general. The stories could go on for days. His family ran the Minneapolis Gas Co., which is now CenterPoint energy.
Jennifer Rose - Absolutely. I was instantly mesmerized after learning the story of Rufus Rand and his history with aviation. It was as if my roots with the Air Force coupled with my passion for hotels brought my career full circle.
Could you tell us about the Rand Tower Hotel, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio, and the overall concept?
Dennis Wilson - The best way to describe it, in short, is we are an approachable luxury. We are sophisticated without being snooty. We are adventurers looking for something new to discover and create. We want to create an environment where the Sky Is The Limit.
Jennifer Rose - At Rand Tower Hotel, we celebrate Rufus Rand Jr.’s spirited quest to go beyond the expected. To think differently. To create what’s missing. Rand was no ordinary man and we are no ordinary hotel. Just as our tower stands out as an architectural masterpiece among its neighbors, so too does our crisp service and attention to every detail, the creativity of our outlets and our delicate balance of historical reference, and the finest in contemporary amenities and comforts.
The historic building that hosts The Rand Tower Hotel, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio has an architectural and cultural significance. Please tell us about the story of the building. What do you enjoy most about the building and its location?
Dennis Wilson - Yes, it is a wonderfully done Art Deco building that is absolutely stunning. Built in 1929 and has 26 floors for guests to travel. I really enjoy the rooftop bar and how you can look up at the building. I also greatly enjoy walking into the buildings' historic entrance on Marquette. With the refinished terrazzo flooring and the deep design in the concourse, truly a stunning entrance.
What stage are you currently in the renewal process? What precautions have you taken to lessen the effects of the pandemic process? Have you been inspired by the emergency protocols applied in the military?
Dennis Wilson - We are fully engaged in Oxford Hotels and Resorts and Marriot International’s COVID-19 preparation plans. We have a very strong commitment to clean, and always have as hospitality professionals. There is a lot of military training that can be transferred in times like these and I think we are very good at making that transition.
During the process of joining The Rand Tower Hotel to the Marriott Tribute Portfolio and renovating the hotel, were there moments when you thought and decided as a soldier?
Jennifer Rose - Interesting you should ask because opening any new business during this pandemic seems like an undertaking, let alone a hotel. So we’ve really had to apply that "soldier" mindset of, "we’ve got this". And as I mentioned earlier, it's all about emphasizing the word "we" and forging ahead as a team.
When will The Rand Tower Hotel, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio open its doors?
Dennis Wilson - We’re on track to open in December 2020.
What will your guests encounter when they come to the Rand Tower Hotel, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio? Will your guests feel a little bit of a military order in the hotel?
Dennis Wilson - I don’t know about Military order, but they will see a touch of history. We are proud that the design has been touched by history, without being fully historic. We have some pieces of the military in the hotel, as well as Rufus Rands’ favorite spot, Paris. However, this is a luxury premier hotel, and we are putting that at the forefront.
Jennifer Rose - It really is an artful pairing of the landmark building’s Art Deco existence and Rufus Rand’s passion for flight. You’ll be inspired by the artifacts of a life lived larger than life—a rich pastiche reflecting this dashing adventurer, brilliant engineer, restless inventor, and a daring airman. His relentless pursuit of discovery and mastery is evident in our spaces, décor, and the very special experiences designed to provoke curiosity and encourage engagement.
What type of different rooms and suites will you offer to your guests? What will their signature design details and features? Could you briefly tell us about Whiskey & Soda and the Rand Tower Club?
Dennis Wilson - The world will just have to come and see the design and details for themselves! The custom design and furniture make each room absolutely stunning. The historic nature of the building allows for a number of different room footprints for guests to enjoy.
Whiskey and Soda were actually lion cubs given to Rufus and his flight squadron by the French government. These were the lion names, and now the name of one of our restaurants!
Rand Tower Club is the definition of a 1930s party on a roof. It was so well designed with the views of the buildings around. The roof is retractable and can be opened at the touch of a button, the glass doors open to make it a full outdoor space. There are an interior portion and great spaces for private dining and bottle service.
Jennifer Rose - We’ll feature 270 stylish and detailed guestrooms with stunning views of the Minneapolis skyline. Our food and beverage outlets are a tribute to Rufus Rand’s worldly travels and passion for flight.
What are the advantages of being part of a well-established structure like Marriott? What are the similarities and differences between being active in the Navy and the Air Force and managing a hotel with the Marriott brand?
Dennis Wilson - Being a part of Marriott is amazing. They are such a great hotel company and have a wonderful team backing all the hotels they support. We also are backed by Oxford Hotels and Resorts out of Chicago and have a stunning track record for beautiful and well-designed hotels and food & beverage outlets. I think the similarities are the vast structure in place from both to ensure success.
Jennifer Rose - The Marriott is a well-respected and reputable brand, and we look forward to carrying on that reputation.
Considering what the military has taught you, would you suggest that young people who want to pursue a management career in the hospitality industry try to be a part of the military, even for a short time?
Dennis Wilson - My personal opinion is yes, but not even for just hospitality, but for any career choice. There are so many options and jobs in the Military. There are vast collegiate opportunities and the skills gained are second to none. On a second note, I think the Navy is the best branch, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Jennifer Rose - Most definitely. The military introduces you to many parallels in the hospitality industry. But beyond that, it is a wonderful and gratifying accomplishment to serve, an experience you will never forget and not regret.
What are the things you value most in life?
Dennis Wilson - For me, it is family, friends, relationships. It's working for people with a cause and determination, wanting to do you best for the people around you, in your community, and across the world. Aspiring to do more and do your best. One of my biggest philosophies and we are people serving people, and we should value those connections. Also, obviously, maintain those relationships on a golf course.
Jennifer Rose - Friendship, laughter, and loyalty. I’ve known my best friend since we were 5 years old! And all of the relationships (friendships or otherwise), have always had a great foundation of friendship, laughter, and loyalty.
What is next for you?
Dennis Wilson - This will be the next step for a while, my intentions are to stay with The Rand Tower Hotel and Oxford Hotels and Resorts for the foreseeable future.
Jennifer Rose - We’re very sensitive to all that’s going on, not only in the country and world, but in our own backyard of Minneapolis. We yearn very much to be a part of positively moving this great city and community forward and are actively committed to doing so. Our hotel has worked very closely with Minneapolis officials, the community, and businesses to offer our assistance in any way we can to be a positive part of the change. As echoed throughout the interview, our odds for success are better as a team and this sentiment also applies to our wonderful city and community.
Anything you would like to add that I haven’t asked?
Dennis Wilson - The Rand Tower Hotel is going to be one of the best additions to Minneapolis. Come see us!
Thank you Dennis and Jennifer for your time.