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Q&A: Kristin and Erin McGrath (Sisters Working in the Hospitality Industry)
I can’t remember when Kristin McGrath and I first met. I do know we bonded over a passion for excellent meetings and issues outside the industry. Kristin has continued to be, for me and I’m sure many others, a trusted sounding board about work and life.
We all need to remember that mentoring can also be reversed—that is, someone younger is a great mentor for those of us who are a bit older!
I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting Erin McGrath and look forward to one day being with both of them to feel the energy and synergy they clearly have.
Kristin McGrath, Vice President of Sales, Service & Sports, Visit Albuquerque
I’ve been in the hospitality industry for just over 25 years (ouch! Not sure how those years added up so quickly!) I’ve worked at three other DMOs (Boston, Providence and Richmond, Virginia), a major restaurant company (Hard Rock Cafe in Boston, Chicago and New York City), and at an 800+ room, four-diamond hotel (The Westin Copley Place Boston). Contact or follow Kristin McGrath on Twitter: @kristinmcgrath.
Erin McGrath, Director of Group Sales, Sheraton Boston Hotel
I have been in the hospitality industry for just under 20 years. My career started at the Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau which led to my entry into hotel sales at the Westin Copley Place Boston. Starwood and now Marriott provided the opportunity to gain experience in a range of hotel types from “big box” downtown properties to small suburban properties, to select brands.
I have worked for six hotels all in the Boston area (Westin Copley Place, Sheraton Boston Hotel twice, Sheraton Needham, Westin Waltham, Aloft Boston Seaport District and Element Boston Seaport District.) Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/erin-mcgrath
Joan: Kristin: You first: What was your trajectory into the world of hospitality and especially DMOs (aka CVBS)? Did you plan to do this? Was there something in your background—someone in the family in service position—that influenced you?
Kristin: Erin and I are very lucky. Our family has a home on Martha’s Vineyard. As teenagers we both had summer jobs working in the hospitality industry. At the time it was just a way to earn text book and spending money for the upcoming school year. I don’t think either of us realized it would become the foundation for our careers.
I fell into the DMO world. Towards the end of my senior year in college I met the Vice President of Visitor Services for the Greater Boston CVB at an Emmanuel College alumni networking function. I was weeks away from graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Art History and was desperate to find a job that would cover my rent in Boston. I didn’t want to have to move back into my parent’s house and into my childhood bedroom.
(Actually, I’m not even sure that was an option. I believe Erin, who was still in high school at the time, had moved into my old bedroom!)
I was offered a job working at the visitor information center on Boston Common with the understanding it would not be a long-term gig.
I spent the next six months handing out Freedom Trail maps and answering visitor’s questions while interviewing for “real jobs” on my days off. Eventually a full-time job opened up in the CVB membership department and I jumped on the opportunity!
Joan to Erin: As a younger sister, you must have seen the incredible “glamour” of Kristin’s work, or so everyone believes of what we all do! What influences did she have in your decision to also go into the industry and on the same side?
Erin: Kristin absolutely played a role in my entry into the industry! As Kristin mentioned, we were fortunate enough to spend our summers on Martha’s Vineyard.
I actually followed in her footsteps even way back then getting a job on the Vineyard at the same small hotel where Kristin worked when she was in college.
I worked in the front office and reservations department throughout college and accepted the position of Assistant Front Office Manager after I graduated from college.
As much as I love the Island as the year progressed I realized year-round island life might not be for me! That was almost 20 years ago but I can vividly remember calling Kristin and saying “I want to move to Boston … you need to help me get a job!” I believe Kristin’s response was something to the effect of “I will certainly make a couple of phone calls and provide any guidance you need but will certainly not be ‘getting’ you a job.”
Kristin has always encouraged me to be a strong, independent woman. She did exactly what she said she would and put me in touch with the CVB. I was fortunate to be offered a sales coordinator position which gave me the opportunity to learn from the four amazing sales people I supported (one of which was Kristin for a very short time!)
After about a year in the position the opportunity to apply for a sales manager position presented itself. I was very conflicted; my intention upon graduating from college was to work for a year and then go back to graduate school to pursue a masters degree in social work. I was a sociology major in college and I envisioned my career path would be one that would help women and children at a socioeconomic disadvantage.
However, in my year at the CVB I fell in love with the hospitality industry.
I once again turned to Kristin for advice and it was a long conversation but the gist of it was I should follow my heart.
In that conversation she also reminded me that although I might be making a decision not to pursue social work I didn’t need to forgo my desire to help people!
Joan: To you both: Did you ever consider the meeting planning side of the industry?
Kristin: Nope! I love DMO work. Highly functioning DMOs are economic generators within their communities. I love that aspect of my work.
We help make our communities better for both visitors (including leisure and convention attendees) and residents. I find it incredibly gratifying.
Erin: Nope! I love the hotel side too much to leave. The best part of my job is the day to day interactions with all of the associates in the hotel … I would miss that too much!
Joan: Kristin:,if you ever tried to persuade Erin—or had thoughts of doing so but restrained yourself!—to go into a different field, what was your thinking?
Kristin: Erin is confident in her own decision-making abilities so it is difficult to persuade her into or out of anything once she has made up her mind. That said, I never once discouraged her from making a career in this industry.
By words and example, our parents raised us to have a strong work ethic and to be life-long learners. When I look at my friends and mentors in the hospitality industry, those two traits are common achievement indicators. I knew this was an industry where we could both find a certain level of professional accomplishment and personal satisfaction.
Joan: When did you, Erin, know this was what you wanted and why?
Erin: After approximately a year at the CVB I realized I had absolutely fallen in love with the hospitality industry. In my time there I quickly learned the importance of in person meetings. Although I believe that there is value in learning through webcasts I think it is so important for people to come together to learn and network in person.
It gives me great satisfaction to know I am contributing to this important industry. Even more important to me personally is that meetings mean full hotels and full hotels mean all of our wonderful associates work! As a Director of Sales I believe I have a tremendous responsibility and obligation to all of our associates to ensure they are working every day!
Joan: To both of you, two more questions:
- In what ways do you act as sounding boards for each other and how can others with family in the same industry do so for their family members?
- Your best advice to others who have family or close friends who want to join us in hospitality and how to do so and why.
Kristin: Twice in our careers, Erin and I have literally worked in the same sales department. That can be difficult to imagine but we were successful. I believe the reason it worked is that we always had a tremendous level of respect for each other and our sales teammates.
We focused on being good coworkers not just to each other but to everyone in the office; offering advice when asked, not being shy to jump in to help when needed, and generally being appreciative and supportive, not just of each other, but of the entire sales department. My advice: always remember that during the work-week your family member is your colleague, be sure to treat them accordingly.
Erin and I live in different states now and we try to keep “work talk” to a minimum when we are together with our parents and partners, but we really can’t help ourselves. Too much of our lives are wrapped up in this industry and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Erin: Kristin sums up our time together very well. As the little sister I think I might just defer 100% to what she stated [Smiley face inserted!].
I 100% agree with what Kristin states about viewing the family member as a colleague. Kristin and I worked incredibly well together but it is because we viewed one another as coworkers and treated each other the exact same as we would treat any other teammate.
Kristin and I do try to keep our work talk to a minimum when we are with other members of our family but when it is just the two of us we naturally talk about industry related things quite often. But that is also because we have so many wonderful friends in common that we have made through our time in this amazing industry!
My best advice for anyone who has family or close friends who want to join this industry is quite simple: offer advice, direction, and support.
This is exactly what Kristin has done for me!
Related Reading From the September 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan
- Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be ... Planners! (Blog Post)
- Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Planners (MP3 + Lyrics)
- Interviews With Those Where Planning Runs in the Family