Down Home Hospitality

In 1993, after five and a half years as a naval air traffic controller, Robert B. Thomas Jr. was looking for a job. “When I left the military, I was bored and concerned about finding a job that would pay well,” says Thomas, who then landed a job as a banquet aide at the Marriott Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. “When I was 16 years old, I used to work after school at a Holiday Inn in Atlanta and felt that I had a knack for the industry.”

What began as just a job turned into a career. After he had worked in every department from room service to housekeeping, Thomas’ enthusiasm and skills were recognized by the resident manager. He was then offered a guest relations manager position in Atlanta. His diverse background (B.A. in aerial communications), work experience and outgoing personality helped him forgo any formal training.

As guest relations manager, Thomas, 29, is responsible for managing the operation of the four-star hotel’s 1,600-plus guest rooms and amenities. Keeping hotel guests happy is paramount. The New York native has done everything from arranging a short-notice meeting for 300 people in a few hours to slipping dozens of flowers into a honeymoon suite.

“I never thought I would be running a big hotel,” says Thomas, who some nights has several hundred employees under his watch. “But management saw how quickly I caught on and that I liked working with people, and opportunities opened up.”

For more information about this career, contact:

Kathleen Cross, director of education, the National Association of Black Hospitality Allies, 75 Piedmont, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30303; 404-522-7729.

Occupation: Guest relations manager Salary range: $29,000-$38,000 Training: Minimum two years experience in the hospitality industry or related fields

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