Creating a culture of caring, camaraderie, and excellence requires focused leadership and communication. Whether in the family, workplace, or nation, striking the right balance between structure and freedom can be challenging. In this episode, Linda...
Creating a culture of caring, camaraderie, and excellence requires focused leadership and communication. Whether in the family, workplace, or nation, striking the right balance between structure and freedom can be challenging. In this episode, Linda interviews David Lunt, President & CEO of Scottsdale Plaza Resort, a premier leisure and group meeting destination in Scottsdale, Arizona. Linda first interviewed David just prior to COVID-19 lockdowns. David shares how guardrails, not roadblocks – in public policies and corporate procedures - helped the resort to thrive and create a culture of caring for employees and guests, despite trying times in our nation. You will be inspired as you listen to the story of Scottsdale Plaza Resort and learn of the culture that makes the resort so unique.
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Linda J Hansen: The hospitality industry has been greatly affected by the policies of Covid-19 lockdowns. I have featured several employers in the industry on my podcast. One of those is a previous guest David Lunt who I asked to join us again today. David Lunt is the President and CEO of The Scottsdale Plaza Resort, a premier leisure and group meeting destination in Scottsdale, Arizona. On the property you will find 404 luxurious renovated guestrooms and suites, five sparkling pools, over 40,000 square feet of meeting space, tennis courts, a fitness center, putting green, JD’s Restaurant and Lounge and The Salon and Spa. It is nestled on forty picturesque acres in the heart of Scottsdale, only twelve miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
With a career in hospitality spanning twenty years, David began at Starwood Hotels and Resorts. In 2004 he joined The Scottsdale Plaza Resort as a financial analyst. Over time he increased responsibilities and rose in the ranks and in 2014 he was promoted to President overseeing operations of the Resort while maintaining responsibilities as CFO.
As president, David heads the company’s executive committee and leads its management team. He oversees operations which include key departments within the hotel including Rooms, Food and Beverage, Accounting, HR and IT. David is also responsible for all financial activities of the company, including financial reporting, budgeting, forecast, cash management, investing, property and liability insurance and employee benefits including health and 401K plans.
I’m so grateful that David Lund could join us again for this update interview. I am here today at The Scottsdale Plaza Resort with David Lunt. David is a longtime friend and I absolutely love being at The Scottsdale Plaza Resort. It is a magical place that’s beautiful and welcoming. The staff, the culture, everything is just amazing. You definitely want to come to Scottsdale Plaza Resort.
David is a repeat guest. I interviewed him shortly before Covid, right before Covid hit. Now I’m here and we can discuss some of the effects of Covid on the business, but also just an update regarding The Scottsdale Plaza and what he’s been doing. So thank you so much for taking time to be with us today, David.
David Lunt: Thank you, Linda. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Linda: Well, last time we did the interview, we talked quite a bit about the founding, the founding years of Scottsdale Plaza Resort and the legacy of the owner John Dawson. I’d love for you to just share for new listeners the history of The Scottsdale Plaza Resort and how you came to be here and why people should view this place as an amazingly spectacular special treasure in America.
David: Yes, I’d be happy to. This place was originally purchased by Mr. Dawson in the early ‘70s, about in ‘74 was when he purchased it. It was, the north twenty acres had 224 standard rooms and 36 king suites. Mr. Dawson, being a visionary, saw the great opportunity for this location and also saw the opportunity to expand in this place of Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. So he purchased it again in the ‘70’s and had it fully independently owned and operated; everything under his control. In the ‘80’s he expanded adding 134 suites and 10 executive lodges and a place that used to be Remington’s Restaurant on the corner there. He has owned this place for over 45 years, fully owned and operated, and has created an incredible culture, one of full independence and trusting the associates here to do what’s right to grow the business.
I came on in 2004. I was hired on as originally the CFO and quickly moved up with my time with Mr. Dawson and the trust I built with him, to also being his trustee of his personal affairs and also leading the John Dawson Foundation. I’ve always been humbled by that opportunity and that trust by Mr. Dawson. I want to make the most of it.
Linda: Well, I knew John Dawson. We were all sad when he passed away. But I’m so glad to see that the resort and the culture here really honors his legacy and his vision. It’s really great. So for listeners, if you have never been here, or if you are looking for a place to go where the employees are all friendly, positive, helpful, courteous, just an amazing group of employees. You can tell that the leadership here really builds a culture of strong work ethic, but customer service and individual responsibility. You can tell that the employees are happy here. I know that the culture that has been built here led to multigenerational employee families, correct?
David: That’s correct. Mr. Dawson always did have a model that he said, “What the mind can believe it, it can conceive, it can achieve.” He always followed that model for himself and for others and he also believed in passion. If you have the passion and the right mindset for what he wants to accomplish, for what we want to accomplish, we can do just that. And we did. He has achieved it; we have achieved it, too. We are currently number nine out of 85 properties on trip advisor. The associates are emboldened to make decisions for what they feel is best and it’s because of that culture that he started, that we then took and ran with and have created this amazing property and a great experience for all of our guests.
Linda: I think that that speaks so much to quality of leadership. Creating a culture in the workplace and I always say whether I’m helping employers to educate employees about the policy issues that affect their jobs or just helping managers and leaders to be more effective in their roles, people don’t care how much you know until that know how much you care. The one thing I see here is that there is clearly a culture of caring, not only for guests, but there is a camaraderie of the staff, and a respect and just a general positivity in the culture here that I think could be emulated by businesses all over in every industry. I commend you for that.
David: Thank you. I mentioned passion earlier. Some of the core values—passion, trust, commitment and teamwork—is all some of the core values that we have. I started from that culture that he created, that Mr. Dawson created during his time here.
Linda: I know Mr. Dawson used to talk to me about how when he would educate employees about different things, he found that he often was educating their entire families. So whether he gave some of them my first edition book years and years ago and he said some people would take it and drop it their purse because they were very used to the benefits of being born and raised in America, but others would take it home share it with their immigrant families that were coming for a new life. It was just an amazing thing. I know that that care and concern to help people truly prosper and thrive and be able to have their families thrive with them is something that I think is really unique here and I just applaud it. If all employers would catch that vision and have that passion to be so mindful of the benefits of having a cohesive employee family. I use that word loosely, family, because obviously they are coworkers, but that mutually supportive and accepting environment is just amazing. I know. I walk around and there are people from all backgrounds, all races, all creeds and everybody just has a huge smiles and pleasant. It’s just such a pleasure to be here. It’s great.
David: He was always a big believer in individuality, the ability to make independent decisions. He would provide the framework and we would then run with it. He would trust those employees to make the right decision for the positions we were in place to do. It’s a great culture that he created here and trusting the employees to make individual decisions. Again he provided the framework, but then he would let employees grow from it and give them an opportunity. The right employees will cease that opportunity and make the most of it.
Linda: Right. We see that in a corporate culture, but I know that’s something that can be good for America, too. I know in our first interview that I did with you right before Covid, one of the phrases that I know we repeated a few times is that your opinion that government policies should be guardrails, not roadblocks to success. So you mentioned that in this framework of your company that there is a framework of the culture and what’s expected of employees, but then it’s like the guardrails. You’re not giving them a roadblock to growth and expansion, you’re giving them guardrails. That’s great and we can see that all over now. That kind of leads us to the next question. Our previous interview was done shortly before the country shut down with the Covid-19. Can you tell us some of the things you experienced during that time and how you handled it?
David: Yeah. That was definitely a challenging time for everybody in hospitality. We were one of the hardest hit industries. The first couple of months were the most difficult when we were required to completely shut down. We understand the risks that were out there. Employees understood the risks. We made sure to educate everybody about it so we can try and remain open as much as legally possible given the restrictions in place and the safety guidelines. We abided by all the safety guidelines. We made it possible where employees and guests could come here and safely have a great experience. It was an opportunity to get away from everything else that was going on. The challenge was when we were forced to close things down even though we made the accommodations necessary for a safe experience. That was extremely challenging. Being in the state of Arizona, we were allowed to open up quicker than a lot of other places. Being that we are spread out over forty acres was definitely helpful to quickly pivot. Being independent, too, allowed us to quickly pivot and respond to the government requirements. Where at first it was a roadblock and became guardrails coming out of that where we could open back up quickly and pivot to what is necessary for the safety measures that needed to be in place. The constant changes were very difficult on top of unfortunately a lot of employees being out of jobs or furloughed at the time. Coming out of that was very difficult, but we did the best we could and being able to make independent decisions without being completely closed down was helpful for us coming out of it.
Linda: Absolutely. Again you mentioned the guardrails, not roadblocks. In our first interview you give some examples of ways that government can be roadblocks. You talked before about how these guardrails not roadblocks can be helpful for a business. I think that having the independent nature of the business really did help you pivot. I’ve heard that from other businesses as well. If they were able to make decisions at the local level, the ground level of their company, they were much more able to pivot. This is true in government as well. When things come from the federal government versus the local government, they likely going to be more efficient at the local level because you can hear and see what’s going on and you can make decisions based on what you know happens every single day.
David: Right. What we want is a path to open back up, a path to open back up safely. Once we were given that, then that’s where a roadblock became guardrails. Saying, okay, here’s the path for us to reopen. We met those guidelines required and we were able to reopen versus you must close down. It was helpful once we got that directive. Prior to that, just closing down indefinitely without an end in sight made it very challenging. We didn’t understand being spread out like we are and having the ability to pivot and say, “What can we do to open back up because we need to survive, too, as a business.” Once we had the ability to do it, we were able to pivot and meet those safety requirements and open back up. That’s what we’re asking for with anybody is just tell us what path we can follow to reopen and make those decisions to do this safely.
Linda: Well, which is great. The hospitality has been so hit and you have been such a great example. What would you say to other leaders in hospitality or other service industries as how to move forward?
David: Last year was the most difficult year for all of hospitality. I think it had the lowest occupancy, even more than the Great Recession, and it was incredibly challenging. Stay positive, look for opportunities to move forward with and that’s what we needed. Okay, give us a path to reopen. Positivity was one thing that led a lot of us saying, “We will get through this as a team, but we do need a path to reopen.” We were fortunate to be in a state where we had the ability to reopen safely per CDC guidelines. Without that ability then, it would have been a continued struggle. We did have the benefit as well as other states where we were able to reopen, such as Texas and such as Florida that we at least had a path to reopen much sooner than other places.
Linda: That’s great. It just goes to show again, leadership matters. Leadership matters in the workplace. Leadership matters in government. Ideas have consequences and policies have results. These states that allowed more open policies have really had better economies. The people in the states have more job opportunities and job security. We’re just really thankful that Scottsdale Plaza Resort made it through Covid. That’s a testament to your leadership and wisdom as well.
David: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. Again, I will say one of the things getting through it is having a team that supports and trusts each other and that’s something that we have here. It’s something that Mr. Dawson cultivated in his time was having the right individuals with the passion, the commitment, the teamwork and the trust to get through this. As a leader, you have to be positive; you have to look forward. As a leader, you have to look for the ability to continue to survive as a business.
Linda: Your leadership has really helped the resort to pivot. I’m sure the employees and the guest are thankful. I know you have done a really great job of honoring Mr. Dawson’s legacy and his desires for the property as well as for the culture within here that supports all the individuals of varying backgrounds, ages, and varying family needs; everything. But this has been…I‘ve never talked ever to an unhappy employee at Scottsdale Plaza Resort. Everybody speaks so highly of working here and you can see that it’s just a great culture. I commend you for that and I honor the memory of Mr. Dawson. I know when I first started coming here was back, we’d come here a lot with Hermann Cain. We had many events here and I know Herman Cain and John Dawson became good friends. I know that they’re both missed here at Scottsdale Plaza Resort.
Do you have any closing comments before we close this interview?
David: Just echoing what you just said. We definitely do miss John Dawson. His legacy will continue. That’s what all of us are motivated here to, we’re motivated to exceed our vision here which is creating happiness. That is our vision here, creating happiness. That doesn’t apply just to guests; that applies to employees as well. That is why we have employees, some of which have been here over forty years through the history of The Scottsdale Plaza. The culture that he’s created we’ve been able to take and run with, we’ll just continue on.
Linda: That’s great. For any employers listening, be encouraged. It does matter. You can create this type of culture when you invest time and communication and good training, good policies and good communication with your employees.
Well, David, thank you so much for being here. What is the website for the resort?
David: The website is www.scottsdaleplaza.com.
Linda: Okay, that’s great. Listeners, please go to that website to find out more about the Resort. We have just done this journey from pre-Covid to post-Covid and for all those businesses out there, you can do this, too. You can survive. Get creative. Be tenacious. Follow some paths that have made your businesses successful in the past and your employees and your customers and clients will thank you. Stronger businesses make for a stronger country. Small business is important for the economy and security and the flourishing of our nation. Thank you to all business owners. Thank you, David Lunt.
David: Thank you, Linda. It was a pleasure.