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Immerse Yourself In Brand History and Culture To Guide It Forward

with Michael Pace, General Manager, The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel

Good morning. Today we’re learning from Michael Pace, who has developed an uncanny ability to quickly adapt his style to lead diverse properties, from the modern, Ian Schrager-designed Clift Hotel to W Hotels to his current role, stewarding the iconic InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco. (Whose bar was named just this week #1 in California.)

Michael doesn't leave anything to chance - he has a proven process he uses to quickly immerse himself into the history and culture of the property he's leading in order to guide it forward - and today, shares that process with us.

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Immerse Yourself In Brand History and Culture To Guide It Forward

with Michael Pace, General Manager, The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel

Michael Pace / Credit: Josiah Mackenzie - Hospitality Daily

Michael Pace has an impressive and diverse career in hospitality, leading a wide range of hotels from boutique lifestyle properties to San Francisco's iconic Mark Hopkins Hotel today. When I spoke with him recently, he shared how he thinks about understanding and developing organizational culture. According to him, “culture” is not just a buzzword; it's the soul of an organization that ties together history, brand, employees, and guests.

Organizational culture is about alignment

When asked to define organizational culture, Michael said:

Culture is having an alignment of values. Everybody being on the same page.

Michael Pace

“Culture shows up when everybody gets why we're here and why we're doing what we do in our different jobs in the hotel because there's a common vision."

According to Michael, "If everybody is just doing their own thing, you don't have a culture, you just have a bunch of individuals getting a job done."

Be thoughtful about integrating into a new culture

Whenever Michael moves to a new hotel, he takes the time to understand the unique aspects of that property.

"I try and immerse myself and understand truly what that hotel represents. What is the history? What did the designers intend?"

Michael Pace

He does this by asking questions, reading articles, and talking to people who have been with the hotel for a long time.

Rooting culture in brand legacy and history

Michael highlighted the importance of making sure the culture is "true to the hotel you're in."

This involves everything from the ambiance to the service to the attire of the staff. At the Mark Hopkins Hotel, which is 97 years old, this means "providing beautiful service in elegant surroundings."

"We're custodians of this beautiful product. We're historians. We tell stories. Our culture is people working together, celebrating the history, understanding it, being proud of this legacy that we are holders in a way," Michael said.

The sensory experience matters

Michael believes that travel and hospitality is a sensory experience. Because of that, he pays attention to seemingly small but impactful details such as the type of music played in the lobby or the scent used in the hotel.

"The type of music we play in the lobby has to feel like you're walking back into a bygone era. And the scent machine in the lobby gives a burst of scent, which is a bit more what I would call an elegant scent, not very modern smelling," he told me.

“We’re like actors on a stage”

At the Mark Hopkins, Michael found that he had to adjust his approach from previous roles. "Some of my managers told me, ‘Nobody wears ties anymore.' I told them, 'At the Mark Hopkins, we're going to wear ties and put on a pocket square and have a nice suit because we are part of that painting. When people walk in, we're like actors on a stage.”

Michael Pace / Credit: Josiah Mackenzie - Hospitality Daily

It’s all about integrating the past, present and future

By integrating the brand, history, and employee ethos into a unified vision, Michael creates a unique experience that is true to the identity of the Mark Hopkins Hotel.

His insights serve as a valuable lesson for anyone looking to develop a strong, cohesive culture in their organization. I recommend you listen to the whole conversation if you’d like to learn more.

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