Birthplace: United States
Occupation: Managing Director
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
As someone who has been on both sides of hospitality (having worked on hotel acquisitions and having been a lifelong patron of hotels worldwide), I am always deeply impressed when I come across hotel managers who are not only passionate about their work but the impact of their hotels on the environment. As an executive at a luxury or high end hotel, it can be easy to cocoon yourself in that small world where you technically never need to set foot outside of. You have all your needs taken care of and your focus is to maintain and lead this kind of living, breathing entity, ensuring that the hotel owners receive the financial rewards they expect year upon year.
To be a manager who cares deeply about your property’s impact on the environment and further, have the diplomacy and financial intelligence to be able to convince your boss (the hotel owner) that changes you propose are good for both environment and the bottom line, is no small feat. This is exactly what brought Michael Czarcinski on my radar. For the past 8 years, Michael has been with the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, a hotel my parents and I used to patronize when I was a kid. If you haven’t already stayed there, you’ll likely have seen it in countless television shows in the backdrop of LA- it’s the cluster of circular, all glass buildings in downtown.
Since his tenure at the Westin Bonaventure, Michael has led his team to receive the Green Seal Certificate where the hotel must undergo an in-depth preliminary inspection and continue to undergo monthly inspections. With this certification, the hotel participates in radical waste recycling efforts, composts leftover food from all of its dining outlets, reuses goods such as delivery pallets and dishware (they phased out use of Styrofoam, paper and plastic goods) and incorporates energy efficient light bulbs, to name a few on their long list of laudable efforts.
Under Michael’s leadership, the Westin Bonaventure has spearheaded water recycle efforts with a system from AquaRecycle that cleans and stores water for use in the hotel’s laundry facilities. In additional water savings efforts, his team changed their shower, toilet and gardening facilities to result in well over 10 million gallons of water saved per year, 120% reduction and 75% reduction in water usage respectively.
The effects his team’s efforts have had on a barren California landscape are immeasurable but the financial savings for his boss are clear- if they haven’t already by the time of this article’s publication, they are close to reaching US $1 million in annual savings. With the right leadership in place, there can be a win-win situation.
I set out to learn more about the man behind the fancy title and impressive achievements.
Dina: It’s mentioned that you began your career in hospitality as a dishwasher at Catari, a family run restaurant in New Jersey. Was that job where you developed your love for food or were there other events that led to your hospitality passion?
Michael: I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, and my family would visit my grandfather, a baker in the Bronx, NY, every weekend and we enjoyed fresh baked Rye Bread and Challah. The weekend and holiday meals were always something that you were volunteered to help with, but it never took too much convincing to get me in the kitchen.
My grandparents and parents in NJ, were involved with our local church, with a strong sense of community through fundraising dinners and an annual Carnival. I volunteered to help in the kitchen for each of these events, and would help peel potatoes, make sauces and roast meats. As we were from a predominantly Polish community, the Pierogi making days were, in some ways, like a quilting week, it was always a major event. We all got together to make the fillings, prep and roll the dough, make the Pierogi then par boil and store for the upcoming Carnival Food tent, and there were always a couple that were not quite right for the fair that had to be consumed that day.
I would say that is where I got my love for the Food and Beverage industry.
Dina: You’ve followed what can be considered the “right” path for someone in your current high level position, graduating from Johnson and Wales then progressing from one recognized hotel to another in positions with growing responsibilities. Were there any moments in your journey where you doubted what it was you wanted or whether you were even on the right path at all?
Michael: I thought hard about what I wanted to do, and from time to time I would question if this was the right thing for me and my family. When I completed my college education I believe I gained the transferrable skills that would allow me to work in many industries. Whenever I would question my path it always came down to staying with things I love to do. I believe that people in the Food and Beverage / Hospitality industry are generally caring and giving people. There is also a sense of continuous learning where you are always looking at new preparation methods, cuisines and ways to improve yourself and your business.
Dina: Can you share with us one of the most difficult moments in your career thus far?
Michael: The most difficult moment was when I took a new position in Southern California. In this industry, as in others, you have to relocate for many reasons. While moving to San Diego to take on the role of general manager at Morgan Run Resort in Rancho Santa Fe was a great opportunity for me and my family, it was at the time when my daughter was going into her senior year of high school, and emotions were running very high. Our daughter did develop new friends and relationships, graduated from her new high school and went on to get her Business Degree at UCR. In her college essay she wrote of how bad she felt that I uprooted her in the most important year in her life, then went on to write how thankful she was to learn how to change and meet new people while keeping her old relationships. She met her husband during her senior year in high school, and now has a family of her own.
Dina: Can you share with us one of the best moments of your career thus far?
Michael: There are so many that it is hard to select just one. However, in early 1979, I was hired to be the assistant manager at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY. The gentleman who hired me was Jack Thomas, and I was very fortunate to have him as my first boss and mentor. While we had to deliver first class service and products to our members, he taught me stay focused however difficult a situation becomes, and lead as the situation merits. To have a plan, work the plan and be prepared if situations change and adjust your approach to maintain the highest standards. In 1980 the country club held the 1980 PGA Championship, and I was fortunate to be the Director of Club Operations for that event. With a plan and great team we pulled off one of the most successful Championship food and beverage operations in history.
Dina: What made you want to transition from such a strong background in the culinary management side of hospitality to the bigger umbrella of comprehensive hotel management?
Michael: I recognized early in my career that I wanted to run a world class resort. With that said, I began to learn the other parts of the hospitality industry. Marriott had the Individual Development (ID) Training process, and I attempted to master my current position while completing the next steps training in my career path. After working a long day I would go home and answer all of the questions in the ID Manual. Once completed, I would look to apply for the next available position in my career path.
Dina: The Westin Bonaventure is one of the largest properties in the United States. How long after your arrival in 2007 as Managing Director did it take before you decided that Green Initiatives and Water Conservation were key factors to both cost cutting and being a more environmentally friendly business?
Michael: This was almost immediate. Patrick Serge, our Director of Engineering, explained some of the Energy Management systems he installed at the hotel, and we both recognized that there was some low hanging fruit that would be great for sustainability and improve business performance. While the hotel looked at saving energy in the past, we super charged the process. With the partnership with Green Seal our team continually looks for ways to improve our carbon footprint.
Dina: You’ve been lauded as a pioneering leader in the hotel industry in regards to overhauling a monolithic property’s method of conservation. How did you convince the property owners that spending money to introduce aspects like water-saving toilets and new lighting would end up paying for themselves in the long run?
Michael: We have great owners at The Westin Bonaventure, and they are personally involved in the business. When you have capital projects of this magnitude you look at the ROI and what the short- and long-term impacts of the process change will be. In this case, the conservation efforts improved all key aspects of our Business Plan. It improved employee satisfaction by embarking on a project that instilled a sense of teamwork and pride. It also improved guest satisfaction, as our main meeting clients look for hotels with measurable sustainability plans. It improved returns on the owners investments, and also improved the long-term value of the property.
Dina: Can you please share with us what the process of being awarded a Green Seal Certificate entails for you and your team at the hotel?
Michael: A project team was formed and led by our hotel director of operations and represented all departments directly, and indirectly, involved in the Green Seal Certification. After review, the project team recommended the hotel apply for the Silver Certification. After looking at the Green Seal, the team put together a six month plan to meet the criteria, and with that goal in mind, the team met the technical criteria and changed the habits of over 1,000 employees to be sustainable in their work practices.
Dina: What can hotel guests who care about Green Initiatives do to help hotels reduce their carbon footprint?
Michael: We make it easy: guests can use the recycling bins that are provided in the guest rooms and public areas, and can leave a card on the bed that tells the room attendant to simply make the bed and not change the linens if they’re staying more than one night. The housekeeping team still cleans the room and changes all linens on the day of departure.
Dina: Going forward, what are some of the issues in hospitality that you’re most passionate about keeping a close eye on or tackling hands-on?
Michael: I enjoy staying on top of culinary trends, as there is a special place in my heart for food and beverage. I believe it is important to deliver the highest quality products and services, and at the same time you must always stay focused on the intangibles. What differentiates a business is very important to stay on top, and you must do everything you can not to become a commodity focused organization and continually focus on improvement, the best service levels and give guests a feeling of belonging. People can choose a hotel for a bed, good food and a nice lobby, but a business that delivers excellent products has to compliment them with a sense of caring, professional service and a special sense of belonging. Westin provides that through their brand initiatives and we enhance that with the Bonaventure traditions in the local Los Angeles community.
Michael is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. He lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife, Darlene.
Michael’s 38-year hospitality career includes 12 years with Marriott with progressive growth to Northeast Regional Director of Service Development. Michael served as Vice President of Operations at The Woodlands Resort in The Woodlands, Texas where he oversaw daily operations of the resort and The Shell Houston Open, a PGA Tour event.
Michael joined ClubCorp and was promoted to Executive Vice President of Pinehurst in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Michael was employed by Interstate Hotels and Resorts for the past ten years and is now, Managing Director of The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites, an Executive Committee Member of the Central City Association, Downtown Business Improvement District, Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board respectively, and Chairman of The Hotel Association of Los Angeles.
In 2010, Michael was named as 2014 General Manager of the Year by Interstate Hotels and Resorts.