The Who, What, and How of Top Talent

Seven ways to get superstars to take you to the promised land.


Championship organizations thrive on attracting and retaining top performers. To find out why, I chatted with Dan Flannery, senior VP and managing director of EDITION hotels and former regional Ritz-Carlton GM.

  1. Who are superstars? “They’re high-drive, mega-talented, hyper-competitive, hate-to-be-micromanaged, sore losers. For a superstar, coming in second is like being the first loser,” Dan says.
  2. What do they do differently? “While working at Public Chicago in the Pump Room, I heard about a server, Arianna, who had been coming in on her own time to shadow managers. Winners are passionate learners in a constant state of self-improvement. I just had to meet Arianna and let her know this type of ambition and investment always pays off. The sky is the limit in our business for people with drive and great interpersonal skills.”
  3. What do they expect? “A great sales manager doesn’t want to work in a hotel where the banquet staff and front desk team are second rate. They want an environment where nothing will impede them. I don’t believe basketball All-Star Carmelo Anthony will stick around the New York Knicks if they don’t show him they’re committed to building a championship team. And superstars are not only attracted to the best brands but to players who create something exceptional. That happens in all tiers of our business, not just ultra-luxury. One of the best teams I ever worked with was at a nightclub in a 300-room suburban Maryland Marriott. Top performers also want higher pay, development opportunities, and the all-important face time. And they want to work for organizations where low-performers are held accountable.”
  4. Why top talent? “Consider Pat Summitt of the University of Tennessee Women’s Volunteers, who had early success developing mediocre players but never won championships. ‘You don’t take donkeys to the Kentucky Derby,’ counseled her father. His message: ‘You’re so confident in your ability to coach, you neglect spending proportionate amounts of time recruiting top talent.’ When she paired her strong coaching and knowledge with great talent, she won eight NCAA championships and had the most wins in NCAA basketball history.”
  5. How do you recruit? “When we opened the hotel in Waikiki, we trained an army of managers to know who and what to look for. Talent is everywhere— in banks, shopping malls, airplanes, art galleries. We went to Abercrombie & Fitch and found seven good-looking young guys. With no manager in sight, they told us they were making $7.50 an hour. We asked, ‘How would you like to make $10 plus tips and work in a very cool place parking cars?’ We got our entire valet crew in one fell swoop.“One of the biggest challenges in a new opening is convincing tipped employees, especially bartenders, to leave their jobs and hope your place will be busy. I heard about a star bartender working down the street who had turned us down on several occasions. I sat down at his bar and struck up a conversation, ‘How’d you like to take a behind-the-scenes private tour at our new place? We think it’s going to be a home run.’ After explaining I was COO of the company, he agreed to the tour and ultimately took the job. As an added bonus, he told us about the best co-workers from his old team that we should go after.”
  6. Why show favoritism? “In my leadership training, I tell participants I love it when someone comes into my office and says, ‘You guys play favorites.’ My answer is always the same: ‘We sure do. Top performers get recognized, rewarded, and promoted more than everyone else.’ While at the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, a PBX operator was turned down for a sales assistant position and complained to our director of sales, Kate Harth. ‘You’ve called out or been late 27 days over the past year,’ replied Kate. ‘But things will be different,’ the applicant protested. Kate knew they wouldn’t. Her favorite quote and a core belief is, ‘every day is a job interview.’ She would know.  Kate is definitely a top performer.”
  7. How do they benefit you? “In the end, top performers are the ones who contribute game-changing results and create things that leave a legacy—‘a gift from the past.’ They’re the people who institute concepts or programs that benefit the business for years—if not forever. Who came up with the idea for Marriott Rewards? I bet it was a top performer. Horst Schulze created the Ritz-Carlton Credo and culture, a gift that is still giving. And when top performers benefit with promotions, bonuses, fame, and recognition, even if there is a twinge of jealousy, it inspires others to push themselves and reach for more.”

Bob BrownBob Brown is a management consultant who has
worked with such clients as Disney, Nordstrom,
Marriott, Ritz Carlton, Hilton, Morton’s of
Chicago, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn
Steakhouse, Coors Brewing and hundreds of
other restaurants, clubs, and casinos. Visit him at