Have You Ever Been First?

I’m not talking about those lucky days when there’s no wait in the line at EPCOT for Soarin’ (once, on a dreary Thursday evening in September of 2013 when most of Florida was in a hurricane watch. . .) or on the teensy-weensy outside chance that the Starbucks drive-though is a zip (again once, in the pouring down rain in the middle of a weekday afternoon. . .).  Nope, those aren’t the firsts I’m referring to.  I’m talking about something really big and very important.

The employment line.

More specifically, the hospitality employment line here in Central Florida, where you might have heard, there are currently over 232,000 people already gainfully employed.  That’s right, 232,000 employed in Orlando area hospitality jobs which places this industry on the top of the leader board when it comes to local employment, and yes, I already know what you’re thinking because I can see that bubble circling above your head.  “Aren’t most of these jobs lower paying/high turnover type positions-you know, ride and show ops, housekeeping, bus driver types?”  The short answer is that many of them are, but certainly not all.

For instance, take my friend, Jenna Borreggine, Assistant Director of Sales at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, who was No.#1 hire at this hotel when it opened August 3, 2014, one year ago this month. To be clear, Jenna was hired before all of the operations and administration team was put into place, so being the No.#1 hire on a team of about 700 employees put her in a remarkable position.  How did that happen?  First, Jenna was in the right place. Second, she had the right background and training (she’s an early graduate of the Rosen School of Hospitality Management at UCF).  Put those two factors together with the third element –  right timing – and you’ve got the perfect mix for being at the head of the employment line for an epic new hotel.  You see back in 2012, Borreggine was already employed by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts at the Miami property.  But when this offer was presented, she took a leap of faith to move back to Orlando and compete in an already crowded hotel market with a product that was still on the drawing boards.  She knew only that it would be the largest property in the brand’s worldwide portfolio and would likely receive the accolade of Central Florida’s first AAA Five Diamond Award, a most prestigious honor that was achieved within just three months of the resort’s opening. (To date, it is still the first and only property in Central Florida with this recognition.)

Jenna in her fashionable hard hat, part of the required daily attire during  hotel construction.
Jenna in her fashionable hard hat, part of the required daily attire during hotel construction.

So, considering there was no hotel product to actually see when she was hired, what did employee No.#1 do on those first few days/weeks/months on the job?  “The first thing you do in pre-opening sales is a competitive analysis with other similar products in your market niche so you can figure out (best educated guess) a platform and message of this new hotel in the market.  And then you go find clients.”  Remember, this is all done before the hotel is built so you’re basically working off blue prints, architectural drawings, scale models, and designer swatches of room colors and artwork to make the whole project come together into a finished product that clients can actually visualize.  To further this effort, hotels usually construct a scale model of sample rooms, but when Jenna was hired, even that scale model was still under construction. So basically she took a leap of faith and began a journey that came to a happy conclusion on August 3, 2014 when the hotel officially opened.

I asked her to share a juicy story about something interesting/challenging that happened pre-opening and without hesitation she recalled how “over 400 sofas had to be sent back to spec when it was discovered that they didn’t fit into the doorframe of the actual sleeping rooms after the hotel build-out!”  How does this happen?  Scale models are just that.  Things that look and fit perfectly off-site can take on a whole new meaning when the finished product is delivered.

Four Seasons Resort Orlando
The finished product – Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort.

Now some of you might be wondering why a hotel would need to hire a sales person before anyone else, and the answer is simple:  operating revenue is generated through sales.  In other words, the sales department is where the action’s at, baby!  Yes, that’s how important the sales team is to each and every hotel, and the larger the property, the more people they employ in sales and marketing.  And in Jenna’s case her willingness to come on board as their first employee, agreeing to do whatever it took to launch the hotel, has paid off in her professional growth and loyalty to the Four Seasons.  Today Borreggine’s sales focus includes both the Corporate and Incentive markets (RE very high-caliber clients and events) as well as the Entertainment market (RE even higher level clientele and usually money is no object in this category). Yep, she gets to rub elbows with the A-List celebrities when they stay at her property which is pretty much all the time.  They come here on business gigs; they come on personal family vacations.  Whatever their reason for being in Orlando, it’s Jenna’s job to book the business. And that includes paying attention to all those crazy celebrity requested details that the rest of us hear rumors about.  Things like moving mattresses to the floor (?), adding specific furniture (like rocking chairs!) to those plush suites they get assigned, and, hey, what about that request to peal off the wallpaper and repaint a sleeping room?  I’m not sayin’ they did, and I’m not sayin’ they didn’t. . .I’m just sayin’ that requests like this come along with the territory of being the sales rep for entertainment luminaries at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World.

All in a day’s job for Jenna Borreggine, and by all accounts, an exciting one at that, wouldn’t you agree? 

In future months I’ll feature other interesting jobs that can be found right here in Orlando’s very own hospitality industry, the largest category of job employment in Central Florida.

And, if you liked this post, you might also enjoy this one about unique jobs in the hospitality industry, or this one about the awesome rooftop restaurant at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort that I reviewed in December.

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Just your average middle age gal trying to deal with career/life/family changes and issues while studying people and places, one lobby bar at a time.

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