Growing up in Chicago, Catherine Mrowiec’s mother worked as a food and beverage cashier in what was known as the Conrad Hilton on Michigan Avenue in the 1960s. The hotel had live ice skating shows at the time, and twice a year, Mrowiec’s mother would sneak her in to watch the show. One day she got to go back into the kitchen for a special surprise. “There was a little table set up with a white tablecloth, a miniature teapot filled with hot chocolate, and marshmallows and whipped cream, and these gentleman came over to me in starched white coats and hats,” she remembers. “That made an impression on me about what it was like to work in a hotel.”
Mrowiec’s first job out of college was with Hyatt Hotels as a housekeeping manager, and she worked various roles before opening JW Marriott Chicago as general manager in 2010. She took on the role of opening GM once again for Marriott Marquis Chicago, the largest property to open in North America in 2017.
ILM+E: What prompted your move from the JW to the Marquis?
CM: I’ve always liked the challenging job. I had heard about the Marquis coming onboard, and being from Chicago and knowing McCormick Place would be directly connected to the hotel, I thought this would exercise a completely different set of muscles— to go to a property twice as big and that’s part of development of the McCormick Square area.
ILM+E: How is managing such a large property (1,205 guest rooms, over 90,000 square feet of meeting space) different?
CM: When you hear about large convention hotels, [they are not known for giving] individual experiences to customers. It is more of a mass movement of people coming and going. I thought it would be intriguing to not only to open this hotel, hire the team, and build the culture, but to change the impression about large hotels, and see if you can keep each individual customer in mind.
ILM+E: How do you begin to do that?
CM: Part of our focus in our training is to provide that influential experience for a customer. When you start looking at people as individuals instead of a group that’s checking in, paying attention to detail and understanding that they’re not just somebody attending a show, you can make that kind of connection with people.
ILM+E: Speaking of connections, President Obama stayed at the Marquis just six weeks after it opened. How did that go?
CM: What you do is you prepare for him like you do for any guest coming in. You want to be efficient, give great service and provide experience for people. One of the positives for us was that he was planning to stay with us one night and then go to his residence for the remaining nights, yet he wound up staying here the whole time.