When I first learned Jill Torke was from Wisconsin, I had to ask her all my questions about supper clubs. Much to my delight, she was well-versed on the Midwest phenom and happily obliged. It’s her down-to-earth personality and affable approach that make her as lovely as a leader as she is as a friend. Having carried The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago through its management transition period in 2015 (when it officially came under the Marriott umbrella) and a renovation in 2017, she and her team are a major reason the luxury hotel consistently ranks among the city’s best.
ILM+E: How does your Midwest upbringing inform your management style?
JL: My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic. It applies not only to your business life, but your personal life. Everything that’s worth having takes hard work and dedication. What stems from the foundation of a great work ethic is trust. I try to create a team here that’s built around trust and respect. I think we’ve been successful because when leadership has trust in you, you bring that down to your team. People want to work where they feel good about themselves.
ILM+E: What challenges have you faced in the repositioning of The Ritz-Carlton?
JL: For years there was a lot of confusion, as it was managed by Four Seasons—a direct competitor. Then management shifted to Ritz-Carlton. We closed to remodel, and when we put a new product out [in July 2017], we said, “we have these wonderful bones and reputation, and now we’re going to give you something better.” So far it’s been embraced.
ILM+E: Torali, the hotel’s new steakhouse, has been a hit. What’s your favorite dish there?
JL: The avocado toast is ridiculous. It has a fried egg and olive oil on top—so good. And coming from Wisconsin, I like a good steak.
ILM+E: As Chicago’s hotel boom continues, how do you differentiate?
JL: Our No. 1 focus is to distinguish ourselves with our name and the fact that we are now a true Ritz-Carlton. We fly the flag, carry our credo cards and have that commitment to quality—that is a huge change from what this hotel was three years ago. From a group perspective, yes, we’re a luxury property, but we’re super agile in our approach. We’re not a cookie cutter that says, “here’s your rate, here’s your offer,” and we don’t have a take-it-or-leave-it approach. We look at how we can become even more flexible to fight for a piece of business.