Hi Steph, Awesome to have a chance to catch up with you today and congratulations on being named Manager of the Year at the Ranch at Rock Creek! As a career professional in the guest ranch industry, what does this mean to you?
Well, honestly, it was a total curveball. There were a lot of people on the team that I would have voted for, so when I found out it was me, it took a minute to sink in. It’s the first time my work has been recognized in this way and it is a great feeling. My #1 priority as a manager is taking care of my team and I felt like our entire team really pulled together this year. I’m proud everyone felt like I played a key role in that.
Not everyone knows you were raised in a small town that looks straight out of an old Western, and your Dad was the sheriff… Did this experience prepare you in any way for a career in ranch hospitality?
Ha, I definitely grew up in the spotlight, it’s known as “The Ghost Town That Lived”, so you bet it was small, and everyone knew I was the sheriff’s daughter. I was in the public eye from as far back as I can remember, and I was always aware of my actions. I knew that if I messed up, it was going to get back to my Dad and my Mom. Like anyone, I had a few parties back in high school and I gained a better awareness real quick when my Dad showed up! I think there is a level of accountability that is very healthy that comes from living in a small community. Everyone has to face the music, and that encourages people to do right by one another and keep in line for the most part. It’s very similar to a guest ranch since we basically live where we work. Hospitality is also about being comfortable on stage, so growing up in the spotlight was a good thing for me from that point of view.
We understand that you were on the opening team for The Ranch at Rock Creek and West Creek Ranch. Would you tell us a little bit about the challenges and rewards of opening a major property?
I didn’t know what to expect when we opened the Ranch at Rock Creek, but it was the most challenging and rewarding experience in my professional life. I remember it like it was yesterday and some of my best friendships and work relationships came from that experience. It’s probably why I wanted to do it again at West Creek Ranch. If there is any work scenario that requires a 24/7 commitment, it’s an opening, so you have to be a little bit crazy for hospitality to enjoy it. The challenges are non-stop; getting the staffing there, getting them trained, getting everyone on the same page, and then getting them comfortable in an environment that is constantly changing. It is one way one day, and then the next day you’re doing it entirely differently. The only way to be successful is to tackle it together and power through. Once we did it, we knew we could tackle anything.
It’s been more than 10 years now, and the Ranch at Rock Creek is a Forbes Five Star and Relais & Chateau property. We operate in a totally different world from an opening environment. We understand our processes, policies, and procedures and do things to the “T”. So, on that note, being successful at work is a little bit easier since we have already defined what needs to happen to be successful, the challenge is more about consistency and everyday excellence. Openings are all about improvising and taking a “never say die” outlook. You learn you have to make the best of every situation during an opening, so whenever something goes wrong in my current environment, I’m totally prepared and comfortable working off-script.
This year was like no other… How have you and your team adapted to the new normal? Have there been any silver linings?
Yeah, I mean, it took a LOT of research in the beginning of the pandemic. We were having meetings every day trying to figure out what to do, how we were going to stay open, how to make sure that it would be safe not only for the guests but also for the team. Looking back on it, we actually did some amazing things, and the team was incredibly resilient and performed at a very high level. It wasn’t the same but not very different from an opening environment actually, because we had to reinvent our entire work and guest experience.
There were quite a few silver linings and what I love the most is how well our team pulled for one another and chipped in wherever needed. Everyone was cross-trained and worked in all aspects of the ranch from the dining room to the corral. Housekeepers were picking guests up at the airport and wranglers were helping with the laundry. I like working that way and if there is any element that I think is particularly special about guest ranch hospitality it’s working on a crew that has the ability to work together and get any job done. Guest ranching was born from people who work the front and the back of the house and I feel it is a defining element of what makes western hospitality so special.
Managers are always searching for great team members, what qualities do you look for and what skill sets do you value the most?
Well, I definitely have a list, but I’m going to say common sense is probably the most important. That and a positive attitude. I like working with reliable people who are open to change. A person will enjoy their job more if they can think outside the box. I want them to constantly innovate and put out new ideas. It’s also important to me that they want to work, that they come ready and want to work hard, or at least enjoy learning how 😊.
Can you tell us a little bit about your leadership style and how it translates to your team?
Well, it isn’t my nature to brag about myself, but I think the biggest thing I might do well is I give my staff freedom. I don’t micromanage them. I also show empathy, and I like to help people through tough times because everyone has them and I always appreciated my co-workers who have done that for me.
When it’s safe to travel and you can take some time off, where do you want to go with whom?
I’m ready! I want to go back to Switzerland with my husband and kids. I went skiing from Austria into Switzerland once, but I want to see Switzerland in summer. You’ll laugh, but I want that “Sound of Music” moment with my family. I’m obsessed with the Alps, the waterfalls, the fairy tale houses high up on the cliffs, and just how green everything is.
Before we go, would you please share a little more about your family and what you like to do to recharge and have fun?
Well, my daughter is eight, and she’s going on 18, and my son is five. He’ll be going into kindergarten next year. They both love to ski and we like to do that as a family. I’m learning how to skate ski, so I’m really excited about that. We all like to venture out to hot springs, especially in the wilderness areas down in Idaho. I like hiking up in the hills and looking for gems and old artifacts. I’m kind of a history buff and I also like exploring the ghost towns that got started with the gold and silver booms back in the old days. My family and I like to load up in the ATVs and get lost in the mountains all day.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with our audience, all the best to you and your family, and the crew at the ranch!