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Male Ally of the Month: Lou Carrier, President, Distinctive Hospitality Group

Our “Male Ally of the Month” column focuses on the men going out of their way to support women in the hospitality industry. While we all know they don’t have to help, these guys want to help, and this column takes the time to find out how and why they are determined to help us reach gender equality.


For Mr. March, we bring you a dear friend and long time male ally, Lou Carrier, a true titan in the hospitality world with a flair for shaking things up and breaking molds. Lou's not your average industry leader; as President of Distinctive Hospitality Group (DHG), he's been at the helm of pioneering ventures, including launching the world's first Spark hotel by Hilton, driving the concept creation behind the Wit Hotel in Chicago, and an early leader with the Hard Rock Hotel brand. His resume reads like a roadmap through hospitality innovation, with stints that have shaped brands from the ground up and leadership roles that span the spectrum from a General Manager in Orlando to an Executive VP in Las Vegas.


But here's why we're really talking to Lou: beyond the glitz of hotel openings and the prestige of industry awards lies his staunch commitment to gender equality and fostering diversity in the workplace. From dishwashing on Cape Cod to creating equality in the boardroom at DHG, Carrier's journey is a testament to the belief that a more inclusive industry isn't just possible—it's essential. Please meet our Mr. March, Lou Carrier!!!


Lou Carrier Distinctive Hospitality Group DHG

Lou, what drew you to hospitality and what was your very first job?


I grew up on Cape Cod, MA and by 7th Grade one could get a job washing dishes at many local restaurants and hotels….and I was very good at it! By 8th Grade I was getting trained to cook and from there I was off to the races. Like many people in the hospitality industry, we get bit by the bug early on and can never shake it. By my sophomore year in High School, I knew I wanted to be in the hotel business and would be best served going to a solid hotel school. I headed to University of Massachusetts in Amherst for my degree in Hotel Administration.

 

In our interviews with male allies, we have found that along the way women have been influential in their lives.  What women have influenced you either in life or at work?

 

Outside of the natural family influences early on of my mother and sisters there have been countless women who have had influence on me personally and professionally. It may be worth noting that I’m the seventh of eight kids with five boys and three girls. There were no shortcuts for any of us growing up and my sisters are all fiercely confident, accomplished women in their professional pursuits as well as in the co-leadership of their families. We grew up in a family environment of unequivocal equality with expectations of educational accomplishment, sound moral judgement, and self-reliance. My parents were unrelenting in those things and did so as equal partners.


Also, very fortunately in my career I have had the benefit of working for companies that seemed blind, or at least partially blind to gender. With Stouffer Hotels in the first nine years of my career I worked in a “grande dame” type hotel in Washington DC. Being the mid-1980’s it was still a heavily male dominated industry for sure, but I entered that hotel as a college grad in a corporate management trainee role. There were six of us and I was the only guy. It was a taste of things I came to experience with that company as more and more senior roles were occupied by women.


I spent the next eight years of my career with Loews Hotels and that experience was on an even higher-level of professional gender equality. Some of the most confident, no-nonsense, and effective professionals I’ve ever worked with were women leaders at Loews; Charlotte St. Martin, Sherrie Laveroni, Valerie Ferguson, and frankly you, Emily, to name just a few. Each had incredible influence on me. I must say with each of them my impression was that they controlled their own destinies, they earned their influence, and they respected the power they earned.


A serious shout out to Jon Tisch, longtime industry leader and former CEO of Loews Hotels, who very clearly set the tone and cultural expectation for the company. My impression was the mission of insuring earned equality and wiping out gender or race as having any influence in any facet of decision making was crystal clear. It wasn’t who we were or would ever be and if you had other thoughts Loews Hotels would never be a fit for you. That had a profound, reinforcing impact on me.


Jenny Lucas with Lou and Executive Chef Evan Percoco
Jenny Lucas with Lou and Executive Chef Evan Percoco in 1998

An example, my close friend Jenny Lucas is the Senior Vice President of Operations for Loews and has had a remarkable, influential career. Jenny and I worked together at The Mayflower Hotel and I take great personal pride in wooing her years ago to Loews Hotels in part because of what I had experienced with female leaders in the company. One of the most collaborative professional relationships I’ve ever had was the years I worked with Jenny. Whether one-on-one problem solving or larger group initiatives we always seemed to wrestle victories together…and when results were not exactly what we wanted we never dwelled but moved on. And had a blast doing it!


In my own company now, by coincidence I think more than anything else our entire senior management team is female…other than me! Our Senior Vice President, Vice President of Administration, Vice President of Sales, Director of Operations, and Director of Marketing are all women. This was certainly not by design and has for me the pure benefit of competency. Together we’ve seen the success of hard work and results in good times and the success of working together through the toughest times of the COVID “era”. To use an old military euphemism, these are the people I want to be with to share a foxhole. Mutual support through thick and thin with the ingenuity and perseverance to win out.

 

What skills or abilities do you see standout in female leaders?


The same as in any great leader; work ethic, earned confidence, creativity, risk-taking, empathy, and a good sense of humor. Whether running a country, a business, or a household I think intelligence, self-confidence, and integrity seemingly trump everything else in influencing and leading others to be their best.

 

What challenges do you think women face more than men in hospitality?


I’m guessing the balance of personal and professional commitments is always going to be a greater challenge for women than men. It was certainly true for my wife. She had been a senior accountant with Ritz-Carlton Hotels and was the first person (male or female) from the accounting department in the company to be awarded Manager of the Year. She was respected, moving forward with the company she loved, and on her way to a great career. For us personally she has always been smarter than me and at that time was outpacing me in salary, so I made a great catch!


Lou Carrier
Lou and wife Beth Anne

When we decided to start our family everything more or less derailed for her. In the mid-‘90’s she had to make up her mind to get straight back to work full-time after our son was born or step away. She made the very hard decision to step away from a career she loved and a company she truly felt aligned. Most men would never make that sacrifice. Things may have gotten more accommodating in recent times, but the challenge remains. Its simply not a choice most men are forced to make in our industry… it’s clearly a challenge not fully resolved in an industry where the demands of time are so high.

 

How can we (as an industry) move past those obstacles?


I don’t think every obstacle has a perfect solution, but I do think continuing to challenge past conventions is the right direction. I think the major global brands are very focused on ensuring the playing field is level and there are more and more examples of that being true. In my own experience being an owner/operator of Hilton brand hotels I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with many senior and striving-level women leaders. Anu Saxena and Jenna Hackett are two that come to mind immediately.



The world's first Spark by Hilton in Mystic, Connecticut
The world's first Spark by Hilton in Mystic, Connecticut

Anu, is President/Global Head of Hilton Supply Management, the largest global supply chain organization in our industry. She was tapped with revolutionizing this critical element of our industry and has been successful beyond expectation. An absolute game-changer and a person sincerely impressive to deal with at every level of interaction. She’ll go down as a true icon of our industry and she’s been able to do it while growing a family.


Jenna is Global Head of the Lifestyle Brands of Hilton. Confident, informed, organized, and analytical she’s been leading the robust growth of multiple brands globally for years. What was once a very niche element of the hotel space has been put front and center in ever-expanding ways by Jenna and her team.


You are one of the most creative hoteliers I have had the privilege to work with, do you see gender playing a role in creativity and innovation?


Thanks for that compliment! Everybody brings something to the table and the best initiatives I’ve ever worked on are ultimately a combination of contributed ideas. I love the creative process and, in our business, as you know its never creativity for the sake of creativity….its creativity that results in financial return that wins the day. The people I have gelled best go into the creative process with that in mind, and in that I have collaborated with some awesome women. I’d start with the team at DHG I’m lucky to work with every day, every one of them gives and takes it with the best. Some in analysis, some in marketing, some in sales strategies, and all in general creative thought.


I mentioned my years working with Jenny Lucas and would also add Diane Petit who was our F&B Director at Hard Rock Hotel Orlando (and now an executive with Walt Disney World)…Diane was exceptional, and I mean exceptional, at figuring out how to refine and implement creative output into an operational success.


Some could have accused me of producing some “extreme” concepts or ideas (restaurant/bar concepts, indoor/outdoor concerts, cooking with rock stars, amenity programs, amplified ice cream parlors, etc.)… Diane was a master of collaborative execution. To me that’s understanding a vision fully (on paper, in sketches, and with long back/forth conversation) then, contemplation and strategy, then execution. Whether by straight line or long, winding road Diane could get us there. She has a "never say no" attitude and a confidence in herself and her ability to engage a team to fulfilling a concept that was incredibly reassuring. It's so important in the creative process that there are players that truly “see” the vision, its purpose, and its desired outcome clearly and are invested in realizing that outcome personally. It’s the most important part of the process in my mind. Consider how many “great ideas” fell on their face because of a lack of execution…too many to count.

 

As a father of a daughters, what do you hope to see for her in her career?


My wife and I have one son and two daughters, all out of college and on with their careers. They have each earned their right to successful professional opportunities as they all worked hard in their studies and put in their time and commitment to their emerging professions. Our daughters have sought vastly different careers, one is focused on elementary education and the other marketing finance with a Fortune 100 company. My hope for them is that as they grow and progress in their careers, they never feel restricted or curtailed by any bias and that they are able to explore the maximum growth potential they seek.

 

What advice can you share with our readers in the early phases of their careers?


You must give to get. The more experience and experiences you gain the more marketable and desirable you become. I often use the analogy of arrows in your quiver. You always want more arrows than the next person and you gain them by earning through sacrifice and contribution. Building a career is not easy, it never was, and it never will be. The most accomplished professionals I know, man or woman, put in the time, accentuate their innate talents, and seek to learn, and gain proficiency in those areas necessary for success. It takes commitment and positivity.

 

For other men that are looking to embrace a more inclusive mindset, what advice can you share?


Be self-serving and put the best team on the field! I can’t even imagine making the effort to influence hiring a position on any level other than competency and certainly not based on some warped gender prejudice. It makes no sense.

 

Lou, you have been an early and eager supporter of hertelier!  We are grateful to have you as an ally, thank you! Your encouragement has meant the world to me and Nancy.

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