A woman running hotels aimed at women––an idea that makes sense! Meet Sherry Abedi, whose range and variety of experience in the hotel industry have made her the perfect choice to be Area General Manager for Viceroy Hotels & Resorts, a brand known for delivering first-class luxury in vibrant locations, offering experiences that are enriched by local history and contemporary culture. Within Sherry's purview of Washington, DC hotels are Hotel Zena, which is squarely positioned as a place for women, and Viceroy Washington, a hot spot offering escape from politics and business as usual.
Beyond the rooftop pools, trendy locations, and high-style interior design, we chat with Sherry about how she brings the energy and all the "feels", to create unique guest experiences––everything from drag shows to speed dating. She shares her journey from a part-time job in school to GM and mentor to aspiring hospitality leaders, here's herstory:
What drew you to a career in hotel management? Can you tell us a little about how you got to where you are today as General Manager of two highly sought-after luxury hotels?
My career in hospitality began when I was in school, and I worked in food and beverage and then various entry-level roles within hotels. I fell in love with the industry, as it is one that focuses on people and human relationships and gives me the opportunity to connect with others personally each day. Since my days working in restaurants, I’ve held various positions from resort manager positions to leading the opening of hotels across the country. I’ve enjoyed and learned so much from each experience and the people I’ve worked alongside – each has led me to my role today as Area General Manager of Viceroy Washington DC and Hotel Zena.
Both Hotel Zena and Viceroy Washington DC are heavily inspired by art, is this something that attracted you to them?
Definitely! Each of the hotels’ artwork helps tell the story of the property – Hotel Zena, with works that celebrate the contributions and courage of women, and Viceroy Washington DC, with pieces that showcase the modern and artistic spirit of the District. Over the years, while working at hotels, I’ve made it a priority to bring engaging programs to guests. The art found inside and outside of Hotel Zena and Viceroy Washington DC, certainly sets the tone for the creative spirit of the hotels, and I knew they would be a space I could bring ideas to life. We are further expanding the hotels’ event and program offerings with new experiences in the works to come in the new year.
In particular, Hotel Zena is marketed as a ‘hotel for women’, what does this mean to you? How do you bring this element of feminism to life?
Hotel Zena welcomes visitors across genders, races, and sexualities and we celebrate female empowerment through not only impressive art and design, but through partnerships with female-owned businesses, charitable organizations, and more. The artwork found around the hotel and its exciting entertainment events, from drag shows to speed dating, excite our guests who come to the hotel to celebrate and applaud female groundbreakers in an atmosphere of strength and femininity.
This sounds interesting, can you share some more details?
We made the hotel a cultural hub that celebrates female empowerment. For example, we have an amazing art gallery and collection titled “Her” focused on works that celebrate women and each has been purposefully commissioned to convey a simple message of unity. There is a piece of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made from CORA tampons. Then the new rooftop lounge Hedy’s, pay tribute to Hedy Lamarr, the groundbreaking actress, inventor, and film producer whose patents for radiofrequency hopping were recognized as the blueprint for Bluetooth technology – all the cocktails reflect her effervescent vibe. There is also an exciting lineup of programs at Hotel Zena from shows by DC’s best drag queens, to talks with female artists, we keep it really fresh.
What challenges have you had to overcome as a woman in this industry?
I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career. I've had the opportunity to work with leaders that have always been supportive of my growth and development. The challenges I’ve faced were more a result of peers and lateral management, rather than leaders. I have a no-nonsense and earnest approach to communication with my team, which may be misinterpreted coming from a woman, while this style is less of an issue for a man in my position. I never let that affect me or the standards I set for my teams.
What do you look for in potential employees?
All of us at Viceroy Washington DC and Hotel Zena are a family, together we form relationships with each other, our guests, and partners. When building our team, we look for associates who will get along with our team and promote collaboration and working together. The collaborative work process fosters inspiration within the group and a commitment to supporting and empowering each other.
What is the greatest piece of advice that you give to aspiring female professionals in the hospitality business?
In the early stage of their careers, I encourage female hospitality professionals to experience as many different departments as possible. While women are on their path of various experiences, it is important to ask questions to help find a niche. Once the niche is found, I recommend women meet with mentors and leaders currently in the roles they aspire to reach. Personally, I’ve held positions at all levels and areas across both the restaurant and hotel industries to learn all facets of the businesses. I also mentor many women to provide guidance and stories of personal experience as they start their careers and learn more about the industry. We can all learn from each other and help bring more women into hospitality.