Kevin Osterhaus is an operator’s operator. After serving in operations leadership roles at Bunkhouse, Sixty Hotels, Standard, and Ennismore, he became President of Graduate Hotels in November 2021.
Graduate Hotels has experienced rapid growth over the past three years, expanding from 13 hotels to 32 properties, and recently launched Graduate Homes, its foray into managed short-term rentals.
I recently spoke with him about what he’s learned throughout his career and how that shapes the way he leads the company today.
Why Kevin has focused his career on operations
Kevin’s career path in operations started with why he chose hospitality to begin with. “I wanted to work with interesting people and live in interesting places.”
Operations provided him opportunities to do that. Through working for many leading lifestyle brands, Kevin fell in love with creating great memories for guests.
“We want to provide our guests with an escape to a certain lifestyle for a couple of days while they are staying at our hotels. Nothing compares to hearing a guest talk about an experience that we were able to provide. I love the art and communication and teamwork to deliver something special.”
In hospitality, operational planning and processes are so important because what we are really providing our guests isn’t tangible, it’s memories.Kevin Osterhaus
The role of operations in brand experience
The line between marketing and operations in strong hospitality brands is blurry. Operations is so important because of the coordination required between product development and service delivery to ensure a differentiated guest experience.
Excellence in hospitality requires attention to detail. It’s designing an experience and operating the product to interpret those details. There are companies out there that miss this frequently because excellence requires combining brand and marketing with the operating reality.Kevin Osterhaus
“The best hospitality brands recruit the right people to deliver their brand story, and then inspire those people through their communication, storytelling, and training to bridge the marketing-operations gap seamlessly so the guests can experience the brand as intended.”
For the brands that do this well, the payoff is significant. “I’ve learned that if we can consistently deliver a well-thought-out experience we grow market share and can drive rate growth. Demand increases as people seek out the experiences we provide.”
What is excellence in operations?
For Kevin, excellence in operations depends on the type of hotel.
“You can deliver excellence in operations at every level of the hospitality spectrum – whether it’s a limited service property or a luxury hotel. Great brands define their experience and then deliver that consistently to guests. But excellence in operations depends on the expectations we set for our guests.”
He shared the Graduate Hotels brand as an example of this. “Graduate is not a luxury brand, but we place just as much value on the details and executing those details as a luxury brand would.”
Becoming better storytellers to support recruiting
For Kevin, building great brands and achieving operational excellence starts with the recruiting process. He believes it’s an area that needs some innovation.
“We need to think more as an industry about how we can recruit effectively. We need to reimagine what it will take to get more people excited about working in hospitality. We need to be good storytellers and share the excitement that exists in this industry.”
Inspiring to engage teams today
Hotel leaders today need to also focus on retaining and inspiring the people they have, and Kevin thinks a lot about how to effectively engage his teams.
“My commitment to my teams is to remain transparent at every step of our journey. I want to bring our teams along for the ride to where we are going. Transparency is vital for creating loyalty, excitement, and accountability for all of us in the process. I want our teams to see that we are driven by action and we are delivering on what we say we will deliver throughout our portfolio.”
Mentorship also plays a big role in Kevin’s leadership style. “One of the things I’ve gotten even more excited about over the past couple of years is opportunities to mentor and develop people in a way that positively affects their careers.”
Engaging teams through education
Graduate’s strong brand connection to education and development is more than just marketing – for Kevin, it’s the essence of how they operate and a key part of their employee engagement process. “We’re very focused now on retention through providing educational opportunities.”
This involves programs that offer opportunities for tuition reimbursement, whether that is English language classes, high school degrees, certifications, or four-year college degrees. “It’s not typical in our industry to ensure access to education for our employees – and in some cases their families – but it’s a key part of how the Graduate brand is growing and evolving.”