By Cory Phare
As 2020 began, things were looking up for Scotti Gladney and his team at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott on the Auraria Campus.
The distinctive hotel, which also functions as a learning laboratory for students from Metropolitan State University of Denver’s School of Hospitality, had just been remodeled, and Gladney, the general manager, was excited to show it off to guests taking advantage of its enviable downtown Denver location.
Then the pandemic hit. Phones were ringing off the hook with cancellations and the business travel that made up more than 60% of the hotel’s stays disappeared overnight.
In what is now an all-too familiar story, the hotel responded by cutting expenses and ramping up safety measures. As the spring and summer went on, Gladney’s team of 70 associates shrank to 15.
“No doubt about it, it’s been difficult,” he said. “But we’ve been able to adopt contingencies and are set up to perform well in delivering our services. I do believe when we come back, we’ll be back on top.”
Those who know him say that’s Gladney all over: dedicated, determined and unfailingly optimistic. He’s one reason his hotel beats out luxury name brands to maintain a top rating at No. 7 out of 175 Denver hotels on TripAdvisor. And during the biggest global pandemic of a generation, they've done the unthinkable for a downtown hotel by remaining profitable, which he directly attributes to cultivating a culture of leadership.
Gladney was recently named SpringHill Suites by Marriott’s General Manager of the Year and made Hotel Management Magazine’s GMs to Watch list. More than a GM, he’s also a faculty member at the School of Hospitality, teaching courses on management and operations while pursuing his master’s in business administration.
"We're incredibly fortunate to have such a collaborative and innovative partner with Scotti," said Christian Hardigree, J.D., dean of the School of Hospitality. "Whether in the classroom or the hotel, he's constantly striving to get us to the next level."
Gladney says he appreciates the accolades but remains focused on keeping his hotel open and operational for better days ahead. He credits Sage Hospitality Group and MSU Denver for staying the course, keeping the hotel’s Degree Metropolitan Food & Drink restaurant open and not shuttering the property like so many other downtown locations.
“The hardest part of all of this is that I miss my team – but I truly believe we’re going to be one of the first places that come out of this stronger than ever,” Gladney said.
From night clerk to GM
After graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Gladney was studying comparative literature in graduate school at the University of Michigan when he took a night job at a hotel. He discovered that hospitality was an unexpectedly natural fit, and before long he was climbing the ladder to be a general manager at 25.
He attributes his rise to “not knowing what the heck I was doing, but someone saw potential and gave me a shot,” and eventually made his way to the SpringHill Suites Downtown Denver and MSU Denver in 2017.
There, he launched an annual program called the Happiness Initiative: Team members compete to go out of their way to make a positive impression on guests and colleagues, who would nominate them for the good deed. At the end of the official “happiness month,” results are tallied, a winner declared and a party thrown for the team’s collective goodwill effort.
“If you celebrate everything, you bounce back faster when the bad days hit because you know there’s something good around the corner,” Gladney said. “That's at the core of my top priority – helping students develop into the leaders they're meant to be.”
Rebekah Wilmoth, an alumna of the School of Hospitality, recalled that when she began working at the hotel’s front desk, the property-management system came with a steep learning curve. On top of that, she was stressed about taking on a full load of classes while working full-time.
That’s when Gladney stepped in to help.
“As GM, he’s got a lot on his plate, but he always makes you feel like you matter,” Wilmoth said. “He’d take the time to sit down with people for lunch and remembers your birthday; he’d be the first one to grab a broom and help the crew who was sweeping.
“I’ve carried that with me – no matter what, he’s invested in people.”
Gladney said leaders are only as good as the team around them. “Where we’re working has to be on the pathway to legendary status,” he said. “That’s an important distinction – we’re custodians of these roles and want to make a lasting impression on everyone who walks through these doors.”
Senior Josephina Carlacci-King said Gladney’s career-development course is her favorite at MSU Denver, where she has gained insight into industry navigation, mentorship and self-advocacy. She observed that “you’re never paid what you’re worth – you’re paid what you negotiate.”
“More than anything, though, he cares about students and wants the best for them,” said Carlacci-King, an MSU Denver Dimond Fellow. “It brings out the best in people, and that makes work fun.”
Wilmoth credited Gladney’s approach to cross-training as a critical element in helping her land safely during such a tumultuous time. After graduating in 2019, the Dimond Fellow of the Year moved to Florida for a position through Marriott’s exclusive Voyager program in January 2020.
When the pandemic hit, her position was furloughed – along with those of 16,000 other hotel workers out of a job in Orlando alone. Today, she’s a front-desk manager at the Celeste Hotel, another branded property on the University of Central Florida’s campus, similar to SpringHill Suites with its collegiate connection.
Under Gladney, she said, she learned the front-desk, night-audit, room-inspection and market-inventory processes, among other skills. The result was her being able to think on her feet from being “trained on what to do when you don’t know what to do.”
“You’re not just working somewhere; you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself,” Wilmoth said.
Of her former boss back in Denver, she added, “We’re in the business of hospitality and creating a place to belong. In every sense possible, Scotti embodies that – and with him leading the way, things are going to come back better than ever, post-pandemic.”
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