Mother-Daughter Hotelier Powerhouses
How this women, at the top of her game, juggles her empire, working with her daughters, and her life passions.
As President and CEO of Personality Hotels, Yvonne Lembi Detert is a leader in the hospitality industry. As a lady who started the country’s first boutique hotel at the fresh age of 22, Yvonne is a striking example of the powers of innovation and determination. Known for being loyal and nurturing towards her staff, Yvonne has taken a unique stance in the business world. Using her maternal qualities to her advantage, she has gained the love and respect of those around her. It’s no wonder given that her self-proclaimed Golden Rule is to be honest, upfront and determined.
With a vision backed with integrity, it seems like her success was inevitable.
Yvonne did have a little help (she’s the daughter of real estate giant Frank Lembi), but her background in interior design coupled with her business know-how is what really catapulted her to the top. By applying her unique vision to create small, luxurious hotels with distinct personalities, Yvonne created something special and distinct. She now has the pleasure of passing along the business to her own daughters, Emily and Elizabeth.
Urbanette Magazine: Yvonne, in my research, I found that many people cited your motherly quality as a key ingredient in your success. Can you flush out what this quality is, and how does it compare with what makes men strong in your same position?
Yvonne Lembi Detert: In both my personal and professional life, I live by the Golden Rule of being kind to others, as I too would like to be treated kindly. I always ask my team for their ideas and do my best to empower them. I have taught my own daughters & my team that is okay to feel uncomfortable sometimes. Uncomfortable is good, because it forces you take risks. I also remind everyone that F.E.A.R. is really just False Evidence Appearing Real.
As a mom and also a leader, I love to motivate people and give them a chance to shine. I let them know that mistakes do happen, but you learn from those mistakes. I like to recognize the whole person — their self, their family, and their importance in being in the workplace. It’s exactly what a parent is supposed to do. You raise your child to grow up and have good values, you teach them the right from wrong, you want them to appreciate family and themselves, and then they grow up to go out there and conquer the world (and the work place). I like to feel that I instill confidence in my daughters, and in my employees. That is what a good motherly quality is all about. I love reminding my daughters, “You too are a leader!” As a mother in the work place I have reminded my daughters that I never dwell on gender. I focus on my work and do not harp on feminist issues.
Be present in the workplace and engage with your team. Make eye contact and make your emails have a lasting impression with personality.
Urbanette: It seems that business is so often portrayed as a totally cutthroat world. How do you stay grounded? Have you found that other, opposite tactics have worked for you? For example, have you found that optimism works better than pessimism, looking out for others rather than focusing solely on the bottom line?
Yvonne: I stay grounded by waking up at 3:30 a.m. daily and putting my thoughts together for the day. This is my routine for welcoming a new day with positive thoughts. I click on my daily teaching from The Secret: “Time and size do not exist in the universe. It is as easy to heal a pimple as a disease. The process is identical: the difference is in our minds. So if you have attracted some affliction to you, reduce it in your mind to the size of a pimple, let go of all negative thoughts, and then focus on the perfection of health.”
I am guilty of being the type of leader that has more passion for empowering my team vs. focusing on boring numbers, although I balance my leadership by making sure the team executives that rise to the task of crunching the numbers are respected and appreciated. I am also not shy to ask for help. I like everyone knowing that I don’t have all the answers because, quite simply, I don’t. Optimism is EVERYTHING! I read the Optimistic Creed my father gave me years ago as part of my daily routine. When I arrive at work, no matter what situations I am dealing with I make sure I am on stage all the time and show everyone that passion and energy is what brings success and fulfillment.
Urbanette: I hear that despite your hectic work schedule, you still cooked dinner for your family most nights. This seems like such a traditional female duty. Did you feel obligated to do this? Do you think men in your position feel the same kind of push to do things with their families?
Yvonne: I cooked for my family most nights after work for so very many reasons. I wanted my daughters to learn from me the tradition and importance of cooking healthy for life. Now I see both daughters cooking for themselves, and their friends don’t know how to cook.
It is not because of a traditional female duty I was trying to teach, but for the knowledge and enjoyment that food brings to life. I never felt obligated to cook and fortunately my husband was always understanding if I didn’t want to cook and he would say “Order out,” but I wanted all of us to eat healthy and eat well. We also had fun cooking breakfast for dinner or also encouraging “eat what you want” nights, where we all cooked together making our own dinners.
Lastly – it was always important to me to set a nice table for our dinner and light candles. To create a welcoming and hospitable dining environment. And now I see my daughters always doing the same. Perhaps it’s the hospitality in me, and not any “female duty” inclination.
I believe there are many men out there who feel the same kind of push to do things for their families. My husband is a perfect example of that and I am fortunate for this. He loves to help out around the house. A small gesture goes a long way. Even PB & J’s do the trick.
The more I see online the more intimidated, jealous and full of anxiety I get.
Urbanette: What do you think is the key ingredient to your success? Is it still a man’s world out there?
Yvonne: My key ingredient for successful creativity is instantly verbalizing my imagination as it runs on high fuel endlessly. I constantly write my thoughts down and rip out images from magazines. I stay away from Pinterest and other social media creative sites because they stunt my imagination. The more I see online the more intimidated, jealous and full of anxiety I get. My mind feels as though it is a constant treadmill running on high speed (and I love that).
I also love following trends that can connect to hospitality. I believe running hotels is exactly like running a household & being a great hostess. That is why women absolutely tend to do better than men in the hospitality industry.
Breaking down the walls of “it is still a man’s world out there” will be tough to crack, but women being leaders and active in the workforce has widened the crack and allowed fresh streaming water to run through the crack and filter it with the importance of women in the workforce. Women have the strength in the workforce to succeed because they know how to deliver!!!!! They are strong enough to deliver (literally) the next major superstar in the future workforce — therefore women have the power!
Urbanette: The way you talk about the creative process—your dreams/visions and current fashion trends—seems to be a distinct way of doing business, more like how a painter works than a CEO.
Yvonne: I have always seen my job as art and not as an office job. Creativity is what makes my brain feel exercised in the workplace. I want our guests to feel like they are the art and the hotels are the canvas, but not a blank canvas….we are the colorful background that awaits each guest, and they add to the paint and be a part of the painting , so when they return home they visualize and see there colorful memories of their stay.
We create hotel packages that are designed around current events, pop culture or fashion to make sure our guests feel the pulse and the energy of what they read, see or pass by. Their experience with us is the creative extension of what they may have read about in a book i.e. Fifty Shades of Grey and Personality Hotels’ “50 Shades of Women” package. On that note, we’ll be launching “50 Shades of Women…Come Again,” around the launch of the 50 Shades of Grey movie in February 2015.
Urbanette: Is there a hotel that you think best suits your personality?
Yvonne: I think that is the toughest question to answer because I have gone into each new hotel with the same amount of energy and excitement. Hotel Union Square has such an authentic personality. You can have a different experience every time you stay at Hotel Union Square. It just has so much history, and you can feel that history when you enter the buliding. I guess I would say that this free standing lady is my first crush because she is so playful and because she was my 1st project that opened so many doors and memories for me.
Urbanette: Personalities are such unique things. How were you able to apply something so personal in order to make it universal?
Yvonne: Initially when I started the company in the early ‘80’s, I named it “Hotel Group of America.” After many nights of reading comment cards to my daughters at night instead of fairytales, I started to notice that the guests were repeatedly saying things such as, “Your hotels have so much Personality!” Then it hit me like lightening one day….PERSONALITY HOTELS! OUR PASSION IS YOUR EXPERIENCE.
I never liked the saying in the hospitality business “heads in beds.” Instead I stand behind the motto, “Our Passion is your experience.”
The experience is from the personalities that sleep in our beds (our very, very comfortable beds). 95% of our guest comments mention how comfy our beds are. The comment cards we use today were designed by my daughters when they were very young. It’s a stick figure with a red heart, which leaves lots of room for our guests to decorate and show off their personalities. This simple obvious stick figure is so universal and allows our guests to express their creativity, personalities, and what they have to say about their stay with Personality Hotels.
Urbanette: With such a hectic schedule, what do you do to take care of you? What roles does self-care play in maintaining your duties in other areas of your life? What about helping others?
Yvonne: I love to exercise in my backyard barn as much as I can. I love to take long energetic walks with my husband or daughters. I don’t think of my work days hectic, instead I say they are fulfilling. Good eating habits is another thing I do for me. I love to offer my experiences with others. If I tried a new recipe or took a new workout class or Soul Cycle class I like to share it with my team. Recently all the ladies in sales and marketing did a Soul Cycle class with my daughters and me. I also make sure the shoes I wear to work are fun shoes that offer comfort over sexy high heels because if you have a lot to do in the day and it carries over to home, you have to move fast and be comfortable.
I have also had the pleasure of helping past employees that needed assistance with their personal lives, even if they were struggling with issues too personal to disclose. What makes me feel so good is knowing these individuals are healthy and living a great life. I still get calls, emails or texts from them just saying hello, or thank you. As a company we support Family House, SIPWomen, and many other local charities and events. We also donated hotel gift certificates, as well as our time, to worthy organizations in need.
Urbanette: I hear your family has lots of pets, including two chickens! How do you find the time? Is it important to you all to be close to nature?
Yvonne: I love animals. We have Jack the handsome tuxedo cat who kept appearing at our doorstep vs. his own home. He is now 19. Our dog Gracie is a replica of a baby pig, but really a brown-nosed Chihuahua. She is 10. We have a chicken coop my husband built and the chicks are his babies. We raise them for their delicious golden eggs and they have free range of our yard. My husband started raising the baby chicks for our daughters who adored them as pets. Our favorite was Peck.
I love nature and gardening. To me gardening is a stress reliever. It’s always a surprise to see something grow out of the ground when I thought it was gone forever. I also love to cut flowers and put them all over our house. Nature really has no limits and the more I spend with it the more I realize it is a wonderful coach for life.
Urbanette: I’ve read that you prefer to work with designers and architects who haven’t worked on hotels before. Why is that?
Yvonne: I like to work with designer and architects who are new to the hotel game because they are eager to listen to my sometimes crazy ideas, and they bring new ideas to the table because they want to succeed in the hospitality world. I have completed 18 renovations in my 32 years so I know what works functionally, and also what doesn’t work. So why not give a new A & D a chance? It’s amazing how architects see so differently from designers. I love the interview process because I can really begin to see the new personality the hotel will take on and I feed off of their ideas from there. I’m not sure if I’m the match or the fire.
Urbanette: What advice would you give to young women who want to start and run their own businesses?
Yvonne: Be prepared. Understand your limits. Trust your banker and select one that really takes the time to listen to you and your needs. Don’t dwell too much. Trust your gut. Be a good listener. Know when to shut down. Pray you have a great support system with your spouse and family who will really listen to you to when you need to talk, and support you unconditionally. There will be problems, road blocks, tears and sleepless nights. Be kind. Mistakes will happen. Ask your team for their advice. Play your favorite music. My favorite tune is the Sunscreen song…. Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen.
Questions for Emily & Lizzy:
Urbanette: Emily and Elizabeth, what roles have you previously held in the company? And I have to ask—what was it like for the three of you to work together? Was it challenging?
Emily: I have learned many roles. I was always welcomed to work in the hotels during my school breaks, but I loved to just meet people most and talk to the Personality Hotels team or sit in on meetings. I don’t usually enjoy desk work but i did enjoy the creative projects. I remember trying to work with accounting on the simplest tasks but my mind did not work in that way – but, I learned to have a much greater appreciation for that department because it seems so challenging for me and people in that department especially must have so much patience.
Interacting with housekeeping has also taught me when I travel to respect the housekeepers and make sure my room isn’t a disaster, or to apologize if it is messy when they come in. Going out to business lunches with my mom was also fun. My best education was just seeing all the different departments interact. It was real life work experience and taught me how to be both professional and hospitable to everyone.
Lizzy: Growing up, I have held many roles at Personality Hotels. When I was around 9 years old, I helped with various jobs throughout the office, like filing, answering the phones, and of course, making coffee runs for my mom. When I was older, I also helped the housekeeping staff check rooms before guests checked in and folded towels and sheets in the basement. Working together was very fun! You get to be around the people you love and share your ideas for the company.
Urbanette: Your mom’s whole creative process is pretty unique – she follows her dreams/visions and current fashion trends. How has this informed your own processes?
Emily: My mom has definitely shaped much of my own style and has taught me to make the simplest things beautiful. We both rub off on one another creatively. I often help pick out her outfit dress for events or photo shoots or even just for a normal day at work. And sometimes people say I dress like my mom. I think we are Yin | Yang.
I also feel that part of the reason design flows so naturally for me is because of watching her take creative risks. From my mom, I also know how to make a space look cozy. Although sometimes our interior design styles clash, I appreciate everything she comes up with, because it feels like home to me.
Lizzy: My mom is the definition of a trendsetter. With her outfits, creativity, and even her meals she cooks at home, she is always thinking of something new. Even when I asked her for help with school projects, she would think of the most unique (and sometimes weird) way to do it. This has encouraged me to be my own person and to be a trendsetter, just like my mom.
Urbanette: Your mom seems like quite the powerhouse! What lessons have you learned from watching her?
Emily: I have learned strength. Sometimes my mom and I clash because I internalize a lot, or I am sometimes very chatty/ spacey, or I take longer to get things done, while she is indeed a powerhouse who gets things done right away and means business. I guess as a Gemini (me) and (mom) we are a great balance though. I also make her laugh.
She has taught me to be a giver but also to be strong in both professional situations and as an individual when times are rough. I admire her resilience and strength as well as her positive attitude, which we have in common. She has taught me to focus more and to take advantage of opportunities that come my way.
She pushes me to be better and helps me focus on the Good in life, no matter the situation at hand. I love my mom, Yvonne – she is brilliant! Life is Beautiful!
Lizzy: To absolutely never give up. It may sound cliché but it is true. My mom has overcome so many obstacles to be in the position she is today. She always encourages me a struggle I am going through is always temporary and it will only get better from there.