Thursday, May 03, 2007

Hilton's new GM likes to watch travelers degenerate into terrifying savagery, and also the TV show 'Lost'

San Francisco's downtown Hilton, a 1,900-room hotel that has become ominously self aware, has had three general managers since November, and the latest is named Michael Dunne and everyone is nervously hoping he survives.

The monster hotel is the largest on the West Coast and it dispatches its "managers" for sport. A tough German named Holger Gantz kept the giant hotel in check for 17 years before retiring. His successor, John Mazzoni, lasted about three and a half years, a rough feat of endurance sufficiently impressive that his superiors gave him a job at corporate negotiating with the unions.

Karima Zaki came in to replace Mazzoni, but left after nine months to return to Southern California and open a new manager-feasting giant Hilton in San Diego.

Mazzoni replaced Zaki and lasted less than two months before accepting a promotion to a corporate job.

Now comes Dunne. Let's figure his tenure based on trends:
  • Gantz: 17 years
  • Mazzoni: 3.5 years
  • Zaki: 9 months
  • Mazzoni again: 2 months
  • Dunne: Three weeks (projected)
Dunne comes from the San Jose Doubletree but was hotel manager for the downtown Hilton for three years.

I was invited to meet Dunne at a special screening, in a special Hilton "home theater" room, of the network television series Lost, in which stranded tourists fight mysterious forces and disappear only to sometimes reappear on their beastly island, which apparently has a voracious appetite for human panic.


Business Times: S.F.'s downtown Hilton gets its third GM since November (free link)

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Hilton's $13m Gramercy Tavern lookalike

Yes, that's a fireplace there in the back.The monstrous San Francisco Hilton can't stop eating. So it's building an "urban tavern" to lure gullible prey (free link).

Traumatized onlookers will remember that the 1,900-room beast ritually devoured three general managers in as many years. But the hotel is still hungry and must be fed, so out come the barrels of delicious, sweet cash money to fill its belly -- for now.

Hotel owners have set aside $13 million to build a restaurant and bar with 240 seats, plus 20,000 square feet of adjoining meeting space.

The place has no chef or name yet, but Hilton has a pretty developed idea of what the place will be.

It's a gastropub, a bar serving gourmet renditions of hearty foods. It's supposed to lure in unsuspecting businessmen for lunch or dinner. Before they know what's happened, they will be handing over their Amex Black cards for backslapping parties in the private wine room, global arbitrage lectures in the meeting hall and client suites in the hotel tower.

Ideally, they won't emerge from the hotel for several years, confused and destitute. Hotels around town have become increasingly adept at this game in recent years, leading to a slew of new high-end hotel restaurants (free link).

Hilton's restaurant is designed to mimic the investment banker's natural habitat: clubby, with dark woods, faux leather, copper and these medieval looking chandeliers. Engstrom Design Group has been working on the interior and expects to begin demolition in August.

The place was built with an eye toward Gramercy Tavern in New York, according to Hilton's new Food and Beverage Director Stefan Gruvberger. But it's unlike anything else in the Hilton chain and is supposed to feel very separate from the hotel.

It will even have its own entrance, near the corner of Mason and O'Farrell, and the Hilton logo will be banished from the premises. It is set to open in March 2008.

Full story:

Hilton to spend $13M to build new restaurant (free link)

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Monster hotel consumes yet another GM

The San Francisco Hilton must be fed!

The beast is the largest hotel on the West Coast, with 1,900 rooms, and demands human sacrifice, specifically General Managers.

It just chewed up and spit out John Mazzoni -- for the second time! Mazzoni lasted less than two months before throwing in the towel ... err, towels.

He's off to a job at Hilton corporate, a promotion. And his first term lasted for more than three years, starting in 2003. So I'm not saying it didn't go well for him, all 42 days of it.

But it's starting to look like musical chairs over there.

In between Mazzoni's two terms was Karima Zaki, a warm and charismatic woman who was charming hospitality types all over town starting last March, and breaking new ground as a female hotel executive. But she announced her departure in November after it became clear her predecessor Mazzoni was not going to be needed any longer as the national union negotiator for the chain, contract talks having gone better than expected.

So Mazzoni returned, and Zaki went off to open a giant new Hilton in San Diego, nearer her extended family and her young daughter's old Southern California friends.

The hotel has just begun its search for a new leader. I write about this on the Business Times website today (free link).

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hilton gets new old GM

The West Coast's largest hotel is losing its first woman general manager.

The 1,900-room Hilton San Francisco will see Karima Zaki leave after just nine months, returning to San Diego to open a $350 million Hilton down there.

Replacing her is John Mazzoni, who had been general manager before Zaki but left the position to head up Hilton's labor relations. When the company's union negotiations proved smoother than expected, Mazzoni was freed up to return to SF.

Mazzoni took over from Holger Gantz, who led the Hilton for 17 years before retiring in 2002.

I interviewed Karima for our executive profile feature. She said the toughest part of her job is "Balancing my career aspirations with the well being of my child. I certainly parked a lot longer in San Diego than I would have as a single person."

In San Diego, Zaki has extended family to help raise and support her child.

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