At your service
From the AC Hotel Madison Downtown to hotels around the Midwest, Amy Simchak owes a debt of gratitude to her grandma.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Sometimes, the best business advice a person can receive comes from an unlikely source. Had Amy Simchak not listened to her grandmother, for instance, she likely would never have followed a career path that led to regional vice president of operations for the North Central Group. They still laugh about it, in fact.
Years ago, Simchak was a young student attending UW–Milwaukee and working part time for Discovery Zone as assistant manager. One day, a note on the door announced that the business had closed and filed for bankruptcy.
Suddenly jobless, Simchak sought the advice of her grandmother, a breakfast hostess for a Milwaukee-area Hampton Inn, who urged her to apply at the hotel.
“To appease her, I interviewed,” Simchak recounts. She’d never before considered hospitality as a career.
It was a life-changing decision. Now at age 42, Simchak has spent half her lifetime employed at NCG. She started behind a registration desk but quickly progressed to executive housekeeper, then assistant general manager, and eventually served as general manager at a couple of Hampton Inns. Though she always intended to return to school, hospitality quickly stole her heart.
At the corporate office in Madison, Simchak’s regional responsibilities include operational oversight for eight North Central Group hotels in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska, but the opening of the AC Hotel Madison Downtown on May 1 was especially exciting, she notes, since it was the company’s first Marriott AC-branded hotel. Recently, we checked in to learn more.
IB: Explain the North Central Group.
Simchak: We are a hotel developer and franchise company with over 1,000 team members and 29 hotels in the Midwest and Arizona. We pay franchise fees to carry brand names, and we’ve had a great relationship with both Hilton and Marriott for 35 years.
IB: How do you choose between the brands?
Simchak: We thoroughly research each new market to determine which brand will fit best. Marriott’s AC brand seemed the perfect fit for Madison, for example, and there was no other Marriott property downtown whereas there was a Hilton. We’ve fallen in love with the AC brand.
IB: Are you involved with the AC Hotel’s day-to-day operations?
Simchak: Dennis Clark (AC Hotel general manager) and I work as a team on everything. I also serve as the primary contact for service and support with the hotel and restaurant team.
IB: Whose idea was it to fly croissants in from France?
Simchak: That’s a brand requirement! They are flown in several times a week. They’re a big hit and part of the Spanish/European flair that the AC brand brings.
IB: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Simchak: Seeing other people grow in their careers. You don’t need to have experience in hospitality to get into hospitality. I’ve had incredible people invest a lot of time into me over the years so now I try to pay it forward.
IB: What would you tell a person starting behind a hotel desk now?
Simchak: That they started in the right place. Had I not worked in housekeeping, I wouldn’t have understood how difficult that job is. I still think that being a room attendant is one of the hardest jobs in the industry. It’s those team members — along with laundry attendants, food and beverage, and valet teams — that I really pay attention to. Their input is priceless.
IB: What’s the hot topic in hospitality right now?
Simchak: Airbnb. Hoteliers need to pay close attention to these developments, and many believe Airbnb should contribute to funding tourism in each state through room tax. Reputation management is also critical. It’s important that travelers understand the differences between staying at an Airbnb location versus a hotel that is required to follow local and state safety and security regulations.
IB: What makes you most proud?
Simchak: My team members, the fact that I’ve continued to work hard and not take no for an answer, and that I listened to my grandmother!
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