American Hotel Register Company is the United States’ largest hotel supplier and one of its oldest—2015 marks American Hotel’s one hundred-fiftieth year in business. As a supplier to the hospitality industry, American Hotel is why a room at the Hyatt in Wyoming might feel similar to one in the heart of New York City. There’s a good chance both rooms are decorated with items ordered from American Hotel. Originating as a small publisher for hotel registration books in 1865, the company has grown through the Civil War, the expansion of the railroad, and business mergers. Today, the company supplies more than 50,000 items—such as towels, televisions, and safes—to hotels and other industries across the globe.
Despite massive growth, two of the family-owned company’s primary goals have held fast: create the best customer experience and foster a traditional family work culture. But when your work family stands about 1,000 members strong, this isn’t always the easiest task. Perhaps no one is as familiar with this delicate balance of traditional values and forward-looking business initiatives as Angela Korompilas, who was elected as the company’s first female president and chief executive officer in 2014 and has been with American Hotel just shy of two decades.
“Your reputation, your integrity, who you are as a person, will follow you forever.”
A Chicago-area native, Korompilas originally graduated from the University of Illinois with her mind set on one path: she wanted to become a neurosurgeon. However, chance led Korompilas a different direction.
After taking some time to think, she joined a friend working at American Hotel in its newly launched healthcare division. The year was 1996. Within six months, Korompilas moved to the hotel division. “Opportunities started to present themselves,” Korompilas says. “And here we are, nineteen years later.”
Fortunately, those countless hours studying pre-med textbooks weren’t for nothing. Korompilas says her leadership style has a distinctly scientific approach. “Many people tell me that they can see the scientist in me,” she says. “I have a very methodical, logical, a very analytical approach to finding solutions.” She uses fact-based hypotheses to test ideas and find business solutions.
Korompilas’s scientific approach to business has not stopped her from what she jokingly calls “drinking the company Kool-Aid.” American Hotel revolves around the legacy of the Leahy family (the company’s chairman and vice chairman are third-generation Leahys), which values customer experience and a family-culture work environment. For example, each month the company raises money for a different employee-recommended charity. Many employees participate in philanthropic events, and the company also runs the Leahy Family Foundation, which supports disabled adults and cancer research. “The strength of American Hotel is our people,” Korompilas says. “We say that all the time, but it’s absolutely true.”
However, the family-like culture at American Hotel is not synonymous with a coddling culture. “All the time we’re asking our people to do more, do better, to up their game, in a sense,” Korompilas says. She wants to ensure that American Hotel has a strong enough platform to adapt to changes in the travel industry for future Leahy generations to come.
“To not be a family member and be responsible for the company is an awesome responsibility,” she says.
As a result, Korompilas says one of her top goals as president and CEO is to strengthen the company’s foundation and infrastructure; a crucial task, as the company is also looking to expand its global market as more Americans travel abroad. In the past few years, international travel has surged. In 2014, more than 68 million Americans traveled abroad. Additional fluctuations in the hotel industry, such as a reemergence of the luxury market, group purchasing organizations, and the controversial Airbnb, ensure that Korompilas will have her hands full.
“To not be a family member and be responsible for the company is an awesome responsibility.”
Fortunately, Korompilas is not alone. She compares making business decisions at American Hotel to collaborative exchanges over the dinner table. “Every person around the table has a voice and they’re expected to share,” she says. “I would have blind spots if I didn’t count on the other leaders’ perspectives. Although at the end of the day when I have to make a decision, I want that to be the best informed decision possible. So, nobody has had reason to regret, nor have I ever regretted, asking for opinions, thoughts, or recommendations.”
And it seems that American Hotel and the Leahy family can rest assured that Korompilas has the ability to look at the past and present to make hard decisions for the future of American Hotel. Her biggest piece of advice to those interested in working in hotels and hospitality has a distinctly Leahy-family ring to it. She recommends conducting yourself in ways you would be proud and treating others respectfully. “Your reputation, your integrity, and who you are as a person, will follow you forever,” she says.