Pam Avery is not a fan of complainers. That's why she tells other women: “Just suck it up.”
“Suck it up, do the work and be excellent, and it will all work out in the end,” Avery tells her young employees. That's how she says she worked her way up from a desk clerk in Sheridan, Wyo., making $2.10 an hour, to become one of Tampa Bay's three women hotel general managers.
Avery, 53, is general manger of the Quorum Westshore hotel and board chair of Visit Tampa Bay. Overseeing the hotel with 272 rooms, 128 employees and revenue topping $10 million is an around-the-clock job. “You just don't get to close the doors,” Avery says.
Her biggest challenge was raising kids as a single mom in an industry that is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It's all a juggling act, says Avery, who would finish work at night during her kids' homework time. She was also lucky to have help — when her kids had to stay home from school because they were sick, they got to stay in a room at the hotel where she was working. The kids could watch pay-per-view movies and get room service from her coworkers.
Balancing a family life could be one of the reasons there aren't as many women in the hospitality industry as people may assume, Avery says. But she doesn't let the lack of diversity at the top bother her. “I can hang with boys, do everything they do, and play really bad golf once a year,” she says. “It's really just about working hard and showing up.”
Avery's biggest project right now is a $6 million renovation and a rebranding effort to change her hotel to a Holiday Inn, another Quorum hotel property. The rebranding isn't anything new for the GM, who has led the same hotel through its changes from Quorum to Wyndham, and back to Quorum in her five years at the Westshore location.
Avery knows the gender gap has impacted her at times in her career. She remembers a note she found in her personnel file from one of her early jobs that said, “Give Pam $4.50 and give Ron $5.50 because she's married and has a second income.”
“At that time, I had a choice to make: Just shut up, do my job, be great and it would be OK. And that's how I approached that,” Avery says.
Avery says there's also a flip side to being a woman in business, and at times in her career, she's lucked out for being a woman. “I've worked hard at Visit Tampa Bay, so don't get me wrong. But five years of being in a market and being chair is pretty remarkable, so I am also afforded opportunities because I'm a woman, and I totally realize that,” she says.
As chair of Visit Tampa Bay, Avery says she spends between four and eight hours a week at the bureau. Avery says she brings a fresh perspective and fresh energy to the board, because she hasn't lived in Tampa for 20 years, like other members. She also admits that she is brutally honest, which she credits as her greatest strength and weakness. “Some of my more political guys think I'm a wild card,” she says.
Avery is skilled at leaving an impression. She says her hotel's most expensive amenity is the bottomless jar of M&Ms at the front counter, which costs the equivalent of an employee salary annually. The price is worth it, for the number of positive M&M-inspired reviews she receives on TripAdvisor and for brand recognition from clients who are used to receiving the candy during sales calls. “Nobody tells you to go away if you have bags of M&Ms in your hands,” she adds.
Pam Avery has been in the hospitality industry for 28 years. Here are her tips for other women wanting to make a mark in boardrooms and business meetings.
Learn sports. “If you can talk sports, if you can talk the game, if you can the trades, if you can talk just something that is going on, it gives you instant cred, or you are kind of part of the guys,” Avery says. “If all else fails, that's a good rapport builder and a good icebreaker.”
Work hard. Avery says in any industry, no matter your gender, you should always strive to “do a little bit more than the next guy.” She says with women in business “it goes one way or the other — we're still dressing like a fraternity girl or we are so serious that we can't crack a smile all day. But all you really have to do to stand out is work hard.”