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Management Heather McCrory: ‘Step back and gather research, as things can get blown out of proportion’

Heather McCrory, 55, is the chief executive officer for North & Central America at Accor. Based in Toronto, she has oversight for 116 hotels under 13 active brands in eight countries, with approximately 25,000 employees.

Accor's Chief Executive Officer of North & Central America Heather McCrory poses for a photograph in the Gold Lounge on the 18th floor of the Fairmont Royal York hotel on Thursday, June 6, 2019.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

I grew up in Ancaster, a lovely Ontario community. I wanted to be a floral designer and have my own shop, so after high school got a certificate [in floral design]. I realized – this might not be the case now – the way to make money was weddings and funeral arrangements; the core business. I worked part-time, but it wasn’t for me. But I do have a definite opinion on what flowers should be in a hotel.

I went to Mohawk College for finance and accounting, a complete opposite to flower design. I knew it would be a good background. On a work term at Banff Springs Hotel, I was put in the laundry department. I did not fall in love with that. That was hard [but] I can fold a sheet. I went to food and beverage, then to the sales office. I stayed and fell in love with the industry; 37 years later, same company, although many iterations [later], I’m still here.

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I’ve done lateral moves; I think why I’m CEO [is] because it wasn’t a straight-line trajectory. I moved back, forth and sideways to learn something different, a little unusual in that I came up through sales and marketing as opposed to purely finance, which would be typical of the role.

I was VP of sales and distribution and luckily, had a great mentor who I still work with. Because I never finished college and always wanted to go back, I wanted to get my MBA before I was 40. Doing a university degree was probably not going to be the way to do it. People wrote letters so I could go given my [years of] experience and without an undergrad. I did the executive MBA at Queen’s University, everyone working, all trying to make it come together in 15 months of hell to be honest, but so worthwhile.

When I came to the corporate office, I realized it was more strategic, taking the company forward. There’s been so much activity, always new and different, so I never seriously considered the headhunters [that have approached me].

Accor is No. 1 globally with the exception of North America and China, so those are growth markets. People [in North America] know Fairmont [while] 21c by MGallery is one of our newest brands. We have Pullman, Sofitel, Swissôtel, Novotel, 24 Ibis Hotels in Mexico … focusing on brands because that’s generally where the consumer is booking.

RiiSE is a diversity and inclusion program, not about women specifically, more about equality; to put their name forward so we always get the best candidates. We found our young female leaders have a perception about the general manager role – as a possibility and the hours. We looked at women with potential, working to make them comfortable and confident, because they certainly have the wherewithal. In North America, I’d love to see that [male/female ratio at] 50/50, our current goal is 35 per cent [female]. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re definitely moving in that direction.

When hiring, I get insight into how often a person uses “I.” Of course, they want to tell you what they’ve done and how great they are, but it’s how they word it. You get insight into their psyche on teamwork and how they bring people up through the ranks. I look for confidence; it can come out in different ways – solid self-assuredness is something I look for. Profits are important but day in, day out, it’s the people you get to work with. Every day’s a new day and I say that sincerely.

“Get the facts” has been the best advice. It makes you step back and gather research, as things can get blown out of proportion. Park this for now, get the facts and discuss it later.

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I spend a good portion of time in hotels and away from my husband, so time at the cottage is downtime. It’s him, me and the dog. My husband cooks during the week; I want to enjoy cooking, on weekends. We do a lot of kayaking, hiking. I’m a big walker, because I’m in meetings all the time. I love to read; the one cottage rule is to put away the smartphones.

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