Exclusive Luxurious Magazine Interview With Kim Walker, Creative Director and Senior VP Of Brand & Marketing, Morgans Hotel Group
Kim Walker began her career in the hospitality industry 22 years ago working behind the front desk at Morgans on Madison Avenue. In her current capacity, Walker oversees seven departments, namely Marketing, Public Relations, Special Events, Partnerships, Creative Services, Licensing and Digital Marketing. To date, Walker has opened 13 hotels for the Morgans Hotel Group in the USA and abroad. We caught up with her to find out more.
LM: How did your career start in the hospitality sector?
KW: I started out working behind the front desk at Morgans on Madison Avenue, the first property of what would later become Morgans Hotel Group. Before then, I spent my summers working at various properties in Miami which gave me a great introduction into the industry and made me realise that hospitality was my calling. After serving as Front Desk Agent I moved on to Housekeeping Office Coordinator, Room Service Manager and finally landed in Sales and Marketing. I then joined the corporate office and, as they say, the rest is history. It was such an exciting time to join the business as Morgans sparked a shift in the hotel industry by introducing the boutique model, a new category of highly personalised service and high concept design that had never before been seen in hospitality.
LM: What are your main responsibilities in your current role?
KW: I get to wear several hats in my current role, overseeing seven departments. The scope of work encompasses everything from creating uniform designs and logos, to launching a new culture website and shaping overall brand positioning for the portfolio. To date, I have been involved in 13 hotel launches for Morgans Hotel Group in the USA and abroad and we are very excited to have several new openings in the pipeline including Mondrian London, due to open in Spring 2014, one of the most highly anticipated unveilings internationally. I’ve been in a very fortunate position having seen the company through its infancy and evolution, and especially during this period of global expansion.
LM: You rose through the ranks very quickly. What are the keys to your success?
KW: I think having passion for what you do, in any industry, is extremely important. An understanding of core values and company ethos also can’t be underestimated. We are an interactive, fun, authentic and passionate organisation and I try to incorporate these values into my everyday endeavours. I think that having worked in different departments within the company, I can think laterally and approach situations unilaterally. I try to troubleshoot and assess situations from different angles and I’m very fortunate to have a very talented team who inspire me daily. I am constantly learning.
LM: What have been the biggest challenges that you have faced in your career to date?
KW: I have two amazing kids and my family is extremely important to me, so it can definitely be a challenge to juggle a busy work schedule that includes a fair amount of travel. In my personal life, I’m extremely lucky as I’m able to rely on a carefully constructed support system of family and friends. The company has also been extremely supportive of me being a working mother. This has allowed me to grow in this role and take on more responsibility while being able to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
LM: Are there any personalities or hoteliers that serve as personal inspiration?
KW: It would be extremely difficult to narrow down the list to just one person. The hospitality space is filled with visionaries, possessing equal parts passion and creativity. I am inspired by those who push the envelope by bringing the unconventional to the hotel experience and strive to make travel more of a multi-dimensional category. It’s this great sense of camaraderie in the industry fused with a bit of healthy competition that inspires us to constantly innovate and bend the rules to bring forth a truly unique offering for our guests.
LM: What makes Morgans Hotel Group stand out from any other?
KW: Morgans Hotel Group is more than just a hotel company and our properties reflect interests and lifestyle choices of our guests. We work with a lot of likeminded luxury brands to ensure that we are providing innovative concepts and services to our guests; whether it be a collaboration with a designer, artist or musician. We also encourage the concept of socialising and having fun and try not to take ourselves too seriously whilst maintaining the highest brand & service standards. Our properties offer a fun and entertaining alternative to the generic, mass-market hotels. We try and stretch the boundaries of what a venue can be and take guest service to the next level to set ourselves apart from the competition. This ensures that we maintain an extremely loyal following. The guest experience drives everything that we do.
LM: What do you think defines a luxury property in terms of design?
KW: The design of a property has to possess a sense of place that embodies the ‘feel’ of a destination, while reflecting the essence of the brand. Morgans Hotel Group is known for our sense of fun, irony and defying the idea of convention. We offer creative environments where guests are inspired to interact and engage. Our public spaces are very important to transmitting this playfulness and the design of our hotels plays a crucial role in achieving this social vibe.
LM: How do you see the luxury hospitality sector developing in 2014?
KW: I see a continued cross-fertilisation between luxury brands and more advanced technology. There will also be a continued cross-over between the arts, fashion and hospitality to provide a multi-dimensional travel experience that appeals to an array of guests’ interests. I also view food and beverage as a growing sector with restaurants becoming standalone destinations for visitors and locals alike. People nowadays are less impressed by a famous name or Michelin star than they are with a really great and memorable dining experience.
LM: Who are your main competitors in New York where you currently work?
KW: Because the boutique sector is continuing to grow in key gateway cities, specifically New York, the list is constantly evolving which just shows the strength and success of the boutique model.
LM: And about you Kim. Do you like to visit other luxury destinations during your leisure time?
KW: A huge benefit of my job is the ability to travel to some amazing destinations. I don’t have a ton of spare time for personal travel but thankfully I am able to squeeze in a vacation from time to time. My most recent adventure was a trip to Italy with my daughter Macie. We visited Rome and Capri – every element was spectacular, from the sights and sounds to the food and culture.
LM: Thank you for your time Kim and it has been a pleasure to meet you.
Interview conducted by Simon Wittenberg