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New general counsel at Radisson talks about returning to hospitality amid COVID

Hotel veteran sees brand growth as key, looks to diversify ranks of owners.

Minnetonka's former Carlson Hotel Group has been remaking itself into the Radisson Hotel Group for five years and is intent on growing its Americas franchised properties beyond the 613 that now bear the Radisson or Country Inn & Suites brand names.

To that end, the hotel group last month hired industry veteran Tanya Taylor as general counsel and executive vice president of the Americas.

The former Wyndham Hotels and Millennium Hotels regional executive is the first African American to hold the role at Radisson Americas. Her goal is to orchestrate the legal maneuvers needed to grow the hotel's North and South American franchisee network and to introduce more business owners of color to opportunities for hotel ownership. The New Jersey native and University of Pennsylvania Law School graduate will move to Minnesota this summer. She recently discussed her new role with the Star Tribune. Comments have been edited for brevity.

Q: You worked for 11 years as a regional hospitality executive at Wyndham and Millennium Hotels before becoming general counsel for the startup Yonder Media Mobile and its 45 global offices. How does it feel to join Radisson and return to the hotel industry?

A: Sounds very cliché. But it does feel like coming home. I missed it. Hospitality is a people business. You work with people from all walks of life, all socioeconomic [backgrounds], all races and religions. Every day you engage with people from everywhere. It makes the people who work in the industry have to be more open minded and welcoming. I'm excited to be back.

Q: What is your job at Radisson?

A: My definition of what I do has always been in the title of counsel. My role is to help enable the rest of the organization to succeed on [its] strategy. ... Now at Radisson, growth is such a huge focus for the company. My target for 2021 and 2022 and the foreseeable future is to help [CEO] Jim [Alderman] and the rest of the group grow all the brands in all the arenas through out the [Americas] and to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. ... They would like to grow the [Radisson] Blu, the [Radisson] Red and the Country Inn & Suites [brands] in the right markets and with the right owners. We think that could be successful. It is a daunting task but the blessing for me is that my foray into the hotel industry was with Wyndham. Wyndham is a huge, numbers driven, public company. So, it was always poised for growth. And that is how I learned hospitality.

Q: How does it feel returning to hospitality during COVID and one of the worst economic downturns for the industry?

A: I am excited to be back. It is a hard time because of COVID. To the industry as a whole, it was a huge hit. So that is difficult. But people love to travel and they have to travel whether it's for business or to go see family. [It's slow now,] but it is not going to stay this way. We will get through it and get to the other side. That is the exciting part. There is the "Let us put this back together" part [of our thinking.] We will see how travel has changed, how our customers have changed. We might have to engage slightly differently, provide services in other places. And there might be less of a need for services in some way, but it will come back. People are itching to go explore.

[For me personally], I will say this about the pandemic. Onboarding remotely is odd. You are trying to get to know people, establish a rapport, but we are doing it though Teams. So that is hard, both for my colleagues and the rest of the executive level but particularly for my team. So I might have to overcommunicate and reach out more often [until I am in Minnesota in person].

Q: You are Radisson's first African American general counsel. Is that significant, especially given George Floyd's death, public protests and calls for companies and cities to address social equity issues?

A: For me it's an opportunity to, not just to be on the forefront, but to at least be an example that change can come. As people say, "People can't be what people can't see." So if you can see me, as an African American woman in this [executive] role, it allows other people to always see what is possible. Unfortunately as we address the tragedy that occurred last summer, there has to come a time when we pivot from that and decide how we are actually going to make a change. … If you can see me in that [executive general counsel] position, that is an example of "us making changes. Let us introduce other people's perspective to these types of positions in the industry." This unrest is only meant to change the past. To change the establishment, to break down certain obstacles, and rebuild so it is open for all.

Q: How will you use your new position outside of Radisson Hotel Group?

A: There are African Americans and other minorities and [entrepreneurs and managers] of color that are interested in the hotel business. They would love to be hotel owners and operators in the future. They just need to see how. So if I can serve as a person who they can see on the corporate side, as opposed to on the ownership side, [I will be that person]. Me being there [in conferences and informational forums] allows them to have somebody to ask questions about how do I become the hotel owner? What positions do I need ahead of time to make sure I actually understand my business. So this is the opportunity: to be here, answer questions and introduce the industry to a broader [audience] not just from the consumer side.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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