Over the weekend, Paul Somogyi went on a 40-mile bike ride, finished a book, took a few long walks and spent time reflecting. And on Monday, for the first time in more than 30 years, he didn’t have a set agenda. The man known as “Tall Paul,” Marriott International’s director of sales for middle market, government and affinity segments, to many attendees of Connect shows over the last seven years retired last Friday after three decades with the company.
“I’m very relaxed,” says Somogyi of his newfound freedom, noting he’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife and ninth-grade son, Misha. But don’t think he’s resting on his laurels, or by the pool. “For me, retirement is not necessarily giving up on work, it’s more making a change,” he says. “I’m looking forward to taking all my learnings and my experience and channeling that into something perhaps more entrepreneurial.”
While he’s still narrowing down what his Act II will be, we’re quite confident he’ll be successful in his next venture. In the meantime, we caught up with Somogyi in his first few days of retirement to learn more about his decision, hear a few anecdotes from his storied career and learn more about what drives him, both personally and professionally.
You’re officially retired—wow! We didn’t see that coming. Why now?
I’ve seen Marriott in so many different phases. I was with the company for opening of 500th hotel in Warsaw, Poland, the first western-managed hotel in Eastern Europe. I witnessed the growth of the company, the acquisition of Starwood and the integration of Marriott’s Global Sales Organization in 2017.
It’s been a year since we relaunched the GSO, and quite honestly my role had changed as well. My passions lie in high engagement, business development and serving others. In my recent role [of global account director, as of April 2017], I was accountable for sales people, group sales coordinators, processes and strategy, and although I enjoyed that, it was less fulfilling to me than being customer facing and having customer interaction.
So I thought, I’ve had an incredible run with the company; I’ve still got lots to contribute; but it’s a good time to come out on top. I’ve always enjoyed supporting our internal sales folks that work the customer verticals. I want to serve that community again, but go about it in more of an independent way.
Let’s go back to where it all began. What was your first job with Marriott?
I was a front desk clerk at the London Marriott. The company had only seven hotels outside the U.S. at that point, so that was the regional head office. The regional sales team would often meet at that hotel, and I was able to convince them to afford me my first sales opportunity as a sales manager at the Paris Marriott Prince de Galles.
Of all the years you spent with Marriott, can you pinpoint one of your favorite times?
One of my favorite hotels was Warsaw, Poland, because being part of the open team of the first western-managed hotel in Eastern Europe in a former communist country was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was brought on in charge of sales, and I was living history. CNN, “60 Minutes,” everybody came to ask us how we set up business and how we were going to be successful. Our chef would literally drive a bus to Berlin [to source ingredients] initially before we were able to grow the quality produce we needed to meet Marriott standards. Here we were with Swarovski crystal in the lobby, Italian marble, about 12 F&B outlets. We had offerings the Polish people had never seen—we were the first place to offer a hamburger! People flocked from all around the country just to see this hotel, which was the beacon of capitalism in Warsaw at the time. I was privileged and honored to be part of that.
Any funny stories to share?
In the early days, while working at the Paris Marriott, I did some creative stunts to promote the hotel’s Christmas offerings. One of my great mentors and friends, Samir Daqqaq, and I went across the street to the Champs-Élysées dressed as Santa Claus. So you had a six-foot-six guy and a five-foot-ten guy both dressed as Santa, ringing bells and giving out flyers. It was absolutely hysterical.
Another memory is when I was working in San Francisco at what is now the San Francisco Marriott Marquis. I was doing a sales call in L.A. just after an earthquake. When we were in a client’s office, there was a large aftershock. We all huddled together in a group, hugging each other under a doorframe. From the doorframe we could see a fish tank on a table swaying back and forth. We were worried it was going to slide off the table, but it didn’t. It was funny and scary at the same time.
What do you think you’ll miss most about your job?
I will miss the great team, and the backing and support of an amazing corporation.
What’s your best advice to up-and-comers in the hospitality industry?
Being passionate about what you do and having fun are really important. Take risks. Look for opportunities. Always be open to explore new endeavors. Surround yourself with great people who are inspirational and have talents you don’t necessarily have.
Don’t set limitations on your abilities; take calculated risks. [The times I’ve done that] in my career have been the times I’ve excelled.
Hone your skills. Don’t try to better yourself at something you don’t enjoy doing. Instead take those skills you’re good at and hone those—you’ll be happier, and you’ll be successful.