Mike DeFrino | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Mike DeFrino


San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants operates 60-plus hotels and more than 70 restaurants and bars across the United States, with a special emphasis on boutiques.

The Mistake:

When I got out of college, I got into a management training program with a hotel company (the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta) and started learning the business in a more formal level. One of the first places they start you is in housekeeping; that’s where majority of the employees are. The trainees help run it for a while.

One of the things we were trained to do and were required to do at 8 a.m. was to get everyone together in the housekeeping office or the cafeteria, and we’d talk about the day ahead. One of the managers would do the morning lineup. It was a mixture of what was happening that day in the hotel, what special events were happening, the trends of business, some overtime to pick up. It was very nuts and bolts—it was practical.

The communication was clear and unobstructed. I look back at that time in my career, and that was one of the biggest missed opportunities I had.

I was 22 years old, right out of college and speaking to people. Certainly at first, I was very nervous. I vividly remember standing in front of 30 or so housekeepers getting ready to start the day, and it’s a mixture of ambivalence and eye-rolling: “Really, just what are you going to tell me, little boy?” 

It was a healthy level of skepticism ... I, too would have been skeptical.

If I could do one thing over, it would be to embrace my inner leader. I certainly would’ve changed lives and would’ve been a better leader over my formative years.

Don’t be afraid to lead. Don’t be afraid to be a leader.

The Lesson:

Whenever I’m speaking in front of a large of a group, which I do often, one of the messages I leave behind is: "Don’t be afraid to lead. Don’t be afraid to be a leader." Being a tactician is not being a leader; that’s simply getting the job done.

Being a leader is somebody who inspires change, inspires people to be better than they would be by themselves and to feel they’re part of a greater purpose and part of a greater organization. That requires a different disposition and a different level of communication and frankly a different level of confidence by the speaker. It requires maybe a little showmanship, a little convincibility, and all those things that you gain as you get older. As you get a little grey around the temples, that stuff becomes much easier.

When you’re 22 years old and you’re speaking to people who’ve been in the business much longer, it’s much more uncomfortable to try to transcend the day-to-day and inspire greatness. It has to be conscious; it doesn’t come naturally for a 22-year-old kid right out of college. It’s something I encourage my young managers to exercise now.

Follow Kimpton Hotels at @Kimpton

Pictured: Mike DeFrino. | Photo courtesy of Kimpton.