Sandi Robinson: The True Meaning of Hospitality
Senior Staff Writer
Chicago has become competitive with major cities such as New York and San Francisco for its boutique-style hotels and nightlife entertainment — often recruiting some of the very best talent to lure client business to their establishments.
Sandi Robinson has become part of a niche group of hotel executives who are at the top of this list. Her role at the Godfrey Hotel as the Event and Sales Director has brought a sense of style, professionalism and the “art of hip” that brings repeat patrons back to the River North property.
A native of Chicago, Robinson is in a small body of African-American hotel executives for a major hotel group. She’s been in the hospitality business since she was 16 years old, taking on her first job while in high school at the Spirit of Chicago. Although it wasn’t in her plans, as a student attending Dunbar Career Academy, her chosen trade was cosmetology.
She says growing up she loved doing natural hair and makeup. “I’m a barber still till this day. I have a lot of friends that are chefs and carpenters because they had a major in school. College isn’t for everyone,” she said. “For a vocational school like Dunbar, all of the teachers care and love their students. It taught us life lessons. If you want to go to college, that’s great there are programs, but if you didn’t have that niche — then you had a trade to fall back on.”
Coming up through the ranks, some of her first experiences was influenced by her chemistry teacher, Stanley McConnor. “He was the one to encourage me to cut his hair. If you’re going to get your license, you’re going to practice, you’re going to know exactly what you’re doing. I would never forget it. So at an early age I was able to talk with adults and have conversations. They gave me the knowledge without them knowing I was in high school.”
Taking on his advice led to working, graduating from high school with a certified trade. Robinson attended Harold Washington College for hospitality while working at the Spirit of Chicago, but soon dropped out after realizing she was learning everything ‘hands-on’ yet paying for a degree for the same teachings. For the next eight years, she would become the company’s top sales rep, leading her to resign to work for another company that sold vacations to college students.
Since then, Robinson has cut her teeth in the hotel and hospitality at the Holiday Inn, the Four Points Sheraton and the uber chic Dana Hotel and Spa.
In 2008, she accepted the Senior Events Manager position at the Dana Hotel and Spa — a downtown property known for its sexy rooftop lounge.
“I had a lot of clients that came over with me. After then, the event business took off — it was insane. I was there for four years. The Dana Hotel had a great family vibe, the owners were great,” she said.
The hotel manager at the time, Jermaine Anderson, called Robinson to consider coming over to a new hotel that was gearing to open. A fellow alum of Dunbar Career Academy, he persuaded her to join their management team at the Hotel Godfrey. He was impressed by Robinson’s signature style throughout her career.
She explains, “My signature style is making sure the events are fabulous. Making sure that my clients are not worried about their events. I tell my clients that’s not your job and I know that’s what they’re used to, but when they are in my place — that’s my job.”
Although she’s encountered her fair share of stereotypical behaviors being a woman of color, it has not disrupted her character in dealing with people. “I’m a woman and I’m a woman of color. People will challenge me on whether I know my stuff or not. I may have a Caucasian counterpart who will say the same thing in the exact same way that I’m saying but they will look at me differently or more so with a question.”
Being in an industry that is competitive and is ever-changing, Robinson is grateful for the guidance and mentorship of other colleagues and hotel executives such as Director of Sales–Ms. Juan Kirkman at Hard Rock Hotel Chicago and Aaron Thomas, who works Director of Sales at the Hotel Intercontinental in Minneapolis. “I feel important to help someone who need that guidance. To take some time to mentor them. That’s exactly what Juan and Aaron did for me — taking me under their wing in the hospitality business.”
As she moves into her third year at the Godfrey Hotel, her passion and love for the business continues to grow as she grows. She says, “It’s always been a task, because I didn’t go to school for this. I’m in the school of ‘hard knocks’. I didn’t choose this industry, it chose me. I’ve been in this since I was 16. By the time I was 20, I discovered I really love it. It felt like this was where I was meant to be.”