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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Perry Kessler, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston Our Coverage Sponsored by Stribling and Associates

Perry Kessler

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Perry Kessler is Director of Sales and Marketing at the Westin Copley Place Hotel which has been highly recommended by Whom You Know.  Kessler is an industry veteran, having worked in every type of hotel from Convention to Resort and from Suburban to Urban although he began his career in an unusual way. In the late 80's you might have found him playing in piano bars throughout the city.

Playing piano in lounges led to friendships with bartenders and, as a musician needing money, Kessler found part time work bouncing (checking ID’s). Eventually he began to bartend, while still playing piano in hotels. One day, working in a Boston dive, Kessler was recognized as the pianist by a hotelier who worked in one of the lounges. The hotelier, shocked that the pianist had bartending talent, offered Kessler a job.

Perry joined the Marriott Corporation in 1989 and quickly moved up the ranks from bar back to lead bartender and from banquet captain to convention floor manager at the Marriott Copley Place. Starting a family, he began to transfer around New England and worked in Catering Sales in Cambridge, back to Copley in Convention Management where he ascended to Director of Event Planning. From there he moved into sales in the suburbs of Newton and Burlington Massachusetts, where he became a Director of Sales and later managed an area team.

When the Renaissance Boston Waterfront was in construction, Kessler was chosen to pioneer the new brand in the city as the opening Director of Sales and was soon after was promoted to Director of Sales and Marketing at the Newport Marriott Hotel and Spa in Newport, Rhode Island. In 2010 he was chosen as the first Area Sales Leader in Southern New England for Marriott’s newly formed Sales Force. He successfully implemented and sales and management systems for 8 individual hotels and while leading a global sales team and was finally recruited by Starwood Hotels and Resorts. In 2012 he changed companies to add new experiences to his professional portfolio at the Westin Copley Place Hotel.  Whom You Know is so pleased to present Perry Kessler as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan interviewed Perry for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: 
What is your first piano memory and do you continue to play?
Perry Kessler:  
I remember being a pre-teen in a bad mood and feeling bluesy. I sat down at my mother’s piano and tinkered until I found a blues riff. When I liked the sound I figured out a chord and when I liked the chord I used web-like fingering to keep my hands in the same position until I found two more chords. Suddenly, I realized that I had learned the progression to a lot of different songs: Grateful Dead's "Doctor, Doctor", Beatles' "Twist and Shout", several Lynyrd Skynryd songs and many other rock or blues. I don't play much anymore but I am always good for an impromptu jam duet with my daughter… and I love to play blues harmonica along with the radio on the beach in the summer.

What would most people who don't work in it find surprising about the hotel industry?
It is one of the few industries where careers are grown through hands-on operations. Most of the Exec's, VP's and CEO's in the hotel industry have worked their way up from the front desk, or from the kitchen, or from a restaurant, housekeeping…, or in my case from a piano playing banquet bar-back.

What does it take to be a successful hotel?
Great associates and customers. If the people who work in the hotel love what they do and are empowered to take great care of their guests then business will return and word of mouth will spread. It is all about loyalty. 

What are the biggest mistakes marketing people make and what do you attribute your success to?
Marketers are creative by nature and it is easy for them to make a quick and clever assumptions. Marketers, and sales people, have a tendency to want to “put on a show” before they understand their audience. When I consider a target audience I look towards understanding the consumers who make and/or influences decisions. I talk with people who fit that demographic and I listen carefully to them. I also study competitors and other companies who I feel do it well. I think that my success comes from listening and from research.

How can we get the people of New York and the people of Boston to be better friends and not feel like rivals?
I wouldn’t change a thing! What is more exciting than Red Sox vs. Yankees? I look at it as a sibling rivalry where competition is fierce but there is a deep bond of commonality. We are talking about a love-hate relationship between two of the greatest cities in the world. When the Yankees played “Sweet Caroline” over the Marathon bombings there wasn’t a dry eye anyplace. “I Love New York”…“Go Sox”.

What do you love most about the Westin Copley Place?
I think the answer has to do with an edgy culture and a drive to achieve. My hotel is laser focused on trying to provide a personalized experience for every guest that walks in the door. We have incredible teams of dedicated people who have a passion that is contagious.

What are your favorite drinks to make and do you bartend for fun now?
Although I enjoy cocktails, these days I am more of a seasonal purist. I like clear drinks in the summer and dark drinks in the winter. In the summer I enjoy Vodka, Chardonnay and Amber Beer but in the winter time I like Scotch, Cabernet Sauvignon and Guinness. Truthfully, I like Guinness all year long. As far as bartending goes I am more known for taste testing...if you came into my house I might have you sample a variety of wines, liquors or beers of the same type but from different price points or from different types but in the same price point. It doesn’t stop with alcohol… I make everyone taste test with pickles too!

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My mother taught me that nothing was impossible. My father influenced my persistency. My wife’s ideals are unparalleled. My daughter is inquisitive, tenacious and funny. My son is wildly competitive yet humble and compassionate. I think that you draw your personal and professional inspirations from the people you are around. Like everyone, I’ve occasionally run into some lousy teachers or harder life lessons; these too can influence pursuit of excellence because by knowing firmly what you don’t want you are able to concentrate on the opposite. I feel a strong sense of responsibility for those whom I affect and that impacts my desire to succeed as well.

What are you proudest of and why?
Nothing personally or professionally has ever come easy but the journey so far has been fantastic and I am proud of where I am. My wife and I have raised two children who have become great people and the world is a better place because of them... I am so proud of that fact that it hurts. 

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
I consider myself very fortunate that I have been able to grow my career and raise my children without ever having to move. I’ve lived in the same house for more than 23 years and have never had to relocate. I am not looking to make a move for a while but I think it would be an interesting experience to eventually transfer to a different part of the country or world. 

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
Westin Copley Place won a really cool special event award from the American Hotel and Lodging Association for a special community event called Thanksgiving on the Mayflower. For the past few years we’ve partnered with Scott Relocation Mayflower in Attleboro, MA… they lend us a Mayflower truck and on it, out on the street, we set a full Thanksgiving buffet and invite Boston Police, Firefighters, Ambulance Drivers and First Responders… our associates dress as pilgrims and serve the meal and the hotel is really looking forward to doing it again this year. We have also recently won awards from Meetings East - Best of the East, Trip Advisor, Cvent’s -top 100 and also Meeting and Incentive Convention and Exposition Magazine. 
Additionally, I’ve received speaker awards from MPI and from ASAE and have had honors from giving marketing lectures at University of Rhode Island and at Boston University. At Marriott, I received regional awards for managing the sales channels of eight different hotels and was recognized for leading a four time winning sales team of a lead generation competition. I am really proud of an award I received back in 2009 for leading during difficult times which was given to me for managing a team and hotel through the economic crash.

What one word best describes you and why?
Lighthearted - I try to find the humor, or maybe just the good side of every situation.

What do you take your sense of identity from?
I identify with Jake & Elwood from the Blues Brothers. It is a story is about these two dudes who were on a mission to do well in their own crazy way; they get into trouble all the time but they make the best out of every situation and pull great music and incredible choreography out of everyone who they connect with. They make it through a million crashes, aren’t afraid of obstacles, they work with the best musicians in the world (Johnny Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, etc.) and they save an orphanage.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? And Boston?
Visiting relatives or Times Square in NY, nothing beats the Back Bay of Boston.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? And Boston?
No shops, I like the street artists and kiosks in the Greenwich Village, NY or in Faneuil Hall, Boston.

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
A cleaning service, to help fix my house after a Thanksgiving week full of family! Professionally, I often think about the great people who I’ve worked with over the years… if I had an empty business I would be able to fill it with my pick of the best of the best. I can’t really boil it down beyond that.

What is your favorite drink?
Guinness Beer

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
I won a prize for best dressed, wearing a home-made gorilla costume. I’m not sure why hardly anyone else wore an outfit; they said it was a costume party?

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? And Boston?
There are too many fine and interesting places to choose from but if you want the best Knish in NY go to Yonah Shimmels or if you want the best clam chowder in New England go to Turner Fisheries, Boston.

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature? And Boston?
There is a book called Poetry in Steel about the history of the George Washington Bridge that I think is pretty cool… and I loved reading Black Mass (Whitey Buldger story) because I know all of the areas.

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
I wouldn’t mind being my wife for a day; it would give me interesting perspective!

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? And Boston?
I’d have some sort of deli sandwich named after me, maybe with a mythical story to go along with it. If they invented a “PK Burger” for example and it became a household word I would leave a humorous mark in history. Being the deli-capitol I’d start that in NY but then have it spread all the way to Boston. A fun legacy, and if I somehow received royalties even better!

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? And Boston?
I’ve been to Mets Stadium but have yet to see Yankee’s. Fenway Park is always an incredible experience!

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? And Boston?
Well, the skyscrapers are fun in each city (Empire State, Prudential or Hancock observatories) but I like going to the ethnic areas of each place China Town, Little Italy, etc. because I feel like each city does it in their own flare.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
Ray Charles, I love his music, I loved his autobiography, I loved the movie “Ray” and it would be interesting to hear what he’d talk about over dinner.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? And Boston?
I think both cities have the best street performers and I love to hang out in the squares in the summer time.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
I like community involvement within the school system or sometimes in one of the local or city programs. We donate to various charities when we can, and find ways to support people who help other people. I am also co-chair of a corporate social responsibility committee at work. 

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan? And Boston?
I just think that both cities have many, many tourist traps that can be considered expensive places to visit. The chain restaurants, stores and big name stadiums can often be overrated and if you can find someone knowledgeable there are usually better lesser known places to eat, shop, listen to music, see theater…. but you have to ask the locals how to find them. 

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
Better Living and Travel. It is all about experiences.

Have you tried The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not?
I have had similar, although not in a champagne flute – recently I missed my opportunity to have one with Peachy Deegan herself. When I do, I’ll have someone snap a photo.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I think you’ve asked it all!

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
You can find me on, thanks.

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