Q&A with Rebecca Smith, VP of Operations

Question: What was your first job in hospitality?

Rebecca Smith: My first job in hospitality was working in a golf pro shop, followed by waiting and bussing tables during college. After graduating with a marketing degree, I became director of sales for two small hotels in Charlotte.

Question: Are you originally from Charlotte?

Rebecca Smith: No, I’m from a small town in South Carolina called Ulmer.

Rebecca Smith

Question: Can you tell us about your career progression from those early days to your current role?

Rebecca Smith: I started as director of sales, then took over as general manager after one of the GMs left.  I moved around in that same company managing various properties for about 10 years.  I joined Brittain Resorts & Hotels in 2013 as the General Manager for the Caribbean Resort, followed by another two-year stint at Ocean Reef, which is one of my favorite properties.  Then I was asked to be the general manager at the Breakers Resort in 2018.  In 2021, I was promoted to Director of Operations, where I oversaw The Breakers and The Strand, and then blessed to be promoted again in 2022 to Senior Director of Operations, overseeing the operations of The Breakers, The Strand, and the dual-branded Marriott.  

Question: What makes Ocean Reef stand out to you?

Rebecca Smith: Ocean Reef has a unique layout with a phenomenal lobby and interconnected buildings, which creates a great guest experience compared to our other properties.

Question: Can you describe your experience at the Breakers Resort?

Rebecca Smith: Breakers Resort was a challenging yet rewarding role overseeing a diverse range of unit types spread across multiple buildings. I directly managed operations there from 2018 to 2021, including overseeing significant renovations like building a new registration area with a water park, demolishing two buildings, and managing a resort around the construction phase of our dual-branded Marriott, as well as the opening of that property.  

Question: You recently were promoted to a new position. What is your new job?

Rebecca Smith: My new title is Vice President of Operations. I oversee the operations of Breakers, The Strand, a dual-branded Marriott, and our newer venture, Monterey Bay. While my core responsibilities remain similar to my previous role, I now focus more on supporting operations teams across these properties. My main goal is to ensure our company grows sustainably while maintaining the core principles that have enabled our growth in the first place.

Question: You participated in and are now an alumna of the Women’s Leadership Alliance. Can you describe the program and what it’s all about?

Rebecca Smith: The Women’s Leadership Alliance, which was the brainchild of VP of Talent Services Melissa Bilka, is very dear to my heart. It’s designed to support women in the hospitality industry, where leadership roles are often dominated by men. We’re able to do some impactful things that show you what your strengths and weaknesses are, show you how to have work-life balance, and grow internally as well. The program focuses on personal growth and fosters lifelong relationships with other participants. Watching my direct reports grow through the program has been just as rewarding as my own experience.

Question: How long does the program last?

Rebecca Smith: The program spans a year, with classes once a month January through April, and resuming in September after a summer break. We try to be respectful of everyone’s busy schedules, especially during the summer.

Question: Do you think this program sets BRH apart in terms of management and results?

Rebecca Smith: It definitely helps our leaders. While it might not directly increase room sales, it has greatly improved leadership qualities, motivation, and team morale, which ultimately benefits the company.

Question: Can you share one or two things from your time in the program that have had a lasting impact on you?

Rebecca Smith: One of the key takeaways that has influenced my leadership style is the importance of being present. Being 100% present in meetings and interactions is crucial. Another concept is “hands on the table,” which signifies a confidential conversation within a trusted circle. That’s a concept that’s very engrained in the culture of the program, and is passed down from alumni to new classes. 

Question: This industry is famous for allowing individuals to start in entry-level positions and work their way up to CEO. What career advice do you have for line staff who are interested in moving up?

Rebecca Smith: My advice is to stick with it because you never know where it will lead. You could be a bellman today and a vice president tomorrow. We have phenomenal examples of that in our company, like CEO Matthew Brittain, who started stocking vending machines and has clearly grown his career significantly. The key is to always do your job to the best of your ability, regardless of what it is. Good things will happen when you consistently put in your best effort.

Question: What are a couple of your personal guiding principles or rules that you will never break?

Rebecca Smith: I have a few guiding principles that I adhere to strictly. First, I will never steal—integrity is crucial to me, and I believe in handling any wrongdoings, even if it means adding more to my plate. Second, I always strive to be kind to everyone I work with, as teamwork is essential. Lastly, I never stop questioning things to ensure we are doing the right thing. It’s important to have a clean conscience and feel good about the decisions made throughout the day.

Question: If you weren’t in the hotel business, what would you do for a living?

Rebecca Smith: I’ve been in this industry for 20 years. It’s famous for being demanding, but I love it because it offers so much variety, which suits my inability to focus on one thing forever. However, after helping set up our annual conference, I realized I might enjoy being a motivational speaker. They make a good living, and I believe I could pull it off!

Question: You have a free plane ticket, free hotel, and spending money. You can go anywhere in the world. Where would you go?

Rebecca Smith: I would like to go to the Bermuda Triangle. Did you know there’s no snakes there? Plus, the beaches have pink sand, which is fascinating. My husband and I were recently discussing it, and after learning more about the place, we’ve decided it’s our dream destination. The fishing is great too, which he loves. I’m sold on the no snakes and the pink sand.

Question: Is there a book that you’ve read that has changed your life?

Rebecca Smith: It’s not my favorite book, but “To Kill a Mockingbird” has had a significant impact on me. I know that’s so cliche. As a young girl from a southern town, I could relate to the lead character and learned important guiding principles from the book.  I believe it can be considered a leadership book in its own way. 

Question: What is your funniest, weirdest, craziest story of something that happened to you in a hotel?

Rebecca Smith: There are so many good ones! Once, a guest brought their pet flying squirrel to a non-pet-friendly hotel. The squirrel got out, and we were chasing it all over because it could go out on the balcony and drop down to the next floor. We had to run up and down the hotel trying to catch it. We finally found the squirrel on the second floor, just before it made its way out. We were trying to save the vacation for the family because the little girl was heartbroken. It was impressive how the squirrel could fly back up too. The guests apologized, saying the door got left open while feeding it. I just had to wonder why they brought the squirrel on vacation from Ohio. They drove down with it, an eight-hour trip.

Question: Did you have any other crazy animal encounters?

Rebecca Smith: Yes, at the Caribbean hotel, there was an aggressive squirrel that made a nest in the back of a Coca-Cola machine. The squirrel would run at Miss Pat, our sweet housekeeping supervisor, who was in her 70s. We had to call animal control because the squirrel would attack anyone who came near the Coke machine, thinking they were after its babies. So, how do you like that? Two squirrel stories!

Brittain Resorts & Hotels (BRH) is a full-service hospitality management company providing multi-layered expertise in all disciplines of hotel and resort operations. Since 1943, BRH has been enriching the lives of its team members, guests, partners, and the communities they serve by providing exceptional guest experiences, a supportive work environment, and superior returns. With over 4,000 rooms, suites, and condos in the portfolio, the company currently operates 20 hotels and resorts and 40+ restaurants & bars within the United States.

Media Contact:
Patrick Norton
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
Phone: (843) 282-7359
[email protected]