The Hotel Arista in Naperville serves as a sort of ambassador to the city. It often is the first reason visitors come to the western suburbs. And Jeff Brown takes that status very seriously.
The award-winning general manager, who lives and works in Naperville, says keeping the hotel on top is what motivates him and his staff to keep doing what they do every day.
“The key is keeping the people I oversee motivated,” Brown said. “I tend to have an approach where you have you look at people as being human and not robots. They have life problems as well, and in order to keep morale up, people have to be engaged.”
He said keeping the 190 people he oversees engaged is a daily effort.
“Service, I think, has to come from within — you can’t turn it on and off,” he said.
The 38-year-old is a lifelong service industry professional who grew up on Chicago’s southwest side in Tinley Park. He began working as a bus boy in a restaurant at 14 years old, and by his senior year of high school, he had become an assistant manager.
“I basically worked my way up, and I was willing to help out with whatever was needed,” Brown said. “I wound up getting a trade certificate at the Echols International Travel and Hotel School in Chicago, and wanted to do something more than run a 60-seat restaurant.”
One of Brown’s teachers at the Echols School introduced him to the Hyatt group where he worked for two years, followed by Starwood Hotels where he spent the next 14 years “being promoted about every six months.”
“I spent time in Florida and Denver and here back in Chicago, and worked at lower-level jobs and began working myself up,” Brown said. “I was trying to grow my career and be as well rounded and diversified a manager as I could be and spend time overseeing a lot of departments.”
Brown said he was always willing to take on a challenge and found himself working in a variety of capacities from serving as a project manager for a hotel renovation to running a laundry department.
“The most interesting thing, I think, was being a property maintenance manager in Florida at a Disney property where we took care of the grounds of a 10-acre property,” he said. “There were a lot of moving parts to the job as we had a crew of 30 people that waxed floors and cleaned carpets, and it was an interesting experience.”
Brown became the general manager of Hotel Arista in spring of 2012 and was recognized soon after by a national hotel group.
“In 2012, I was given the Hotelier of the Year award by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, which was a real honor,” Brown said.
In the meantime, the Hotel Arista has continued to rack up accolades, including being named a AAA Four Diamond Award winner as well as being given a 4-Star Award by the Forbes Travel Guide.
Christine Jeffries, of the Naperville Convention and Visitors Bureau, says Brown “is a delight to work with” and that he sees “the whole picture.”
“Getting a four-star rating in the suburbs is a big deal, and I think Jeff has been very much a part of the reason the vision Calamos had when they built this hotel is now being realized,” she said. “Jeff constantly reaches out to the Visitors Bureau, and he brings as much to it as we do.”
Nicki Anderson, CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, adds that Brown’s “broad background has made him a perfect fit.”
“He has big city knowledge, and so that from a tourist’s perspective — he can provide the same type of experience here in a smaller setting,” Anderson said.
Through his years in the hotel industry, Brown says he has seen a change in technology as well as in the types of service guests expect.
“There are people who look for certain services like having their luggage brought up to those who want to be fairly independent,” he said. “You have to teach your staff to look for the ‘clues’ and anticipate what the guest needs before someone asks for it. When you’re able to anticipate those expectations and exceed them, you develop loyalty with your customers.”