Woman's business mission: provide a good night's sleep

Lytle-Hess guides some 225 employees at 5 company hotels

November 02, 2003|By Amanda Angel | Amanda Angel,SUN STAFF

Pamela M. Lytle-Hess sat behind a large wooden desk on the second floor of the Sleep Inn in Edgewood with a director's chair facing her. She used to have a plush armchair for visitors to her office, but her employees disliked having to look up at their boss.

"Now they look down at me," said Lytle-Hess, who at 42 is the president of the Hess Hotels Group and the Maryland Hotels Association.

Lytle-Hess intimately understands the concerns of the approximately 225 employees who work in the five Hess hotels.

She began her career as a 17-year-old maid in the Edgewood Best Western Invitation Inn, the first Hess Hotel. At the time, it was a summer job that provided college money for the Hershey, Pa., native. It was also an opportunity for Lytle-Hess to spend time with her aunt, Barbara Stipe, who was general manager of the Best Western.

The Best Western, at exit 77B on Interstate 95, was one of a few motels between Baltimore and Philadelphia. It catered to people traveling all along the East Coast, and Lytle-Hess enjoyed speaking with customers from a variety of places.

"You would get to meet people from all over the world," she said.

She worked at the Best Western for three summers while she attended Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa., where she was a marketing major.

Lytle-Hess thought she would follow a career in marketing when she graduated in 1983. But when she could't find a job in that field, she returned to Edgewood and the Best Western.

"I just came back down here and worked at the front desk," she said. She also worked as a bartender and waitress, among other tasks.

In 1984, W. Dale Hess, founder of Hess Hotels and Hess Enterprises Inc., decided to develop the land across from the Best Western into a Comfort Inn, and he asked Lytle-Hess to head the project and later manage the hotel.

Learning experience

"I learned more than I thought possible. You can't buy that type of education," Lytle-Hess said of the process of building and opening a hotel.

During construction of the Comfort Inn, Lytle-Hess met Buzzy Hess, the son of W. Dale Hess and the construction manager for the hotel, with whom she argued frequently, not knowing that she would marry him two years later.

"We did not see eye-to-eye on anything. He was a builder, and I was a hotelier," she said.

Before the opening of the Comfort Inn, Lytle-Hess studied the Best Western and asked Stipe many questions, but nothing could prepare her for the opening night when all the toilets in the 104 rooms at the new hotel became clogged. She calls the it "the roughest day of my life."

Three more hotels, the Sleep Inns in Edgewood and Emmitsburg and a Comfort Inn in Perryville, have opened since the Edgewood Comfort Inn's first-night fiasco, and Lytle-Hess has overseen all of them. She became president of the company in 1992 when Stipe retired.

"With each new hotel, I fix the previous mistakes," she said as a self-affirmed "control freak."

Lytle-Hess has taken an increased role within the Maryland hotelier community since she became president of Hess-Hotels.

She said that she often attended hotel conventions to learn from her peers. Now in her second year as chairwoman of the Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association, she is the veteran whose opinion is asked.

She spent six years as the treasurer of the association and has sat on the Harford County Tourism Council.

Professional praise

Mary Jo McCulloch, president of the Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association, has known Lytle-Hess for more than six years.

"She has been just wonderful to work with," McCullough said of Lytle-Hess. "She has a strong background in the lodging industry. People she works around believe her and trust her."

Lytle-Hess has been active in legislative issues surrounding the hospitality industry, especially concerning the hotel tax, but McCulloch praises her empathy above all else.

"Pam is somewhat of an anomaly in that most of her experience is learned on the job," McCulloch said. "She's compassionate; she's willing to listen to employees. She's done everything that she asks them to do."

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