He’s A Hyatt Man
Jerry Westenhaver, new GM of the Grand Hyatt at Poipu, has been with Hyatt for nearly 40 years. Coming here from Hyatt Regency Waikiki, he’s been especially impressed with the aloha spirit of his staff
It didn’t take long for Jerry Westenhaver, Grand Hyatt Kaua’i
Resort and Spa’s new general manager, to learn just how warm and friendly his staff is.
“The folks here, they embody the aloha spirit,” says Westenhaver, who started the job about two months ago.
It comes as no surprise that the employees of the South Shore hotel consistently receive some of the best service scores in the company.
“The people here really care,” he says.
Westenhaver also appreciates the generally laid-back pace of the island, especially since he most recently transferred from Hyatt Regency Waikiki.
“There’s an adjustment to slow yourself down,” he says. “Waikiki is just a machine that hums 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On Kaua’i, people come to relax and be at peace.”
Not only does the Poipu hotel offer that calming element, but it also is special in that it contains a classic Hawaii style with no immediate plans to alter, for which Westenhaver is thankful.
“We’re blessed to have had generations of the Takenaka family own this place and to really put their love and their heart in it,” he says. The family even put their heart into helping everyone stay employed when Iniki hit the island. “It’s just that type of caring,” he says.
That attention and concern are part of what made it so easy for Westenhaver to make the move from Oahu to Kaua’i.
Though he went from managing more than 1,200 rooms in Waikiki to some 600, Grand Hyatt Resort and Spa has its own unique demands.
There are 12 food and beverage outlets at the hotel, including Yum Cha, Tidepools, Stevenson’s Library and Dondaro’s. In addition, Westenhaver has more than 50 acres of land to oversee with an expansive pool system to boot.
“They both definitely offer positive challenges,” says Westenhaver when comparing the two resorts.
Westenhaver has worked for the Hyatt corporation nearly 40 years. However, his first job within the visitor industry was at Sheraton Waikiki, where he worked as an assistant restaurant manager. A trip with his family in the 1960s caused Westenhaver to fall in love with the Islands at an early age and instilled a desire to return. By 1976, he landed the food and beverage manager position at Hyatt Regency Waikiki.
The Washington native already had an idea he wanted to be in the business when he was a child after hearing “larger than life” stories about his relatives who owned a hotel in California. In high school he had an opportunity to meet with a senior vice president of sales and marketing of a Westin hotel, and the conversation stuck with him throughout college.
During college he earned money serving tables and graduated with degrees in business and sociology from Central Washington University. His experience in the restaurant business eventually led him to Safari Steakhouse at Sheraton Waikiki. He knew he found his niche by the time he joined Hyatt.
“Once you set up good objectives and goals, it may not be a straight line, but eventually it gets you to where you want to go,” he says.
After helping open Colony Steakhouse at Hyatt Regency Waikiki, his career took off. He served as general manager for Hyatt hotels across the globe including California, New Mexico and Puerto Rico.
“Each of the properties tends to have different characteristics and uniqueness that make them very special,” he says. “The one consistent factor is the people you work with. Hyatt folks are just wonderful regardless of where you’re at. It’s really one of the special things about working for our brand.”
One of those people is Diann Hartman, director of public relations for Grand Hyatt Kaua’i Resort and Spa.
“In the short time Jerry has been at the hotel, he has effected so many positive changes in improving the resort, from paint and repairs to really getting the landscaping in spot-on shape,” she says.
Westenhaver is looking forward to continuing to make improvements.
“To stay competitive, the bar keeps being pushed up,” he says. “You constantly have to re-evaluate what you’re doing to push it up higher.”
When he isn’t working to set higher standards,
Westenhaver enjoys taking long walks with his wife Lea. They also appreciate finding new places to eat and savoring the local grinds at restaurants such as Hanamaulu CafÃ©.
But what Westenhaver appreciates most is the feeling of ohana he has at his new job with the more than 900 employees he manages.
“Hopefully you get adopted or you adopt them,” he says.