Taking the less traveled path in her career, Kris Singleton discusses how she achieved success in the male dominated world of IT to become CIO for Omni Hotels
It took one class, less than three hours of basic computer programming on a classic Commodore computer for a girl headed to art school to make a sharp 180. Omni Hotels & Resorts, among other corporations, are grateful that Chief Information Officer, Kris Singleton recognized her natural aptitude for programming and took a road less traveled. Impressively Singleton, who may have started out as a country mouse, (one of 36 people in her graduating class in rural Missouri), is now an accomplished big-time executive whose leadership, innovation, and vision are leading the hospitality industry.
Programming and Art = Close Cousins
After earning a Bachelor’s of science degree in computer information systems and management from Central Missouri State University, Singleton went back to her artistic roots and joined Hallmark. There, Singleton was able to take her natural gift for the creative and blend it rather organically with information technology . “It is still creative. …like artwork, it is innovative, and it is creating something out of nothing.” She became a subject matter expert in programming. It “set the foundation for my technical confidence…” and “gave me opportunities to help me develop my soft skills, operational knowledge and business acumen.”
Most importantly at Hallmark, Singleton earned and gained the confidence she needed to succeed in a field that is male-dominated; the proof, less than 10% of CIO’s are female. She would need that self-assuredness as she headed to Vegas to become a part of the “good ole’ boy” casino/hospitality industry. Singleton quickly demonstrated she belonged. “I was able to build my credibility, confidence, and my ability to deliver. I did what I said I was going to do. I had the confidence to deliver high quality results which allowed me to be given bigger and better opportunities.”
Singleton is proof that women can excel in an industry and function that is male dominated. “I am one of those unique individuals that has the technical abilities and technical competence, along with the interpersonal communications and really the business execution side that binds it all together–that is one of the reasons I achieved the success that I have. Likewise, she came to the realization that women, by nature, have a lot of characteristics that make them highly successful and give them advantages as chief information officers. “Women, typically are good at planning and organizing. Correspondingly, we are very focused; we are compassionate, genuine, and caring which are key personality traits that to success in any career, especially in a technical field where accuracy is a must and collaboration is a necessity.” Singleton adds that women shouldn’t shy away from what is inherently feminine. “…I think we should embrace who we are and why we are effective at what we do.”
Cave in the Basement to Seat in the Boardroom
Singleton lived through the days when IT was its “own little department in the basement.” While that is all changed, she still believes that a “can do” attitude and meeting the clients’ needs that has existed since IT’s inception, is still the top priority. In order for her to help the CEO all the way to the front desk associates “operate with excellence,” she and her team have to uphold grand technical standards as well as provide stability, reliability, and consistency; a tall order but where her team excels. “You must have a service-minded attitude. You have to enable the operations team to deliver value through technology. Through out technical knowledge, we can envision operational improvements providing a connection and collaboration to deliver what they need.” What Singleton and her team provide their clients “…goes hand in hand with the hospitality industry. We open our homes/hotels and invite guests to stay with us. That attitude of genuine care doesn’t just happen with the associate at the front desk but with the associate programming the technology enabling those front desk agents to focus on the guest experience.”
Hospitality, that relationship between a guest and the host, could certainly be used as a parallel definition for Singleton’s management style. “It’s about understanding what motivates each person individually, and naturally creating an environment where they will excel.” Singleton understands that like each guest, each individual on her team is different, and effective management is about learning to recognize and provide the motivators, whether it is recognition, time off, or simply, a personal note. “When they have that motivation, when they are inspired and see the value they create, the experience becomes memorable for them which translates into memorable experiences for our guests. People want to know they are valued and see how they fit into that bigger picture.”
Much of the ‘hospitality’ Singleton provides to her team and business partners comes from what she gleaned from mentors like Hallmark’s Nancy Beal. “She has a very savvy tech mind, crafty yet witty, which made it fun.” From Mary Donnici, also of Hallmark, Singleton saw the importance of compassion and being genuine. “She had great values and qualities. She taught me to be humble about the things I develop, to remember my humble beginnings.” Being dynamic is also important to Singleton which she learned from watching Scot Campbell at MGM and Niki Leondakis at Kimpton Hotels who were both dynamic leaders who taught her the importance of building and nurturing relationships. Consequently, Singleton sees the importance of mentoring others and passing down what she has learned; “I am here to break down barriers and provide them with the tools to be successful.”
It only took under 180 minutes and an instructor with his eyes open to see that Kris Singleton was meant to have a successful career in technology. And because of one person being in the perfect function and in the perfect industry-hospitality-her team, her clients and the guests of Omni Resorts & Hotels are having the “very best personal experiences.” ♦
Learning the Hard Way
“The best lessons are those we learn the hard way, right!” Singleton learned the hard way that difficult situations can be the best teachers. When the new property management tool went down for six properties right at check-in time, Singleton and her team knew immediately how hot the hot seat can be. During the six days with partial system operation, Singleton learned the keys to handling disasters then and now.
- “Get all the parties involved, coordinating and collaborating to solve the problem. …Get the right team together.”
- “Quickly take action.”
- “Establish a leader.”
- “Track what we are doing, capture each change individually, document the results.”
- “Listen to your intuition.” While at first, she doubted her intuition, she finally stood up for what she knew must be part of the problem. Guess what? She was right!