By Lauren Sable Freiman
Photo by Matthew Ginn
“I would sneak into our guest bedroom and watch this show late at night when I was to be in bed,” Steward says. “The television series had an excitement, with no day ever being the same. I liked the magic that happened behind the scenes that made dreams come true and the love stories or the interesting twists and turns. And at the end of the day, everyone was happy.”
She was only 16, but she knew that was the lifestyle she wanted to live.
Today she is wrapping up her first year as the general manager of The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland following a whirlwind 14-year career with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.
After being recruited to work for a different hotel company upon graduation from Ohio State University, the Marion, Ohio, native was immersed in hotel culture. Steward rolled up her sleeves and actively learned every aspect of the hotel business, from the front office to convention services to food service and bartending, experience that provided a solid foundation upon which to build her career.
When she was presented with the opportunity to join The Ritz-Carlton Naples in Florida, she jumped at the chance.
Before landing in Cleveland, her career with Ritz-Carlton, one of Marriot’s 16 hotel brands, took her to Ritz-Carlton properties in Naples, St. Louis, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Throughout her career, she has trained the staff and opened 15 new hotels.
As the hotel manager of The Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles, which is surrounded by attractions such as the Staples Center and Nokia Theatre, Steward got a taste of the glitz, glamour, and experiences she had dreamed about as a kid.
Now that Steward is back home in the Buckeye State, she is focused on creating those glamorous and unforgettable experiences for every hotel guest and Ritz-Carlton team member.
“One of the things I’m most passionate about is the positive communication that we must have to be stewards of Cleveland,” Steward says. “Cleveland is a destination, it has a lot to offer, and we need to make sure we are always speaking a positive message.”
Steward also takes pride in being a positive voice for her employees, especially for female employees with aspirations of leadership within the company. That she is one of only two female general managers of a downtown Cleveland or surrounding suburban area hotel isn’t a point that defines Steward, but she is focused on letting other women know that if they desire a position of leadership, they can have a great work/life balance.
When Steward arrived in Cleveland she was integral in creating an inspirational Women’s Symposium open to female employees of the Cleveland market’s Marriott brands. Steward also spends time speaking about women’s leadership around the country, which fulfills a passion for inspiring others to achieve their goals and aspirations.
“I had seen The Ritz-Carlton in Naples being built, and I knew I wanted to be part of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. i wanted to be part of a company that has collaboration, excitement, and exceptional world-class service.”
“I’ll never forget being in a meeting with about 20 people around a boardroom table,” Steward says. “In the middle of the meeting, the leader stopped the meeting and said, ‘Kelly, do you realize you’re the only female in this room?’ I don’t look at it like that. I look at it like
I’m among other business professionals. I don’t see gender, I see business professionals. ”
As she continues to grow in her newest position, Steward is confident that she is living out the glamorous lifestyle she had envisioned as a teen. Although she says nothing is cookie cutter about her role, she is thriving in taking care of both the guests who stay and dine within The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland and team members who spend their days creating lasting memories for those guests.
“Every day is unique. It is a lot of responsibility,” Steward says. “But it is thrilling to be a general manager and have all of that to balance – making sure everyone is happy, inspiring others, taking care of others, and creating an amazing experience for those coming into our lives.”
For more information: ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Cleveland