There's a little something about the Midwest that outfits those in the hospitality industry with innately accommodating personalities. But it takes someone with compassion to really excel in the profession, and Jenifer Cutter has that in spades. Jenifer was recently appointed the general manager at the Downtown Courtyard by Marriott, after spending twelve years at the Amway Grand Plaza. She graduated from Ferris State University and moved to Arizona for a time to build her career and gain hands-on experience. When she came back to her home in West Michigan, her life experiences fueled her professional drive, but her love for collaborating with co-workers and clients alike was something to which she's always been uniquely attuned.
"You have to genuinely want to make people happy," Jenifer said. "That's something that is within you. I enjoy doing it and always have. Growing up, it's the way my parents raised me to be—respectful toward people even if you're having a bad day."
Although seemingly born with the skills to excel in hospitality, Jenifer had help from mentors who coaxed out her talents. Whether a Ferris State professor, employers, or her family, Jenifer is thankful to those who helped her along the way. And now, she is trying to emulate mentorship among her employees—something both the Amway Grand Plaza and the Marriott are keen to exemplify. "We want to help (employees) learn and help them grow ... We spend a lot of time asking them what they are interested in and not allowing them just to continue to work in one role. Don't settle," Jenifer said.
Cross-training opportunities are many for Jenifer's employees, and she is able to learn about people's passions by meeting with them on a regular basis and simply talking to them. Jenifer works with approximately one hundred twenty employees, and making sure each one of them is on the same page is no small feat. Employee development—as well as brand consistency and team cooperation—begins with communication, Jenifer said.
"It's so vital to communicate," she said. “You just can't have enough of it. Knowledge is power.”
Best practices at the Marriott include communicating in big and small ways. In addition to Jenifer's meetings with staff members, there are daily meetings among departments during which employees gather to choose and discuss a word or phrase of the day, prepare for events, and go over security. Weekly meetings with managers are also a standard at the Marriott, and biweekly meetings with superiors are regular. Round table environments allow all employees to voice concerns big and small.
Jenifer gets to know her employees this way, by sitting down with them and giving them her genuine attention. She puts herself in their shoes. She enjoys learning what makes each department of the hotel click. Staying present and visible to employees also makes Jenifer approachable. "Even if it's just popping in to say ‘hello, how was your weekend?,’ making yourself available and opening that door is very important. Staff then feel comfortable to come to you if there is an issue. It's important to me to have that type of relationship, and it's a matter of making sure I'm providing time equally in each area."
Jenifer loves the versatility of her work. "No two days are alike," she said. But what Jenifer loves about her job is the opportunity she has to welcome guests to Grand Rapids—a hidden gem, as she calls it. Guests of the Amway Grand Plaza and the Marriott tell Jenifer how amazed they are by the city, by its cleanliness, safety, walkability, and variety of activities. People who live in West Michigan could easily forget all that they have at their fingertips, Jenifer said, but locals should be proud of the city they live in and the vibrant, cultural offerings right in their backyard.
Written by: Erika Fifelski is West Michigan Woman magazine's staff writer. She graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism. Erika was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it.