Amy Hulbert was 6 years old when she received her first design project—a Barbie Dreamhouse. She would rearrange the house, putting it back together in interesting ways to make the spaces work better. She also made area rugs out of felt and any other material she could get her hands on.
From a young age, Amy’s parents knew she’d follow a design path. But despite a love for redesigning Barbie’s perfect pad, Amy is quick to tell you that although she loves design, she is not drawn to all design. And ironically, residential design is not on her list of loves.
“My focus has always been on hospitality,” she says. “My dad was in the hospitality business for 42 years, so I grew up in it. I love it. In my first job at an architectural firm all we focused on was restaurants and hotels. That is my love from a design perspective—the commercial, and hospitality side, in particular.”
Now, as the vice president of boutique and upscale brands at Best Western, Amy has the opportunity to build on her previous experience in hospitality design, while also expanding her reach on the business side, with a laser focus on the ROI of each new Best Western brand. A lover of learning and growing, Amy also has an eye on further honing her leadership skills—both at work and at home, where she is currently raising a family (though some are out of the house) and six Maine Coon cats with her husband.
What was your very first job, and what is a lesson you learned in this job that sits with you today?
It’s funny, I have a son now, and I wouldn’t think of leaving a 12- or 13-year-old child with my child, but I was a queen baby-sitter! I was really popular because I was engaged with kids and took my job seriously. After the kids went to sleep, I cleaned up. I made sure all the toys were put away and that the kitchen was cleaner than it was left when I arrived. It made me really sought after in the neighborhood that I lived in because I was doing a little bit more and left things in a good condition. What happens often these days when you hire a baby-sitter? You arrive back home and the house is a mess, the pizza box is still on the counter, and your child tells you the babysitter was on their phone the whole time. When I was a baby-sitter I would leave each home with happy kids and the way I would want to come home to it. Taking it to the next level, and thinking about being one step ahead of what the expectations are, makes all the difference.
Your role at Best Western has morphed over the years, but it always has a tie back to design. What aspects of your previous roles do you bring into your current role as VP?
What I love about what I’m doing now is that I could never be doing it if I hadn’t done what I did before. And for that matter, my other two jobs before that. Overseeing the design team here I rolled out a design program where we went and visited every single hotel in the brand. We gave each a customized report to help them compete better and make more money. It was a business plan with a design deliverable. It worked. It’s important that both business and design work together, and I learned a lot from this project.
If you look at roles as stagnant, you will stay that way. Throughout my career, I wanted to continue to challenge myself and others on my team. Looking to develop new opportunities does just that!
What does your work on boutique and upscale brands for the company involve?
There’s so much involved with this role. No day is ever the same. For example, today I’m working on a video for a new brand, so we’re piecing together some imagery and talking to the videographers, but at the same time I have the team’s score cards on my screen, and I’m looking at their metrics and talking to the revenue management team to make sure that as the brands roll out they are performing like we say they are going to. I’m trying to break down all the brands and see how they are pacing, if the revenue is going in the right direction, if we need to do some course correction, from a sales perspective are we out in the marketplace where these new hotels are opening—all of these things.
You might think this role is just about fun stuff like designing and creating, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about organizing the personality of the brand and ensuring that every touchpoint, from the moment we talk to developers and show them a brand video, to helping the property get into the ground faster, to ensuring we have a staff training program to help the hotel staff extend the true brand feel, we focus on all areas of the brand performance. And while yes, that means designing, it also means watching each brand’s development pipeline and revenue performance to ensure the brand’s success. It creates interesting days, because there’s so much to get your arms wrapped around. It makes it important to prioritize and understand what comes first.
What is the most rewarding part of the work you do?
It’s always seeing the finished product. To see our new GLō projects and watch the concept come to life has been amazing. I also love seeing the passion from our owner’s standpoint as well. I feel like they’re my babies, and I’m watching them hatch. I can’t wait to stay the first night in one of our new brands.
What are some sources you use when seeking inspiration?
I like to read everything I can get my hands on, because sometimes inspiration comes from places you don’t expect. Each day, no matter where I happen to be that day, I read all of the industry updates, whether from trade blogs or digital and hard copy publications. There’s something about a physical magazine and the joy I can get from tearing out pages to reference later.
I also think trade shows are great for inspiration. I just took my whole team to a hospitality design conference in Las Vegas. It’s absolute designer heaven. There are hundreds upon hundreds of booths with everything from fabrics and window treatments, to carpets and flooring materials, to safes. It’s very holistic, and it’s great to be able to touch and feel the items and see them through the vendor’s eyes as well.
I also love to look on Instagram and other social media channels. Many brands and hotels in the hospitality and travel industries have great Instagram pages. I love that sometimes there are even no words—just a striking image.
What is something surprising someone might not realize about your work?
How comprehensive it is. You think of brand building, and sitting and sketching and looking at samples. However, there are many facets to branding that are very different from design.
What is a career accomplishment you’re proud of?
I’ve done lots of different things in my career. I’ve worked at design firms, worked on some really exciting projects, worked on owned assets for a while, and even worked specifically in the Latin and Caribbean region in my previous job, where I focused on 11 brands in 43 different countries. I was on the road six days a week. I’ve been in some of the most beautiful and odd places in the world, including standing in muck in the middle of the Amazon rainforest!
But the accomplishment I’m most proud of is easy.
One day while I was still working for Hilton, I was sitting in a hotel in Panama City and got a phone call from somebody I knew at Best Western. We had talked and been in contact before about jobs over the years, and he asked if I was ready to join them and help launch what we call Descriptors program, which is when Best Western transitioned from one brand to three brands. He said they were looking for someone to help with design oversight to make sure hotels were being moved into the right brands. It sounded like too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Little did I know that was the tip of the iceberg. After just a couple of years working here, I worked on the development of three other fantastic brands—Executive Residency, Vīb and GLō. This has all taken place in just the last four years. The industry is moving fast, and so are we!
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
I feel so invigorated by this new experience because it’s using so much of what I’ve built over the years in my background and experience. Earlier, I mentioned growing up in the industry because of my dad. Because he worked in food and beverage for many years and then also a GM of large hotels, I got to see and experience things from a young age that most designers don’t get to. That experience becomes embedded in every decision I make. It shows in how I do my job, and it’s unique to me and can’t be replicated.
What are some strategies that you feel have helped contribute to your success?
The first is focus. I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I got out of school. Six weeks later, I got in my car with everything that would fit and moved from Northern Virginia to Chicago to begin work at a large hospitality design firm. I knew that I only wanted to do hospitality design from the start.
The second is to be yourself. Figure out where your strengths are and leverage those. If you try to bring something that you’re not to the table, it moves you in the wrong direction. Even when I look at my team as we’re hiring people, I’m looking to balance out the strength of our group.
What is a mistake you made starting out in your career, and what did you learn from it?
Everyone makes mistakes at the beginning of their career, and throughout it as well. I think every week I reflect on my week and think, “I probably should have done this differently, or not done this.” You continue to build your strengths as a leader through your experiences and how you address your missteps.
I’m not the best delegator, and I used to be really bad. I thought I had to do everything myself, but I realized when you don’t delegate you’re a one-person show. When you delegate and you can get some things more collaboratively done, you take those advantages in putting everyone’s strengths together. There was a previous board member here who used to look at me and say, “Amy, you have to use all of your hands. You have a lot more than two hands. Use all of them.” He will occasionally still call me and ask if I’m using all of my hands. And I still have to force myself to delegate.
What is a favorite Best Western location that you want to return to?
My husband and my son have never been to Europe, so next summer we plan to go to Europe, and we’re picking some locations that we want to go to. I would love to return to the Best Western Premier Collection Maison Albar Opera Diamond in Paris. I had the pleasure of walking the hotel with the owner when I visited a few years ago, and she was so invested and passionate about the property.
There is also a property that I’ve never been to but would love to go to—the Best Western Premier Cappadocia in Turkey. It’s completely carved out of rock and is what is known in this region as a ‘cave hotel.’
What advice do you have for women aspiring to hold a role in design?
Remember that design, too, is a business. Learn and hone your business skills as you need them in every job—whether it’s in design or not. It can’t be that you just have really good taste and that you’re a really good designer, you have to get the business side incorporated too.
I’d love to grab coffee with: Dorothy Draper, the first designer to truly make design a business.
The books on my nightstand are: The Silent Language of Leaders … but don’t tell anyone until I’m finished with it! I’m also reading Masterminds and Wingmen, a book about raising children, a boy in particular.
My favorite quote or saying is: “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” –Max Lucado
My favorite place to travel is: Bariloche, Argentina
I can’t live without: My family, which includes my fuzzy ones, too!
My favorite way to unwind is: We live in Arizona, so floating in my pool!
I feel my best when: I’m organized—both at home and at the office. I love lists!
“Taking it to the next level, and thinking about being one step ahead of what the expectations are, makes all the difference.”