Business Q & A

A conversation with Stephen Stewart

It's not the career path he intended, but Hyatt Regency Wichita general manager Stephen Stewart has been with the Hyatt chain for his entire career.

In 28 years with the company, the Ohio native has worked in 11 markets.

Stewart came to Wichita in 2008.

What did you think you wanted to do for a career while you were still in school?

"My studies were mass communications in hopes to be the next super sports announcer — the next Howard Cosell. That's what I wanted to do.

"I'm a sports enthusiast. Always have been. Always will be."

The Cleveland Indians baseball team inspired you, too, right?

"I would listen to them on the radio. I think that's what captured my interest to the possibility of broadcasting."

And you particularly liked Indians broadcaster Herb Score?

"I would listen to the baseball games simply because of Herb Score. He would make the games seem like they were in your living room."

But upon graduating from the University of Akron, you and your future wife moved to Phoenix, and you took a job as a night auditor with the Hyatt. What was the idea?

"OK, let's get settled and get some revenue coming in."

And you liked it?

"Within six months, they promoted me. I thought, wow, this is great. And within six more months, they promoted me again."

Did you ever think of your other career ambition?

"I held onto the thought that broadcasting is a possibility for years."

Why did that change?

"Really, I think after about three or four years with Hyatt, I was very much liking the hospitality industry. I think the most appealing part about it was the travel and promotabilities."

But isn't moving from city to city hard?

"It has its drawbacks.... It's not for everyone.

"Is it a stress and a hardship? I think it depends on how you look at it."

What's your approach?

"With all the markets, my family and I have always been good at identifying the greatness of each market. You just have to do that."

What do you like about Wichita?

"The transportation. I like the seamless travel... between Point A and Point B. It's so easy here."

Not quite like it was for you in places like Dallas and Atlanta?

"That's a real big deal."

One of your Hyatt jobs took you back to Cleveland. What was that like?

"It was hard leaving a second time. The first time was a heartbreaker to my family.... The second time was a heartbreaker for us."

So what's a typical day for you like these days?

"There is no typical day. Please make note of that.

"I am at the beck and call of what the customer needs, and that's not typical.

"Customer service is on my doorstep from the moment I walk in to the moment I go home."

What's the most disastrous customer service moment you've encountered?

"I'm going to keep it anonymous where it was.

"We had an oversold situation.... We had a very bad (snow) storm."

And some stranded honeymooners?

"The look on my face was priceless when the bride came in in her gown and everything... and we had no rooms.

"I can tell you it was one and a half hours of the most frustrating moments of my life."

But they got a room?

"We finally found a place 68 miles away."

The Hyatt opened the new Harvest Kitchen/Bar under your watch. How has that been?

"It is a one-of-a-kind product in our company. It is a farm-fresh-to-table concept."

Why was the Wichita Hyatt chosen to test the concept?

"They chose this property because of its resources within the locale and in the state of Kansas.

"It's been great, and I would hope the community thinks the same."

Don't some people still complain that the clubby Leathers bar is gone?

"I still get it today, and I can't explain why....

"I think for every one person who still clings to how nice the old place looked, there's approximately 40 individuals who like (how) the new way is."

So what's in your future?

"I feel there's much more to accomplish. I work for a great company. I'm very satisfied for a while here and will always love working while I'm here.

"If they feel that I am best suited for this property for a long term, that's fine, because I really like being here."

You're still involved with sports, right?

"I really enjoy mentoring and assisting the youth sports. It gets a little competitive and edgy when you start getting in the 12, 13 and 14 age (groups) when the parents get a little unruly."

What's one thing no one knows about you?

"I distance run and run marathons.

"Oh, it's such a stress relief. On the road, no one but me and my mind. It's good stuff. It's great stuff."