“Southern hospitality is alive and well!” That’s Yvette Thomas-Henry on the hotel she oversees and the city of which it is so much a part. As General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, the only AAA Five-Diamond/Forbes Five-Star address in town, Thomas-Henry is intent upon leveraging that hospitality and building upon that relationship to benefit both the property and the community around it.
New offerings are fashioned to draw guests and Atlantans alike, she says, pointing in particular to Bar Margot, a collaborative effort with Chef Ford Fry who had built a sizable local following with myriad restaurants in and around Atlanta before opening at the Hotel in September 2015. Hip yet relaxed, the bar offers “luxury that is approachable,” Thomas-Henry explains. “Perceptions of luxury are so diverse these days. By positioning ourselves as partners to our neighbors and other Atlanta companies, especially, we offer something to the community that attracts a broad base looking for new experiences.”
Thomas-Henry arrived in Atlanta shortly after the opening of Bar Margot, taking the reins of a reinvigorated Hotel operation that included not just new dining, but a new partnership with Porsche and a newly redesigned Penthouse Ballroom on the 50th floor with stunning views across the city. She brings personal enthusiasm for click-heeled hospitality to her first turn as GM, and she’s not shy about expecting the same. “We have a job to do and we spend a lot of time doing it, so it needs to be done with passion,” she says. “I’m not a micromanager. I believe in trusting people, allowing them to find their own path, and giving them what they require to do their job well.”
The formula has worked well throughout Thomas-Henry’s run with Four Seasons, which began as Director of Rooms in New York in 2007 and then moved between east coast properties until she became Hotel Manager in Washington, DC. When she returned as the same to New York in 2013, she was thrust into the role of acting General Manger following the transfer of the Hotel’s longtime leader.
Rather than shrink, Thomas-Henry told her department heads: “We can either sink or sail – and imagine how great it will be when we succeed.” Then she gave them what they needed to do just that in “a very challenging environment during the busiest season.” The team was appreciative and rose to the task, she says, adding graciously, “I was able to be successful during those eight months in large part because I was working with talented and dedicated staff.”
Born in St. Thomas, USVI and raised in St. Croix, Thomas-Henry was encouraged early by her mother to be the best at whatever she did. “I took it a step further by not just being the best but being associated with the best,” she says. “It has really paid off for me.”
Though she earned a scholarship to a college in Ohio, she left it to study speech language pathology in New York. One day while walking along Central Park South Thomas-Henry passed a luxury hotel that was having a job fair. Intrigued by thoughts of all the famous people she might meet working at Big Apple address she popped in and got hired as a front office agent. She was later promoted into management training while going to school full time. By the time she had wrapped up her Masters in Human Service, she was an assistant manager.
She recalls a pivotal career moment at another New York luxury hotel whose general manager told her, “If you want to play with the big boys, you need to wear a big boy hat.” “In other words,” she explains, “you need to be able to speak up and not be afraid of getting your feelings hurt when you voice your opinions. It’s a lesson that wasn’t easy to learn, but it was invaluable.”
Thomas-Henry now finds herself in an admirable position of playing with the big boys and leading as a GM at Four Seasons. Nothing if not confident, she believes this is an opportune time for women to aspire to leadership positions such as hers. “Women bring a special sense of style and an approach to leadership that is unique,” she says, counting Oprah and Michelle Obama as compatriots she admires. “I firmly believe this is one of the best times to be a woman in business. The value of what we bring to the table is being recognised across many industries.”
On that note, Thomas-Henry puts advancement of women in hospitality where her mind is. She is active in the Women in Leadership Executive Council of the American Hospitality & Lodging Association, and has long mentored young women on their way up. “I still do,” she says, noting that her various charges – wherever they’ve landed – always know that she is a phone call away. “I tell them, ‘please be prepared to be candid with me. If you don’t give things to me straight, you’ll miss the opportunity to grow.’”
Away from the Hotel, Thomas-Henry likes travel – short and long. She does the former on roller blades, a talent she honed in Central Park. The latter she enjoys where she can with family or on faraway girlfriend getaways. Meantime, she has Atlanta: “The social scene here is thriving. There’s dining. There’s culture. What doesn’t this city hold?”