Advice from a Veteran

With decades of design and construction experience for hospitality companies, Tom Moore offers a few tips on how to better lead an in-house development team

Tom Moore is the definition of a seasoned pro. He’s been in the hospitality industry for nearly four decades, and he’s worked in hospitality development, design, and construction for more than two decades. Most recently, in 2007, he began serving as the president of Stratosphere development for American Casino & Entertainment Properties, a hospitality management and development company that was recently acquired by Golden Entertainment, for which he’s now the senior vice president of development.

At any given time, he’s overseeing 40-50 projects, including new builds, renovations, expansions, and additions, and for a number of years, he has also run his own project-management firm, PMI Consulting, for other clients on the side. Through his experience, he’s amassed a wealth of wisdom regarding how best to lead an in-house development team. Here, he shares a few tips for other construction and design managers who haven’t yet clocked as many hours as he has.

1. Keep an in-house team small

Moore’s current development team comprises just six people, whose work is supplemented by dozens of outside contractors, designers, engineers, and consultants. He prefers it that way because a big in-house team must

constantly scale up and down, depending on the fluctuating volume of the business it serves.

“I think that having a good blend of outside talent keeps the inside talent fresher,” Moore says. “Outside people work for a variety of clients and get to see and hear a variety of inputs, thoughts, and suggestions, whereas people who work exclusively inside one organization tend to become somewhat monofocused.”

2. Cultivate a customer-service mind-set

Up on a board in Moore’s office is a sign that says, “Yes is the answer. What is the question?” It’s meant to convey his willingness to do everything in his power to satisfy the numerous requests that come his way, both from his company and the owners of the many hospitality properties his company develops.

He seeks out team members willing to do the same, and he watches how they handle themselves in high-pressure situations to make sure they have what it takes. “The very best construction person who doesn’t understand that we’re in the customer-service business is going to struggle,” he says.

3. Encourage appropriate risks and elevate strengths

Although Moore looks for specific qualities when hiring new team members, he also acknowledges that not every candidate is going to be a perfect fit right out of the gate. “We’re all human beings,” he says. “We all have things we’re better at.”

One thing he’s noticed lesser-experienced recruits having a tough time with is knowing when to take the initiative and take calculated risks, so he tries to foster a safeguarded environment in which such behavior is encouraged. “If you’re never wrong, it means you never risked,” he says. “If you never risk, you never grow. That’s a concern for me.”

He also looks for the strengths his recruits already possess, and he tries to build their jobs around those strengths while providing them slack to shore up the skills they need to work on. It helps his team work
better as a cohesive unit. “If you’re successful, all of us are successful,” Moore says, “and if we’re all successful, the customer’s going to be happy.”

4. Avoid work for work’s sake

If there’s one thing Moore can’t stand, it’s delays that slow down the construction process unnecessarily. “Our objective is always: how can we build in less time, for less money, and maintain quality,” he says.

To this end, Moore does all he can to keep his team from becoming mired in pointless tasks and activities: standing meetings that have no agenda, purposeless paperwork, reply-all email chains that go on and on, and the like. “We want to always be adding value to the process,” he says, “which means streamlining processes and procedures, eliminating extraneous costs, and shortening work cycles.”

5. Be the model for the team to look up to

The way Moore sees it, a good team leader sets the behavior and culture of the team not only by establishing its rules and policies but by following those rules and policies as strictly as possible. Doing so and rewarding others who adhere to them strictly goes a long way toward reinforcing best practices.

Not doing so or rewarding those who don’t follow best practices risks losing the team’s trust. “If everybody’s supposed to be smiling in the office and I always walk around looking like my dog just died, people are going to call me on it,” Moore says. “Or if the most miserable guy in the office gets promoted or gets a bonus or raise, I have just completely undermined everything that I teach.”

6. Be transparent with outside contractors

Moore may have less control over the dozens of vendors he works with, but he’s able to maintain their trust and respect through total honesty, which he expects to get back in kind. “We pay people what we owe them; we don’t try to redo the deal after the work is done,” he says. “In the same way, I expect vendors who work for us to give what they said, when they said, for the dollars they said.”

The more Moore can do to solidify his bonds with his vendors, the more he can rely on them in times of crisis. “It’s very important for me to have relationships with these people so that they want to do just as good as they possibly can do for me,” he says. “If I call people who I do a lot of business with and say, ‘Hey, we’re in trouble. Can you help me?’ They’ll do whatever they can do because they know we have a relationship.”

With loyalty like that, from both his vendors and the small team he’s so carefully put together and cultivated, he’ll be able to continue the prodigious output of his long-held career for many years to come.