by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | July 6, 2010

Jonathan LitvackA Starwood rep called recently, not to brag about another luxury hotel opening or a development deal in the works, but to tout a new employee award. A general manager award, to be exact, and M&C was being given the scoop.

It's no secret that general managers are increasingly being tapped by their sales teams to drive revenue, particularly group business. So, earlier this year the White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood decided to tune in and turn up the heat with a little motivation tactic: GMs could compete for the newly created Chief Sales Officer award, which would be bestowed quarterly.

The criteria: Nomination by their sales team, with supporting sales numbers and compelling written testimonials. So fired up was the company's sales force that 42 nominations from across all nine global brands were submitted for the first-quarter competition. The winner: Jonathan Litvack, general manager of the Westin Pasadena in California.

Q. How long have you been a GM?
A. Four years at this hotel, but I've been with Starwood for six and a half years. I joined this hotel when it was rebranded a Westin in 2004, following a major renovation. It used to be a Doubletree.

Q. What was your reaction when you heard of this new award category?
A. I immediately thought, why can't we have a seat at the winner's circle? I say "we" because I didn't care so much about the award for myself. I wanted my salespeople to get their recognition, and I set out to make this year ours. I gathered everyone and said, "This is our time to have our moment in the spotlight." Now that we have it, it feels really good to be recognized.

Q. Has the GM job changed that much?
A. Absolutely. It used to be to flow through the hotel, check in here, check in there and make sure everything is working. But now that revenue is king, it has totally shifted to driving sales. One of the things my team does every year is drive up to our call center to stay in touch with Starwood employees who deal with potential clients. I bring along my grill, fire it up and stand in the parking lot, grilling for a couple hundred people. They know us for that and look forward to it, and it keeps our hotel on their radar.

Q. Did you get to read what your team said about you?
A. Only after I learned I had won. What's really funny is that they said things like I was always the first in the office and the last to leave, and that I always insisted on driving to all the sales calls. What they didn't understand is that I'm a control freak. That was my way of making sure we got there and got things done!

Q. How important is meeting the GM to meeting planners?
A. You know what, planners today insist on meeting the GM. They want you walking with them through their site inspection. They want to have access to you when they are on-site with their group. It's a given. I think it's an honor. They could have gone anywhere, but they chose my hotel.

So what's next?
A. My goal now is to win every quarter. The top producing GM gets to go to Egypt for a week. I think my wife would love that.