One of the benefits of working at Wyndham Destinations is that we’re driven by potential. We see opportunities for growth everywhere, whether it’s putting families on vacation in a new location or preparing team members to take on leadership roles. In this interview, Ada Ma, assistant general manager at WorldMark in Scottsdale, Arizona, shares the highs and lows of her career journey at Wyndham Destinations and how she’s grown as a leader since she started working here right out of college.
Jim Kidd: Hi, Ada! I’m so thankful I have the opportunity to interview you today, and I’d like to kick things off by hearing about your background.
Ada Ma: I basically grew up in the hospitality business. My family are Chinese immigrants with no education. They spoke very little English when they arrived, but they opened a restaurant and eventually opened several restaurants across Las Vegas. I started working in these restaurants at a very young age in both the front and back of the house, so studying hospitality seemed like a natural thing. That’s how it all started for me.
JK: How did you come to work at WorldMark?
AM: I was nearing the end of my senior year at the University of Las Vegas and was eager to find a leadership role post-graduation. I gave my resume to a Wyndham Destinations recruiter at one of the last career events my school hosted, and a week later received a phone call inviting me to tour the Grand Desert resort and interview. That was my first panel interview. It was a little nerve racking, but I was delighted to accept an offer with the leadership development program.
JK: Tell me more about that program.
AM: The leadership development program helped me get a well-rounded overview of resort operations. It allowed me to work directly alongside the housekeeping, guest services and maintenance departments to get a strong understanding of how they are intertwined and how that impacts our overall guest experience.
During the program I was also invited to participate in “Department Manager University” training, where I sat in a classroom with company leaders and role-played a variety of difficult employee scenarios. That program definitely took me out of my comfort zone, but in a good way. It challenged me and prepared me to take on and diffuse workplace conflicts in the future.
The combination of hands-on training in the field coupled and working with more experienced leaders on role playing difficult conversations gave me a solid foundation to start off my career as an operations manager.
JK: What other roles did you hold in the company before becoming the assistant general manager at WorldMark in Scottsdale?
AM: After my training there were no immediate full-time openings, so I task-forced in in the Wisconsin Dells. It was the best summer ever, as I lived at the resort and enjoyed that cool weather! I learned a lot from working alongside the general manager and then a full-time role opened up for me as operation manager at WorldMark Hunt - Stablewood Springs Resort in Texas.
I was there for a while, and then had the opportunity to open a new property in Austin, Texas, which was fun. The next year I relocated to Arizona, where I’m now the assistant general manager.
JK: What were some of the personal or professional challenges that you faced on your career journey?
AM: Looking back, it was an exciting time for me as 22-year-old college grad ready to put my degree to work, but being a young leader was definitely a challenge. One of the most difficult situations I faced was being promoted into a newly acquired resort that needed to be brought up to Wyndham Destinations standards. It was in a rural area where everybody knew everybody, so the staff was very close-knit. They were all older than me and had all worked in resorts much longer than me, and they were used to a very loose structure. Coming in as a new, very young leader who needed to implement new policies and procedures was a challenge.
I was lucky though to have an awesome mentor for a first boss. It was Jim Nichols, who is currently running the Marble Falls resort in Texas. He literally walked beside me for my first three years as a leader. He taught me how to coach and council people, how to hold them accountable and train them, and eventually how to mentor them. He also taught me to practice servant leadership. If he hadn’t taken a vested interest in coaching me, I may not be sitting here in this position today.
JK: Based on your experiences, what advice or recommendations would you give to other young leaders?
AM: I would say if your boss is not a natural mentor, you must find one and be networking all the time. I volunteered for events where I could meet people from different organizations and teams. You never know who you’re going to meet that can help propel your career to the next level.
JK: How has Wyndham Destinations given you opportunities to innovate, shine or be daring in trying something new?
AM: I think there is a lot of freedom in running your property. In fact we call it “freedom within the framework.” There are standard operating procedures that remain the same of course, but I have the autonomy to express my creativity and lead in a way that is best for the site and its associates. Even little things like how we decorate for the holidays!
JK: What would you say to those who want to get into the hospitality business, but are nervous because of what COVID has done to the industry?
AM: We as a company have gone above and beyond through our partnership with Ecolab in creating Vacation Ready protocols. We are cleaner and safer than ever. You do not even have to get out of your car to check in with our curbside check-in program. It is just as safe for associates who work here. We have strict protocols that we follow. In terms of a career choice, we are very resilient and our owners will travel. We are seeing big upticks in occupancies.
JK: This last question is just for fun. We all work hard putting the world on vacation but what is one of your favorite vacation destinations?
AM: There are so many, but if I have to pick just one, it would be Bali. I had the opportunity to travel there several years ago and it was amazing to immerse myself in another culture. The hospitality was top notch! Between the people, customs, and coffee plantations, it was really just indescribable.
JK: Ada, this has been fun! Thank you for your time and all you do to make Wyndham Destinations a memorable place to visit and work.