By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – The other day, John Shideler’s drive off The Leatherstocking Golf Course’s 17th tee landed in Otsego Lake.
The Otesaga’s new general manager is getting acclimated to Cooperstown.
The good news, he said: “I still finished with an 88.”
On Jan. 1, Shideler will succeed Jim Miles, luxury resort hotel’s general manager since 2012, and has been on site since June 8 to ensure a smooth “passing of the baton.”
Both men have roots in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation – at one point, Miles was executive vice president when Shideler, just out of college, joined the organization as executive steward.
And, more generally, in Virginia: Shideler received his bachelor’s in hospitality and tourism from Virginia Polytechic, and Miles was through the University of Virginia’s post-graduate Executive Training Program in the Darden School.
And the circumstances around John Shideler’s recruitment here almost seem providential.
He was with Fieldstone Hospitality, developing boutique historical hotels in the South, and it was about to be sold. That happened on March 2; on March 3, the phone rang: It was Miles, asking Shideler if he would be interested in the Otesaga’s job.
“I’d always wanted to work for and with Jim again,” said Shideler. Miles was Colonial Williamsburg Foundation executive vice president when the younger man joined the five-star operation on graduating from college in 1988.
Meeting with Jane Forbes Clark, president of the Leatherstocking Corp. which owns The Otesaga, he asked what her expectations are. She replied, “I’m looking for a Jim” – professional, insightful, energetic, with attention to detail. And the deal was closed.
“I’ve prepared for a role like this my whole life,” Shideler said.
After retiring, Miles – whose creative tenure included the renovation of the lobby and public rooms, the creation of the fire pit, the expansion of the Hawkeye Bar & Grill, and just this summer, opened 1909, a high-end restaurant – will spend a week a month in Cooperstown pursuing special projects.
Miles also led the creation of the county-funded Destination Marketing Corp. for Otsego County to increase “heads in beds” and even more bed-tax revenue.
Raised in Yorktown, Va., Shideler was studying business at Virginia Tech and happened to take the Hospitality & Tourism Management Course. He “just absolutely loved it,” and never looked back.
Hired at Colonial Williamsburg, he soon decided on a lifelong ambition: “I wanted to be general manager of the Williamsburg Inn.”
For three years in the 1990s, he was drawn away to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, but when the couple discovered wife Cherri was pregnant with their third child, Corey, the lure of raising the kids near both sets of grandparents drew them home to Virginia and Colonial Williamsburg.
(Today, his daughter Amanda is married and an ICU nurse in Richmond, Va. Following in his father’s footsteps, son Johnny has just graduated from the University of Alabama’s Hospitality & Tourism program. Then-baby Corey is now 21, and a junior at the Naval Academy.)
By 2005, Shideler was Williamsburg Inn’s operations manager, where he oversaw $98 million – yes, $98 million – in renovations of the Williamsburg Lodge & Conference Center, a two-year undertaking that added 45,000 square feet of meeting space, a new spa and a range of other updates.
By 2009, he was director of food and beverage for Colonial Williamsburg Resorts, and in 2013 he achieved his life’s goal, general manager, a position he held on receiving the coveted Silver Bowl for 25 years’ service.
Through his career to date, Shideler said, he’s focused on a concept he calls “engaging service,” which begins when a guest arrives. “The first impression is what you hang your hat on,” he said.
From then on, that guest should experience what the new GM calls “approachable luxury. It’s not stiff or stand-offish. It’s a luxury that you notice, but you don’t feel out of place.”
This isn’t something Shideler can accomplish by himself. It can only be accomplished by “instilling a sense of service in the staff.” When his managers achieve that, staff members “want to stay, and even more, they want to perform at that level of service.”
He said, “My role is going to be to instill that sense of purpose in the staff.”
This isn’t just theoretical.
With Otsego County’s workforce shrinking, recruiting and keeping people is ever more important, as every local business person knows.
Jim Miles, his successor will tell you, has found “creative ways” of staffing the venerable institution, including the federal Citizen & Immigration Services’ H-2B visas and J-1 Exchange Visitor Program for summer workers.
Shideler has already reached out to SUNY Delhi’s Hotel & Restaurant Management Program, looking for ways to bring the hotel and college’s needs into alignment.
And then there are the basics: Hitting revenue targets.
Then Shideler, a friendly man with a warm smile, shifted back to the challenge of leadership: Inspiring people to pursue institutional goals of excellence.
A couple of weeks ago, he was messaged by an employee who, 25 years before, needed to enter a rehab program and came to him for advice. He hadn’t heard from her since.
“She thanked me for how caring I as, but also forceful,” Shideler, “encouraging but firm.”
“You never know the impact you have on some,” he reflected.