Third-generation hotelier Jyoti Sarolia, the president and CEO of Ellis Hospitality, has spent her entire life in hotels, and earned AAHOA’s Outstanding Women Hotelier Award along the way. Temeculah, Calif.-based management and ownership company Ellis Hospitality has six properties in its portfolio, and Sarolia has dedicated her career to fostering growth and forging connections in the franchising and hospitality industry.
Sarolia is bringing ownership expertise to Red Roof’s SHE Leads Forum on Sept. 28-29 in Dallas, where she will be presenting a session on the 6 Cs of lending and terminology prospective owners should know in order to purchase a hotel.
In this interview, she talks about her experience in the hotel industry and how she deals with imposter syndrome.
What attracted you to the hotel industry? Your family was in the industry, but was there more to it than that?
“I was literally born into hospitality. My family resided in and raised me in a hotel. Going back further in my family’s history, my grandfather’s two brothers immigrated to America in 1952. Like most immigrants, they entered the U.S. with little money, but with dreams of being a small business owner. In 1957, they leased their first hotel and 10 years later my grandaunts and parents followed them to the U.S.
“This story of opportunity and growth attracts me to hospitality. In addition, the concept of hospitality providing shelter and a welcoming place to outside visitors further attracts me to our industry. It is what we as immigrants also sought when we first came to the U.S. We extend this concept to our team members, who, like us, earn a livelihood by being hospitable to our guests and each other.
“I had the privilege to work alongside my parents and learn all aspects of our industry. I learned how to fix a boiler or at least reignite the pilot so it warmed the water. I learned to climb onto a scaffolding and help my dad paint walls. I learned to operate a hotel and work sometimes 24/7. At 18, I also learned the acquisition aspect of hotels when I helped my parents close a deal for a bed-and-breakfast in 1989.
“Hospitality has provided me with so much opportunity for growth, personal, professional and financial, and I feel it’s important that I give back to the industry that has given me, my family and so many others so much.”
What has kept you in the hotel industry?
“There are several factors that have kept me engaged in the hospitality industry. The hospitality industry has been a source of wealth creation and preservation for me and my family. In addition, through hospitality, I have also been able to help our community through supporting charitable causes, engaging in legislative advocacy on important issues and impacting team members through training, mentorship and education.”
How has your experience in the hotel industry been as a woman?
“Growing up in the industry, my mother was my role model. She started at the age of 17. She not only worked at our business, but also was a homemaker. Her work ethic still resonates with me. From her, I also experienced the expectations on women in my culture. Our role as a woman is twofold; we were the ones that took care of the family, household chores, laundry and entertaining guests and we were also the ones working in our business. My mother taught me how to balance both. What I learned for myself is that I needed to work harder so I can spend more time on things that I am most passionate about, which was working in our family business. It is challenging at times to balance both but I work at it every day. I am hopeful that the role of women in our industry continues to evolve as it has done from me to my mom. But more evolutions still need to occur in the form of a greater presence and role for female leaders in our industry.”
As a third-generation hotelier, you have a deep knowledge about the industry. How have you leveraged that to achieve success? And has that always been enough?
“I have been in the hotel industry since I was born and have experienced a lot. I have experienced downturns, banking crises and pandemics along with learning from my own mistakes. I have leveraged these experiences to achieve success by sharing my own experiences with others within our industry. In so doing, I also learn from their experiences, which allows me to further achieve success. In addition, when our industry is sharing knowledge and experience we all achieve a collective success because we are stronger together. You cannot be successful alone and you do not have to make hard decisions alone. Sharing experiences and knowledge has most definitely been enough for me to achieve many successes in our industry and hopefully many more.”
Despite your knowledge and success, you have struggled with imposter syndrome during your career. Why do you think that is?
“Amal Saymeh, who wrote an article for BetterUp Blog, said, ‘Imposter syndrome is the condition of feeling anxious and not experiencing success internally, despite being high-performing in external, objective ways. This condition often results in people feeling like a fraud and doubting their abilities.’
I think all of us at some point in our life has experienced it. I go all the way back to when I worked for an incredible GM from 1996 to 2002. While working for him, it took me four years to advance from guest service agent to front office manager of a 202-room full-service hotel in San Diego. When he offered me the position as front office manager, he asked what my salary should look like. I gave him a number I thought was reasonable at the time and what I thought I was worth, which was less than what he thought I was worth and less than fair market value. I struggled with imposter syndrome. Fortunately, he offered $4,000 more than what I asked for.”
How has imposter syndrome manifested itself in your life and career?
“I often feel even today, am I good enough to do this or that? I did not have a formal hospitality education. My work has not been for a specific task that people master over time. I remember after 10 years of serving on a Franchisee Advisory Council, wondering if I would be good at chairing my FAC. I did become the first female chairperson and felt I brought positivity while working with mutual respect on our challenges during my time. I felt proud. Other times, when associations ask you to join boards, well you are surrounded by a lot of wonderful and talented folks in the industry and to be a part of that is still a little nerve wracking for me. I ask myself whether I belong. I also think there are wonderful people I have worked alongside that see the value of my contribution and recognize me, which in turn allows me to overcome my imposter syndrome.”
Do you think it is something that will ever go away entirely?
“I don’t think the feeling of not being worthy will ever go away. We are the hardest on ourselves and I think … believing in one’s ability will help. I want to get to a point where I see in myself what others see in me.”
What is your advice for other women who also struggle with the same issues?
“My advice for other women who are reading this is to go back in your life and determine if you have ever felt imposter syndrome, what has been some examples and reflect on them. I also feel that we need to work with or surround ourselves with folks that see how good we are with our work, which in turn would give us the opportunity to grow. Believe in you. And, also when you look back, look back at your many successes and feel gratitude to yourself for overcoming.”
Why are you participating in the SHE Leads Forum?
“It has been an honor to be a part of SHE Leads this year. I am excited to share my story. Red Roof has been the first brand to my knowledge in launching a platform for females. I also have this opportunity because of my friend and fellow panelist at the 2021 Hunter Conference, Marina MacDonald. I remember her sharing one golden nugget at the end of that session, 'Be comfortable being uncomfortable.' Taking on tasks that are not familiar to you so you can grow was great advice for me.”
What are you hoping to get out of it personally?
“The ability to connect and learn from the participants as well as the attendees. Being in an environment where dreams can come true especially with a wonderful lineup of speakers and participants.”
What are you hoping that attendees get out of your presentation and from the event as a whole?
“I will share with the audience the 6 C’s of lending and some terminologies that they should know in order to purchase a hotel. Lending is just one aspect of owning a hotel but it is also one of the important things to know. I also want the audience to know that anything is possible if you work hard, show up and build your own group of advisors so you can be right where you want to be and feeling confident that you are the best.”
Why are women-focused events like this so important for women in the hotel industry?
“I think it is important to show up and listen in on how other women have worked through their challenges as well as their successes and use that experience for ourselves. I also feel that we are more willing to open up when there are a lot of women in the audience, especially when the program is developed for us.”
How can the industry overall do better in terms of women hoteliers?
“If you asked me that question 10 years ago, my answer would be different. Today, almost all brands have a program that they have launched or will be launching. The one area where we can definitely do better for women is assisting us with developing as well as financing our first or next project.”
Visit www.she-leads.com for more information about Red Roof’s SHE Leads Forum and for tools to help you manage your business, rise in the ranks and find the confidence to become a successful business leader.
Ellis Hospitality's Jyoti Sarolia uses her success to overcome imposter syndrome
By Elaine Simon