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One-on-One with Adrian Montoya of Hotel Albuquerque

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Good luck finding Adrian Montoya at Hotel Albuquerque.

That is not because he doesn’t log a lot of hours there – as general manager at the marquee Old Town-area property, his workdays typically stretch from 7 a.m. until at least 6 p.m.

It’s just because he does not sit still. He tries to cover a lot of ground at the 188-room, banquet-heavy hotel, bouncing between ballrooms and kitchens and housekeeping headquarters.

Hotel Albuquerque has about 300 employees and Montoya says his on-the-move approach means he knows almost all of their names.

“I get teased a lot from my managers that they’re going to put a tracking device on me because they don’t know where I’m at,” he says. “When I’m in an office, there’s usually a line to get in because I haven’t been in my office for four or five hours. But it’s usually because I’m in (another) department.”

His active leadership style is a function of his personality, he says. But youthful energy probably helps, too. He was just 21 when he landed his first general manager gig for Heritage Hotels & Resorts, an Albuquerque company that owns Hotel Albuquerque and several other properties around New Mexico.

Montoya had no specific professional plans when he took a bellman position at that very hotel – then known as Sheraton Old Town – when he was still a teenager. But one promotion led to the next, prompting him to leave University of New Mexico – where he had a full scholarship – and fully immerse himself in the hospitality industry.

“I showed up to UNM one day and I went to the student offices and I dropped out. It was probably a quick decision, didn’t talk to many people about it, but I don’t regret it,” he says from a presidential suite at the hotel.

“I’ll probably go back some time in my lifetime and pursue college, but one thing I always (thought is) I don’t regret that move,” he says of leaving school to start his career. “It taught me a lot about life.”

Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.

A: The biggest thing about me as a teenager is I was very outgoing. (At) Rio Grande High School, a lot of people knew me as an outgoing teenager (who) got along with everyone. (I) played sports – played soccer and basketball – so that kept me busy; had great grades, but always was that prankster in school, always pranking the teachers, pranking the students; ran for homecoming (court). … Going to high school for me was very easy. It was very easy, but it was very fun. I had a blast. A lot of people sometimes don’t say that about high school. … I’d go back any day.

Q: Are you a native of the South Valley?

A: Born and raised. Went to elementary and middle school in the South Valley, and then went to Rio Grande High School. Some of my friends stayed, some friends went elsewhere and went to different schools and I said, “I’m born and raised (here), I’m going to Rio Grande.” A lot of people were like “It’s a tough school.”… From day one, I said it’s not about the school, it’s about the person. It’s about the people you know and the people you surround yourself with. I did that from day one and it turned out to be an amazing experience for me.

Q: Do you think the South Valley leaves its mark on you somehow?

A: It does. I mean, my parents still live there. It’s somewhere I love going. It’s a place I think that really gets a bad rap and, I think, for all the wrong reasons. If you think about chile season and chile roasting, that’s happening in the South Valley. If you think about matanzas that are happening with family and friends, that’s in the South Valley. If you think of all the wonderful people who have grown up in the South Valley and done great things, that’s how I see the South Valley. Going back there … to see my family, it just brings back so many great memories.

Q: Are you from a big family?

A: My dad’s side is very big. He’s one of 12. I was one of two. My brother passed away almost four years ago now. … He’s younger than me, but I looked up to (him). He was in the aviation field. His crew was in charge of building massive planes out in Charleston and West Palm Beach, Fla. He worked with Boeing out there. He worked with Eclipse here. He was one I looked up to, even being the younger brother. He advanced so quickly. He was brilliant and, unfortunately, he passed away four years ago. He’s one I still work hard for.

Q: What was your first job?

A: I always worked with my father in (the family’s) locksmith (business). That was very young. I was able to work with my dad, side by side in his van, going on service calls, opening cars, fixing locks, and I enjoyed that time. I enjoyed learning from my father. One thing I realized very quickly is I did not have the patience to work on locks, open a safe that maybe took two days, open a car with a child in it. I didn’t have the patience for it. But I did that for several years and I worked in the telemarketing scene for less than a year and sold shoes at Just for Feet part-time, and got my first job in hospitality at 18 years old at this hotel (then Sheraton Old Town).

Q: How different do you think your life would be if you had finished college?

A: I don’t know if I would be where I’m at today. I don’t know if I would’ve been as hungry as I was in the business. … I was truly on a daily business working harder than the day before. I knew I always had a target on my back because I didn’t have a degree, but I also knew I was learning from the ground up.

Q: You advanced quickly and were supervising people?

Adrian Montoya, General Manager of the Hotel Albuquerque, in the hotel lobby on Thursday, December 29, 2016. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Adrian Montoya, General Manager of Hotel Albuquerque, in the hotel lobby.

A: I was. The company (Heritage) started a program where it was a yearlong program and they wanted individuals to work in every single department for a week. I was at the front desk (at the time), so the first week I’d work in, let’s say, housekeeping, and the rest of the month I’d work at the front desk. So I think 10 individuals joined this and, after about four months, I was the only one left standing because, when it got to housekeeping, who wants to work a week in housekeeping? Well, I did. I enjoyed it. I loved it. I wanted to go back and work more. Who wanted to work in the kitchen? Well, I did. I wanted to learn the kitchen and do dishes. I did this program for the year and still remained at the front desk. By then, I think I was front office manager and finishing this program, but I had worked a week in every single department and I think that was what was an eye-opener for me.

Q: What was the hardest job?

A: Housekeeping. I think housekeeping is the heart and the soul of the hotel. I tell the housekeepers that every single day. … Until you work it and see it and you live it, you don’t know what it’s like to clean 20 rooms a day. The great thing is they’re the hardest-working employees we have and they have so much fun with it. And that’s what I realized in that department: There’s more laughter in housekeeping than any department and I truly enjoyed that.

Q: You became general manager at Hotel Plaza Rael (now Hotel Chimayo) in Santa Fe at 21. Did you get any flak trying to manage people who were much older?

A: I used to do the knuckle (greeting) to people and the fist bump. … I think that turned a lot of people (off) or gave them the wrong impression on me. Then they realized that’s who I was. They also realized I was coming to see them and talk to them. I think the roughest was just really dealing with people who had maybe been in the business a long time and were used to maybe the baby boomer generation or used to things they had been accustomed to for many years and I was (different) – that guy that was probably not going to be found in his office. I was going to be on the floor somewhere or in a department. … I think people respected that once they got to know me.

Q: How do you handle an unhappy customer?

A: I think that’s one of the funnest parts of my job. No hotel is perfect; I don’t think any business is perfect but, when you make a mistake, you show you can fix it and you wow the customer. I think it goes back to the opportunity we have – you’re always going to have something that comes up, whether it’s the wrong room type they asked for, the wrong entrée they were served in the restaurant, but it’s how you overcome that. That’s one of my favorite parts of the job. I love speaking to guests. Usually (it’s) hearing about all the great things about the hotel but, when it’s the time to go out and speak to a customer who is upset, I think they leave very appreciative of my conversation and most of those clients have become long-term customers of mine.

Q: What’s your life like away from work?

A: I like to have fun. I love golfing. I love watching sports, spending time with my wife and daughter, seeing my daughter grow up. Being (that she’s) 10 years old, this is the time for me to spend as much time as I can pre-teenager and enjoy those special moments. I enjoy my family, getting to see my parents. Now that I’m back in Albuquerque and not having to commute (to Santa Fe), that’s key for me – spending time with family and friends. … And then (serving as New Mexico board chair for the) American Red Cross, that’s big for me.

Q: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

A: I think “I’m proud of you.” And that came from my parents. I think any son who hears that, it would make their day, make their year.

Q: What are your pet peeves?

A: (People not) being on time. Whether it’s personal or work, I think that’s very important to me. I think that’s been instilled in me since I was a kid. If you’re going to be somewhere, whether it’s a job or going to meet friends for dinner, being on time is (important). It’s the easiest thing.

Q: Do you have any guilty pleasures?

A: My mom’s biscochitos that only my daughter (also) knows the recipe for.

Q: What is your perfect way to spend a day off?

A: My way or my wife’s way? My wife would say, “Put your phone down and stop checking email.” My way would be waking up late, because that rarely happens, enjoying a good breakfast, playing some golf, watching the Raiders win and going to sleep by 8.

Q: Do you have any hidden talents?

A: I read people. I love to read people. I used to love to play poker. I was really good at reading people and I think that’s one of the things that’s helped me in this career.

Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?

A: Competitive, passionate and loyal.

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