A Different Power: Female Executives in Hospitality Technology
Estella Hale, SHR’s vice president of product, and Laurie Mowchan, vice president of finance at SHR, are two solid examples of female executives who have been enriching the corporate conversation for many years. By understanding the personal and professional experiences that helped shape them as people, it becomes easier to see how they’ve managed to become gentle yet powerful industry leaders, bringing not necessarily “better” insights to light than their male counterparts, but “different” ones. It’s in that difference that the value truly lies.
They say that there are often singular events that either make people or break them. In Hale’s case, an American-born citizen attending school in Mexico, that one event might have been having to start second grade at the age of five, which had her in high school by 13, an intimidating situation for anyone, male or female.
“I knew I couldn’t survive by popularity or athletics,” Hale said. “So, I made up my mind to become the alpha person via my studies. I made sure I was the one to get the best grades, have the best attendance, just to show I belonged there.”
It worked. She graduated with high honors at 16, going on to earn degrees in graphic design and computer animation. And in what now seems like fate, she paid for school by working nights at a local hotel, foreshadowing what has become an almost 20-year career in hospitality technology.
By the time Mowchan was 16, she was already trusted with handling money at her first job as a cashier at a grocery store in her native Houston. But it was as a sophomore in college, working as an underwriter at Bank One for the small business sector when she knew she was hooked. The financial reports fascinated her.
“So much important information to dissect in such a condensed format,” she said. “From the beginning, I’ve always enjoyed the story that accounting tells with numbers. Here are our wins, here are our losses. It’s transparent and real and stable. I never wanted to do anything else.”
She would parlay her adeptness with spreadsheets into a University of Houston degree in accounting, handling progressively more senior finance roles, ultimately landing in hospitality technology.
Teamwork and Leadership
Fast forward to present day, and Mowchan is married with three children in a blended family. Hale is married and raising three special needs children. More lessons to be learned, particularly about patience, tolerance and what it means to truly pull for another person, no matter the seemingly overwhelming circumstances.
“When I look back at the diverse backgrounds of some of our best hires that seemed like a stretch at the time, I realize I’ve learned that stretch from my children,” said Hale. “They’ve taught me not to get so focused on gaps and weaknesses, but instead to find strengths and talents in each person, and capitalize on them.”
The same goes for leadership. For Mowchan, it’s more about mentoring than mere managing. “I try to strike a balance between recognizing someone’s strengths and yet challenging them to step slightly outside their comfort zone,” she explained. “Watching a junior accountant grow into a finance superstar—that’s the ultimate reward.”
And contrary to the “Mad Men” workload technique of old, Hale takes a more conservative approach. “You want to challenge people to give you their best, then step back and give them room to learn from mistakes. Find the balance in intense environments, or you will start to break them,” she warns.Creative Thinking
Most business gurus would say that the ability for a company to see trends in advance is one of the deciding factors in whether a company makes it or not. Mowchan uses her vision for trend-mining numbers. “If I were to name a super power, it would be seeing big gaping holes in financial reports, re-analyzing the data, and then blending it all back together for a truer picture,” she said.
Hale sites her special skill as being able to see in 3-D. “I can hold an idea in my hand and see it from different aspects, so I can dissect it,” she said. “Because of this, I can see sides of things that others may not see.” Once again, this comes from observing her children, and what thinking differently really means. “My daughter walks around softly flicking a leaf in front of her face and finds joy. I join her flicking a leaf myself, we connect, and now the joy is shared. So, I try to leave off pre-conceived notions whenever I can.”The Future
Just as diversity in the executive suite is good for a company’s bottom line, so is the finer diversity seen within each woman that informs her life, which in turn, informs what she brings to the work table. As Hale put it, “I believe in my family. I believe in my work, and what we have, and what we can do. It’s OK if we don’t see the full path ahead every day. There are more advantages to seeding opportunities—eventually the path clears.”
Estella Hale joined Whiteboard Labs in 2006 to focus on support for Windsurfer® CRS. After the merger with SHR in 2012, Estella became the Product Manager for Windsurfer® CRS and was responsible for all aspects of product development, product support, systems operations, and client management services in relation to that product. Most recently, Estella has been named the Vice President of Products for SHR and will continue to oversee development and support for all SHR products in that capacity. Prior to joining the company, she worked in the hospitality industry for several years, managing implementations and support for a hotel representation company. Aside from managing a Client Services department, Estella has worked in several roles in guest and internal services at major hotel chains. Estella holds a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara and an Associate’s degree in Computer Animation from the Art Institute of Houston.
Laurie Mowchan joined the SHR team in 2015 as the Vice President of Finance. In this role she leads all financial matters, including accounting and reporting, cash management and forecasting, and internal audit. Prior to joining the SHR team, Laurie was Director of Accounting and Finance at WhiteFence, an online utility connection provider for the residential marketplace. Laurie is a native Houstonian and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from the University of Houston.
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First published in Hospitality Upgrade, Tech Talk, March 27, 2017. http://www.hospitalityupgrade.com/techTalk/Articles/A-Different-Power-Female-Executives-in-Hospitality-Technology/