When Victor Hernandez was a painter and wallpaper hanger—jobs he describes as “the bottom of the barrel”—he looked his boss, the property’s chief engineer, square in the eye and said, “One of these days, I’m going to have a chair like yours.” His boss could’ve laughed and let it go, Hernandez says, but instead his laughter turned into sternness.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You know what? You have it,’” he says. “‘I know you have it, and I believe you will have a chair like mine someday.’”
Hernandez says that conversation was an eye opener. His boss was a mentor who helped motivate him to pursue the kind of career he knew he could have. When Hernandez describes the traits he admired in his boss, they’re the same ones he hopes to demonstrate in his current role. “He was caring, he always gave time, and most importantly, he trusted me,” he says.
Now, as the director of engineering at DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Dana Point in Orange County, Hernandez makes it a point to develop a relationship with each of his crew members by working with them directly, face to face. “I think hands-on teaching and working one on one with my crew allows me to get to know them better,” he says. “You begin to understand their traits, and you may learn a thing or two because everyone has a different way of doing things.”
Hernandez says you’ll see that investment pay off in the property itself. But developing those relationships is important to him for another reason, too: he wants to see his people succeed. That’s why he’s made mentorship a key component of his leadership style.
“Not everyone wants to be mentored,” he says, “but if they do, I ask a series of questions: I ask them what they’re looking for in a career, not a job. And then I ask them to make a list of what they would like to learn. They’re in maintenance for a reason—do they want to be an electrician, a plumber, a refrigeration guy? Or maybe a painter? Some people like to paint, and they find that very enjoyable.”
No matter which route they want to go, Hernandez is the guy to point them in the right direction. On his ascent up the ladder, he went from being a painter to working alongside carpenters, electricians, and plumbers—in addition to taking classes in air-conditioning and various other trades.
“You have to take advantage of the classes that are out there and learn everything you can in your field, even in areas you don’t like,” he says. “I just wanted to learn more. At the time, I didn’t realize that what I was doing was building myself up to become a project manager for all of these high-rise buildings.”
Soon, he became a shift supervisor, then a project manager. At times, for the next ten years, he worked in back-to-back properties—sometimes putting in eighteen-hour days. His work eventually paid off when he graduated to a position overseeing the twenty-eight million-square-foot property of a major Southern California casino.
“Being a facilities manager for a casino really opened my eyes because it’s really fast paced,” he says. “There’s a hotel, plus a casino, plus a resort. It trains you to be everything in the maintenance field.” Now, at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Dana Point, everything he has learned gives him a better opportunity to mentor others.
“I think hands-on teaching and working one-on-one with my crew allows me to get to know them better. You begin to understand their traits, and you may learn a thing or two because everyone has a different way of doing
What propelled his ascent, however, wasn’t his openness to new trades so much as his commitment to learning them. One of the key questions he asks those he mentors is whether they will “make the time to be mentored.” And, beyond that, whether they’ll study at home, after hours. “That’s a big thing,” he says, “whether it’s studying a book or a piece of machinery.”
The last question he asks is one that puts all the previous queries into perspective: “If I make the time to help you, will you make the time?” Hernandez takes mentorship seriously and understands that it’s a two-way street.
“Those are the key questions I ask,” he says. “I lay those out to them, and if they agree, you’ve got a good candidate for mentoring.”
By setting all of his expectations up front, Hernandez ensures that those he takes under his wing are committed to broadening their skill set and climbing the industry ladder. He’s seen success, too. Several former employees now run their own businesses in the air-conditioning and refrigeration fields, and others work in high-rise and hospital project management.
He encourages his employees to envision themselves in his chair, just as he once saw himself in his boss’s chair. “I tell them, ‘One of these days, you should be at my desk—and you can do it,’” he says.
Sometimes that’s all it takes to motivate an employee. “What a difference it makes when you can show an employee that you care on a day-to-day basis,” Hernandez says. “It’s a phenomenal feeling when your team realizes that they’re not alone, that we’re a team. Then you know that you did it right.”