Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
Karla Kannan has found a rewarding career at the intersection of the hospitality and technology sectors, but she almost went down a completely different path.
“I was born and raised in Mexico City, and my dad wanted me to be a lawyer, so I went to law school,” Kannan says. “But the law wasn’t really my passion. Eventually, I decided to come to the US to study and pursue marketing and management.”
That decision helped Kannan discover her true passion: leveraging technology to drive results in the hospitality industry. Fortunately, in her current role as senior vice president of customer experience at hospitality-oriented software company BirchStreet Systems, she has the opportunity to live her passion. Moreover, she is now in a position to uplift both her community and the next generation of leaders in hospitality and technology alike.
Kannan acquired her taste for––and expertise in––hospitality at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. While there, she held a number of roles in purchasing and procurement that took her to different hotel locations across the US. “It gave me an opportunity to work in different markets, and in many cases, my workforce was actually Mexican,” she says. “That helped me keep close to my roots.”
Kannan felt particularly lucky that she got to speak Spanish at work. “There used to be an expectation for immigrants to adapt to the American culture and speak English, leaving their language––their mother’s tongue––aside,” she says, noting that this expectation has lessened over time.
“The new American dream is about embedding yourself in the culture and growing along with it, while also embracing your roots and exceeding the expectations that people have for somebody who has immigrated,” she explains. “In our current modality, the ability to speak a second language is so important.”
Beyond reinforcing the value of her language skills, Kannan’s time at Four Seasons deepened her understanding of cost management, contract negotiation, and operational efficiency as they relate to hospitality. She has continued to rely on her knowledge of the industry since joining BirchStreet as global deployment project manager.
“BirchStreet has allowed me to progress through various roles,” she says. “I became the vice president of global delivery, managing implementations and a little bit of business transformation, before assuming my current role. Now, my primary focus is on developing and executing strategies to help us enhance our customer engagement, satisfaction, and success.”
Kannan appreciates the variety of her SVP role, which entails overseeing and collaborating with cross-functional teams on a daily basis. She also serves as regional manager for BirchStreet’s office in Mexico.
“My cultural background enables me to connect with diverse audiences, both domestically and internationally,” she says. “I have a very strong connection to my family’s roots, and I participate in cultural events, but building that Mexico office was instrumental. I’m very grateful that I have the ability to get people in my own country to be part of the organization and then to empower and grow them.”
Kannan has certainly risen to the challenge of operating on a global scale. She has developed strategic frameworks and implemented new tools to make the most of BirchStreet’s customer insights data, in between traveling the world to meet customers face to face at the company’s annual conferences. To set herself up for success, she makes a consistent effort to fine-tune her leadership skills by pursuing educational experiences, including Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification.
Kannan’s career trajectory itself has played an equally important part in shaping her into the leader she is today.
“Working in hotels is completely different from working in technology. I’ve learned that effective leadership involves not only managing the operation, but also inspiring and empowering teams to deliver exceptional customer experiences,” she says. “I prioritize collaboration, innovation, and continuous learning, and I strive to foster a culture of excellence and adaptability.”
Kannan carries her leadership into her community as well––whether by supporting up-and-coming Latina professionals through the nonprofit Latinas in Tech, giving advice to Roosevelt University students and graduates through the school’s mentorship program, or connecting with her peers as an emeritus ambassador for TheLatinaPro. “When you have received mentorship in your life, you want to give it back,” she says. “It’s about paying it forward, sharing the knowledge, and supporting the next generation of professionals.”
At every stage of her career journey, Kannan has combined a forward-looking perspective with a commitment to honoring her personal history and her Hispanic heritage.
“All of the different things that you learn along the way, combined with the experience itself, are what really helps you grow in your career,” she says. “For me, having an inclusive and global mindset has been key to my work in technology as well as hospitality.”