Caroline MacDonald, 54, is Rosewood Hotel Group’s vice president of sales and marketing for the Americas and Europe.
Did you have your current job in mind from the start?
Not at all. I wanted to be a vet, because I had a soft spot for animals. My first job at the age of 15 was working for my mother, who owned a small answering service in Los Angeles back when people called in for messages delivered by actual people in real time. Graduating from high school, I did not have a specific path or interest. So I enlisted in the Air Force in 1984.
Why the Air Force?
For one thing, they would subsidize my further education and train me in a field. Also, I wanted to travel. I describe my interview at the recruitment center as my “Private Benjamin moment.” I said I want to travel to exotic places, to experience different cultures and to go to college while working abroad.
How did that work out for you?
They found I had a high administrative and leadership aptitude. So I was sent to Germany, where I held an administrative role during peacetime and later was trained to plot nuclear, biological and chemical fallout as my wartime function. I attained the position of staff sergeant.
I re-enlisted and was assigned to Spain, where I earned a degree in systems management from the University of Maryland, which sent professors to Europe-based military bases as part of its overseas extension programs.
I continued to train in programming and systems. The military refined my critical assessment and leadership skills, and taught me discipline and teamwork.
It’s quite a stretch from plotting nuclear fallout to plotting sales and marketing strategies for luxury hotels. How did that happen?
After my military experience, by then the single mother of a daughter who has autism, I returned to Carmel, California, where my family lived. With very few programming jobs there, I landed a job at a small independent hotel in nearby Monterey as a sales administrative assistant.
Within six months I was sales manager. Eventually I joined Auberge Resorts in 2001, where I rose to chief marketing officer in 2013 while simultaneously earning my M.B.A. from Pepperdine University.
In 2016 the Rosewood Hotel Group hired me to run sales and marketing for the Americas and Europe. They have 23 hotels and Laos opened in March, with 16 in the pipeline.
Luxury hotel marketing is full of clichés like “hidden gem,” “bespoke,” “artisanal,” “authentic” and “charming.” How do you deal with it?
I admit these tired phrases are hard to avoid. Rosewood had used “a sense of place” as part of its philosophy as early as 1980 with its first hotel, the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. The company made “A Sense of Place” a registered trademark in 2000.
That said, I think hotels distinguish themselves in the small details that attend to the guest. That’s the personalized X factor that transcends clichés.
How do you balance working in the luxury business with your own life and values?
My personal life of family and service puts everything in perspective. My daughter Casey, who is now 31 and is high-functioning autistic with a full and active life, keeps me quite grounded and centered in reality, as does my husband, Bob.
On Friday nights we three go to downtown Los Angeles to hand out fresh burritos to the homeless community with an L.A. group called Share a Meal. I also serve on the board of Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless community develop job skills and obtain employment.
To get away from it all, Bob and I take long rides on our motorcycles up and down the California coast.