You know someone is destined for a career in hospitality if she loves waiting tables.

Susan Keels, director of sales and marketing at Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, started her career as a waitress at Shield’s while studying accounting and merchandising in college. Soon she was offered a promotion to manager, and then joined Bill Robert’s highly respected group of restaurants (which includes Beverly Hills Grill).

“I loved the fine art of hospitality,” Keels says. “That’s really where I got my foundation, with Bill Roberts. He taught me to make people feel like they’re coming into your home, make them feel special.”

Keels says she discovered her true passion as she moved into leadership, helming sales and operations teams. “I’ve always gravitated to boutique-style restaurants, country clubs, hotels,” she says. “I like the fact that, within the leadership, when you’re working with the independents, you’re able to be very creative. You don’t have to go through so much red tape. I can get things done pretty fast and inspire people to get things done as well.”

Over her 30-year career in metro Detroit, Keels has worked as director of food and beverage outlets at the Townsend Hotel, managed venues including the Twin Lakes Golf and Swim club and co-owned her own hospitality recruiting company. She joined the Royal Park 12 years ago, after spotting the construction site on her way to work.

“I decided I wanted the director of catering position,” she says. “I pursued it aggressively for about four or five months, and I was the first employee they hired. I loved the fact that it was four-star, fourdiamond, and that it was independent. I fell in love with downtown Rochester. I just had a really good feeling about it.” 

Keels became the hotel’s sales and marketing director five years ago, a job she says has opened up the world to her; she’s traveled to Asia and Europe promoting the Royal Park.

Her commitment to the industry extends outside her job. Keels is active in the Rochester Downtown Development Authority, and is past vice president of the Greater Detroit Chapter of NACE (she served under Todd Lloyd).

In her free time, Keels says she loves to cook, entertain and dabble in making art (she has an Etsy shop). “I’m a big believer in having a creative life,” she says. “I feel very fortunate that I have a career where I can apply that creativity that’s inside me to everything I do. I don’t even really call it a job. For me, it’s a passion.”

Ken Hayward has spent nearly his entire career serving at one hotel. But when you start your career at one of the most iconic and historic hotels in Michigan— even the nation—it’s hard to see yourself anywhere else. Hayward, executive vice president and managing director of Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, was recently named Hotelier of the Year by Historic Hotels of America. This honor comes decades after Hayward was given an unexpected opportunity.


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As general manager of the new 130-room AC Hotel Grand Rapids Downtown, Ryan Schmied enjoys a fast-track life by making sure everything at the stunning boutique-style property is running smoothly.

Formerly a refrigerator production factory, warehouse and most recently a TGI Fridays near the Van Andel Arena, the 19th-century space in which the chic AC is located has quite a history.