Redefining Leadership: Q&A with the Radisson’s Cheryl LaBanca and Janice Taylor

It’s rare these days to find individuals who have committed a decade to working at the same organization, let alone more than two decades! But between colleagues Cheryl LaBanca and Janice Taylor, they have spent a collective of more than four decades working at the Radisson in Warwick, Rhode Island. Their tenure is largely fueled by their passion for having a positive impact on others and seizing opportunity as it presents.

Cheryl LaBanca, Sales Manager, and Janice Taylor, Director of Sales, bring an unparalleled level of humanness, empathy and passion to the hospitality industry. From their beaming smiles that greet you at the very first meeting to book your event to the caring way they interact with their colleagues, these two women are shining examples of the power of authentic leadership.

We at the Women in Leadership Nexus were so humbled that the Radisson sponsored and hosted our June chapter event, focused on the importance of controlling our professional reality. I had the chance to sit down with Cheryl and Janice following our event to get their thoughts on everything from the importance of building unbreakable client relationships to how to embrace career moments when they arise.  Here’s a glimpse into our conversation….

It is such a pleasure to sit down with two women who I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the last year through Nexus! To begin, can you tell me a little bit more about your career and how you ended up at the Radisson?

Cheryl: I first joined the Radisson 30 plus years ago when I was hired at the Hospitality Center as a receptionist. At the time, the hotel was owned by Johnson & Wales University and that’s a big reason why I have been with the hotel for so long. The JWU ownership gave me the privilege to work with students from all over the world. They also offered their employees incredible benefits like college tuition reimbursement and leadership development training.

In many ways, this position found me and then I fell in love with it. I didn’t set out saying, “I want a career in hospitality.” I started small and worked my way up the corporate ladder. Whenever there was an opportunity to try a new position, I took it. I have done everything from conference service manager, to corporate sales.

Janice: Similar to Cheryl, I fell into this career. It’s a gift when someone knows what they want to be at a young age, but I didn’t have that gift! Instead, I started in the food industry and then ended up working at Quidnessett Country Club in Rhode Island as the secretary. I always wanted to get into their sales office and book weddings and social events but that never happened, so when I heard of a sales position at the Sheraton, I applied for it, got it and jumped right into sales. I worked there for about six years and then decided to come to the Radisson to receive my education through the hotel. I always found the educational aspect of this hotel so rewarding. We were very much a part of the learning environment and as employees got to have direct interaction with JWU students who were also exploring pathways in hospitality. I have been at the Radisson 21 years.

It is so incredible to hear about your commitment to seizing opportunity. Today, you both work in sales. What is your day-to-day like at the Radisson?

Cheryl: Our job today is very social… we are constantly networking. While booking and managing events we are building relationships with clients. Janice and I are responsible for selling our 10,000 square feet of meeting space and 111 guest rooms.

Janice: It’s been an especially exciting time here at the Radisson as we are currently finishing a major renovation project. We have renovated 111 guests rooms so far. The new rooms feature new carpets, wallpaper and furniture. We are also renovating all of our meeting rooms and the lobby. The entire renovation project will be complete by beginning of next year.

Wow; it sounds like it’s been an exciting few months for you guys! I am really struck by the longevity of your tenure at the Radisson which is very rare this day in age! What has the Radisson done to encourage your career and keep you feeling fulfilled and stimulated?

Janice: I think a big part of it for me has been the ability to say “yes” to new opportunities constantly. I started out as a Sales Manager and then became the Assistant Director of Sales and Marketing and today I am the Director of Sales. I have been able to learn about so many things from revenue management to budgeting to marketing. There have been so many new skill sets I have been able to acquire which has made my career very rewarding.

Cheryl: It’s so rewarding to book a piece of business and see it come to fruition. Along the way I get to learn about what our clients do for a living, what’s important to them and how can I make their event exceptional! The June Women in Leadership Nexus event was especially meaningful for me because I got to manage every part of the event, from initial conception to planning to actually attending the event as a guest!

Janice: Our work is really all about building relationships with our clients. One day we are hosting someone’s bridal shower and the next their baby shower. We get to become a part of these moments. Hospitality is such a rewarding career. I want to make a difference in my career, and our clients let us know that we are making a difference for them which means the world.

At its core, leadership is really about having that positive imapct that you mention. How would you define leadership?

Cheryl: To, me leadership is about leading by example, being a good listener and maintaining a positive attitude. Leaders should better their environment and bring out the best in people. While reaching for the stars, a good leader will look over their shoulders and bring another person with them!

Janice: Being a leader has so much to do with your personality. You have to be able to listen to people, because regardless of how you direct them, if you are not hearing what they are saying then roadblocks will come up. One important lesson about leadership that I always keep in mind is the power of perception. At one point in my career someone explained how they perceived something I was doing, and I was floored they felt that way. I was in tears. I was a mess. I couldn’t believe it! But a couple of days later, after thinking about it, I realized it doesn’t matter how you think you come across. Instead, it’s about how others perceive how you come across. I use that as a teaching moment for everyone. As leaders we have to always keep perspective, listen actively, be a team player, inspire others, and be honest.

How have we evolved in the business world in terms of leadership advancement and where do you still think we have room for improvement?

Cheryl: Equal pay; that is huge. I still think we are a long way off from that but would like to see continued progress in that direction. I also hope we continue to see the rise of strong female leaders who want to help other women grow and succeed professionally and personally!

Janice: I hope to see women continue to reach for the top of the ring because I truly believe we can all get there.

Carrie Majewski is committed to affecting change. As Founder of the Women in Leadership Nexus, Carrie is fueled by a desire to create safe space for female luminaries to convene to redefine the notion of leadership. She has forged a career around strategic writing and storytelling, having led a digital marketing agency for almost three years and today working as VP of Marketing for Trilix. Carrie is a 2017 Rhode Island “40 Under 40” honoree and a 2016 Rhode Island Tech10 Winner. In her spare time you'll find her trying out a local hip-hop class, exploring parks with her rescue dog Tori, and sipping coffee with other powerhouse women.