Home Away from Home

Catherine Lee is a hotel manager at a luxury hotel off Central Park, in New York City.
By Cristina Fernandez
A portrait of a smiling woman
Catherine Lee is the general manager of 1 Hotel, in New York City.

Catherine Lee has spent a lot of time in hotels. She grew up in Korea, and spent parts of her childhood in Australia and America, where she stayed in hotels. Those experiences stuck with her. “A hotel was like a home away from home,” she told TIME for Kids. “And I always wanted to work in a luxury hotel in a world class city, like New York, and have other people experience what I experienced when I was young.”

Now Lee is the general manager of 1 Hotel, a hotel near Central Park, in New York City. Lee describes her promotion to general manager as one of the biggest accomplishments of her career. It has come with a lot of responsibilities. “It’s managing the entire hotel,” she says. “Working with different teams, like housekeeping, front desk, engineering, our food-and-beverage team, and making sure we deliver a seamless and happy experience for our guests.”

1 Hotel—near Central Park, in New York City—greets visitors with outer walls covered in greenery.

Being a hotel manager comes with many challenges, Lee says. But the job is always exciting and new. “We’re open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And there’s no one day that’s the same [as another],” she says. 

No matter what problem comes up, Lee works to find a solution that’s helpful for the customers and keeps the hotel’s intricate systems running smoothly. “I’d say that we’re like swans,” she says of the hotel staff. “We look elegant and calm for those who see us, but underneath the surface, we’re paddling industriously to make sure that our guests—every single one of them—have a great experience with us.”

There’s one particularly important day of the year for the hotel: Thanksgiving. “The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade that goes right [down] Sixth Avenue and past the hotel,” Lee says. “You can see the parade going right in front of us. People come from all over the world just to see this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event for them. So that’s a huge day for us.”

Lee studied at Cornell University. It hosts a hotel-administration school that offers classes in specific hospitality areas, in addition to finance. This model worked well for Lee, who was interested in more than the economics behind running a hotel. “Working at a hotel requires expertise in a variety of fields, including mathematics,” she says. “Finance and revenue management are really important. But so is the other side, being creative and working with a team to ensure that you’re delivering a memorable experience for the guests.”

For anyone interested in the hospitality business, Lee offers this advice: “Be curious. Guests travel from around the world, and the hospitality industry is impacted by economic conditions around the world. So read the news. Keeping up to date with current events is really important.”