For Thom Geshay, CEO/president, Davidson Hospitality Group, a more-than-35-year career in hospitality was not what he intended. He originally planned—and for a short time was—an industrial engineer.
His father and two brothers were engineers, and he was on the path to follow in their footsteps. “My father retired the same year that I graduated from high school,” he said. “He moved from Wisconsin, where I grew up, down to North Carolina, where he was retiring. As we drove down to his retirement place, he said, ‘Well, you have to get a summer job to earn some money for college.’ As we pulled off the exit in Asheville, NC, a hotel nearby had an old reader board on it that said ‘Help Wanted.’ So, we never even made it to his house.”
They pulled into the parking lot of the property, a Holiday Inn that was just about to open, and Geshay took a job as a bellman. He worked at the hotel through his college career and had jobs ranging from front desk to night audit. He also worked on the food and beverage side, working as a server, dishwasher and breakfast cook and did banquet setups. He also worked at the hotel’s nightclub as a barback, bartender and even DJ.
When he graduated from NC State, he got a job at IBM. “I remember the first day, I was assigned a cubicle, but the manufacturing line I was working on was about a half-mile away,” he said. “Having worked in hospitality and always trying to make friends, I would say hello to everybody. Nobody would say anything back to me.”
During his time at the hotel, which was operated by Davidson, he had a mentor who encouraged him to try different positions. About six months into his stint at IBM, his mentor called asking him to come back because he needed a bar manager.
Geshay recalled, “I said, ‘I can’t tell my dad I’m going to leave IBM and become a barback. That’s just not going to work. I have an education. I’m an engineer. I’ve got to do it.’ Then he said, ‘Well, are you happy with what you do?’ And I said, ‘No, I hate it.’ He replied, ‘What if I call you a beverage director? Would you reconsider?’”
So, Geshay left IBM. went back to the hotel and ran the nightclub. He has now been with Davidson for more than three decades.
“In the hotel industry, you have moments every day where you can change someone’s day,” said Geshay. “You can take a traveler that had a bad flight, lost their luggage and they’re missing their family and everything else, and by being kind and creating this experience that feels like home away from home, you can put a smile on their face. You literally can see the worry go away and the expression change.”