Bridget Bilinski, ’79, Hotel and Restaurant Management
Bridget Bilinski’s rise to the top at Marriott International started in a somewhat unlikely role: that of resident advisor in a dorm at Cal Poly Pomona.
“That was great leadership training for me,” says Bilinski (’79, hotel and restaurant management). “I was
responsible for 38 women; I had to create social experiences with the other wings; and I had to learn to manage people in a variety of challenging situations like relationship issues, drug problems, imperfect study habits and organizational challenges. That experience — along with my on-campus work at the Blazing Saddles beer bar, summer jobs at hotels in San Diego and my friendships with other working Cal Poly students — all those things together really gave me my start.”
Bilinski has a come a long way since then. Today, she’s an area vice president for Marriott International covering Northern California, the Pacific Northwest and Utah, leading the pack as one of a few female executives at the company. Previously, she earned the distinction of being the first female regional vice president for Marriott’s 175 Select Service Hotels (Courtyard, Fairfield Inn and Springhill Suites) in the eight Western states.
The high-ranking executive still has time to assist her alma mater. For the past year, she’s volunteered her time on the Board of Advisors for The Collins College of Hospitality Management, ensuring that its practices and curriculum are consistent with industry needs. Not only does Bilinski have fond memories of her time at Cal Poly Pomona, but she also recalls exactly why she chose the university.
“What really attracted me to Cal Poly Pomona was the fact that I was going to have to work and that I would be learning from those who had actually done what I was going to do,” she says. “To this day, that has been absolutely instrumental in making me successful — I came out of college very prepared.”
Beyond her solid education, Bilinski credits her success to her competitive nature, her sense of humor and even intuition. “I always felt that as a female, I had a slight edge in being sensitive to relationships, and I use that skill all the time,” she says. “People love working for me because I’m very collaborative, which is another skill set that’s innate to women. That sense of teamwork really stems back to my college days. It became part of my style back then, and it just works.
“I never think about being the best female on the job; I just try to be the best person on the job,” she adds. “It’s all about understanding people, networking and building relationships.”
Bilinski says two resources have been particularly helpful in her quest. One is Stephen Covey’s book “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” which reveals principles Bilinski considers essential for becoming a great leader and effective person. The second is Myers-Briggs personality profiling. As a certified Myers-Briggs instructor, Bilinski has become versed on quickly identifying people’s personalities and adapting her leadership approach accordingly.
“Everything about the hospitality business revolves around people,” she says. “If you can read people and understand them on an intuitive level — by knowing what influences them to make decisions, what they value and how they manage their time — it’s much easier to be successful in this business. Having these skills really changes how you view and work with people, and it helps you appreciate other people’s differences.” As Bilinski makes her curriculum recommendations to the Collins College
Board of Advisors, you can be sure that Myers-Briggs training will be on the list.
She’s also working behind the scenes at Marriott, rallying the troops in Los Angeles and Orange counties to be more engaged in the school through lectures and on-campus meetings with students. Plus, she’s assisting Dean Andy Feinstein in identifying new fundraising opportunities that can further enhance the Collins College experience.
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