Lavatory Leverage: Lessons From the O’Hare Hilton

By Jeff Blackman

If you’ve ever been to Chicago, there’s a pretty good chance you flew over, passed through, grabbed a bite at or spent the night in … the O’Hare Hilton. It’s a towering, sprawling, fast-paced frenzy of people and activities.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of meetings and done lots of speaking, training, and consulting at the O’Hare Hilton. It has always been a friendly and convenient place to conduct business, for my clients and for me.

I’d pull up to valet parking and be cheerfully greeted by Oscar, Oscar Jr., or Stephen. I knew them by name. And with each return visit, they’d exclaim, “Hi Jeff, nice to see you again!”

Since I spent so much time at the O’Hare Hilton, it hit me one day, “Heck, they oughta become a client.” And they did, along with other Chicago Hilton properties.

When the O’Hare Hilton was led by general manager Bruce Ulrich, I had the pleasure and privilege to work with him and his talented team of hospitality pros. Bruce was an incredibly gracious guy. Well-liked. Well-respected. A dynamic leader. He “lived” for, and I guess you could say “at,” his place of passion. For the hotel wasn’t his “home away from home.” It was his home! Bruce and his family even lived there!

Because Bruce brought a relentless commitment and never-ending dedication to his work, he of course expected the same from his people.

Bruce and I had lots of conversations. There’s one thing he said that I’ll never forget. He asked me, “Jeff, do you know who some of the most important members of our hospitality team are?”

“The janitors and members of our custodial team ,” he answered, “who clean the first floor bathrooms, just off our lobby.”

Now, if you’ve ever walked the hallowed halls of the O’Hare Hilton, you know which bathrooms Bruce is talking about. They’re the ones located between the front desk and the bar/restaurant area. It’s a high-traffic area. Every day, it gets lots of visitors. And captures lots of eyeballs.

Bruce went on to explain: Those bathrooms are making first impressions — with meeting attendees, bar and restaurant patrons, hotel guests, visitors, weary travelers on a brief layover or a long delay.

And those impressions better be positive! Because if they’re not, as Bruce exclaimed, “they’ll begin to wonder about the cleanliness of our sleeping rooms. The food quality in the restaurants. The caliber of room-service.

“The meeting experience. The talent of the staff and their attentiveness.”

The impact of Bruce’s statement was profound. Impactful. And obviously, unforgettable.

Yet, was it hyperbole?

Was it a gross exaggeration about the significance of “little” things making a BIG difference?


Bruce’s fanatical focus on the small stuff was, and still is, dead on!

Bruce knew, in some way, that a visit of only a few minutes to the men’s or women’s bathroom … would either generate or jeopardize future revenue. And it wasn’t a gamble he was willing to take.

What are you gambling?

What’s at risk in your business?

Bruce and his team took control of what they could control. He and they knew that neglect and abandonment of a bathroom could cause a customer’s neglect, abandonment and indifference about the property or even … the entire Hilton brand!

Bruce realized that tangible observations drive intangible insights and conclusions. Like opinions, judgments, word of mouth.

Now some might bellow, “That’s too much pressure. The expectations too high. It ain’t fair!”

Fair?! Are you kidding? Who said this was fair? Fairness and equity aren’t part of this equation. Not when you’ve got logic and emotion driving decisions. And customers, clients, and prospects demand and expect value and positive outcomes.

Not occasionally. All the time!

So what business …

What relationships …

What sales …

What profits …

Are being won or lost or being influenced by …

How your phone is answered?

How your customers or clients are greeted upon arrival?

How your building, office, or lobby conveys your image and culture?

How your car, clothing, uniforms or delivery vehicles communicate “who” you are, or at least who you’re telling the world you are?

How your promotional literature, website, or correspondence reflects your talent, skill and expertise?

And, yep, perhaps even the cleanliness of your bathrooms?

What can you improve, enhance, or upgrade?

When will you do it?

To drive profits, there are three things you and your folks should always be thinking about and trying to answer:

  1. Who do we market and sell to?
  2. What do we market and sell?
  3. How do we market and sell?

Of these three, which can you control? Influence? Adapt? Take action on?

Remember … somebody is always watching and judging! And whatever impression they have, good or bad, they’ll probably tell to someone else. Who tells someone else. Who tells someone else …

Jeff Blackman is a Hall of Fame speaker, bestselling author, success coach, broadcaster and lawyer. In 2008, he was Vistage’s Fast-Track Speaker of the Year. Jeff’s clients call him a “business-growth specialist.” Please contact Jeff at or via to learn more about his other business-growth tools and to subscribe to Jeff’s FREE e-letter, The Results Report. You can also “connect” with Jeff at LinkedIn or “follow” Jeff at Twitter.
Originally published: Feb 15, 2012

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *