Mike Stengel: Making the most opportunity
by Cathy Toscano 04, M05
Like most strapped-for-cash college students, Mike Stengel ’78 took a part-time job—he was a hotel dishwasher-busboy-waiter. Thirty years later, he’s the general manager of the New York Marriott Marquis on Times Square, having worked his way up the corporate chain from the suds and grub of his dishwashing days to the prestige of Manhattan’s theatre district. “I have had more than 25 jobs in more than eight states, some states two or three times,” he said. “I started out as an hourly associate and have been working my way up in management ever since.”
His hard work paid off, but Stengel didn’t always have a hard-work ethic. A confessed slacker when it came to high school, Stengel attests that it was admission to Glassboro State College through the Educational Opportunity Fund program that motivated him to get serious about hitting the books. “I was the first person in my family ever to go to college,” he said. “My mother raised us (Stengel and his two brothers) alone. I could not have afforded to go to college on my own and I certainly wasn’t about to squander the opportunity.”
At Glassboro, law/justice major Stengel played Profs football and spent weekends working the night shift at the Hyatt Hotel in Cherry Hill. Learning the hotel industry from an hourly employee’s view interested him—more so than the civil services he had planned to pursue with his law/justice degree.
“One year I interned at a state prison,” he said. “The prison had high occupancy, low rates and poor guest satisfaction scores. In reality it was my first ‘hotel’ job. I knew I didn’t want to work for a business like that.” So he didn’t.
After graduation Stengel continued to work for Hyatt, married his high school sweetheart, Karen, and two years later put his GSC business minor to use when he enrolled in Hyatt’s management courses. Before long he was selected to work at the company’s Washington D.C., location—the first of many sites across the U.S. that he and his wife would call home.
“We lived in Seattle for a while and loved it,” he said. “It was our favorite city, but the commute was hard for my wife (a flight attendant based in Philadelphia), so we decided to make our way back to the East Coast.”
Back in the Philadelphia area, Stengel accepted a job with another hotel chain. Almost immediately after, Marriott purchased the hotel where he was working and opened a new chapter in his career. Stengel was appointed regional director of operations, traveling to open new Marriott locations across the U.S. In 1990 he relocated to the New York Marriott Marquis as director of food and beverage. “Part of my duties as food director was the part of wine collector,” he said. I traveled to the wine countries of the world to sample and select the wines for Marriott to carry. It was like having a great extracurricular activity.”
In 1996 Stengel took over as the general manager of Marriott’s Seaview Resort in Galloway Township. And in 1999 he returned to the New York Marquis and continues to serve as area general manager for the Marquis and three other New York Marriott properties.
Before September 11, 2001, however, another Marriott hotel stood in Lower Manhattan. Like all buildings once located at what we now call Ground Zero, the New York Marriott World Trade Center was completely destroyed. Another nearby Marriott hotel two blocks south of Ground Zero went untouched. Stengel saw to its service as a Red Cross Respite Center to aid recovery workers. For many months, Stengel helped adapt Marriott operations in the city after the terrorist attacks and found work for more than 1,000 displaced employees.
Today, Stengel shows the same enthusiasm for working in the city as he did prior to 9/11. “New York is a wonderful place to work because of the diversity of the work force, the professional demeanor that people bring to work and the way business moves at a fast pace,” he explained. “Marriott has a large amount of international guests, which allows for exposure to different cultures from all over the world. It’s like being on international assignment without leaving the states.”
When not managing Marriott affairs, Stengel enjoys spending time with his family, going to car shows with his teenage son, Andrew, and traveling with Karen to their vacation home in North Carolina to play golf. Recently, the family moved out of its New York City apartment in the hotel to a house in Chatham.
Stengel also finds time to give back to his alma mater. Each year he welcomes GSC and Rowan friends to the New York alumni reception held at the Marquis. The reception is one of the best-attended alumni gatherings of the year and brings together grads from several decades. Stengel’s warmth and generosity are part of the appeal of the event. As an individual and part of a major American corporation, Stengel makes a practice of philanthropy.
Years after he earned a seat in a GSC freshman class, Stengel says one of his greatest satisfactions came when he had the opportunity to give back in honor of the New Jersey EOF/Martin Luther King Scholars Program that made his college education possible. When Marriott opened its Atlanta Marquis, in the spirit of offering opportunity to others as he had found in his alma mater’s EOF grant, Stengel asked that the Martin Luther King, Jr.
Foundation receive a $1 million gift. At the opening event, Stengel met the late Coretta Scott King and told her, “I’m paying back my college scholarship.”
Today, Stengel takes pride and pleasure in working for a company that gives back to the community as Marriott does. The Marquis won the 2005 Alice Marriott Community Spirit to Serve Award, selected over 3,000 other hotels. “Marriott allows us to become part of the community at large,” he said. “We believe giving back to the community as volunteers helps our world be a better place.”
Now in his 25th year with Marriott, Stengel remembers life as a college kid with a dishrag in hand and is grateful for the opportunity he’s had to grow and help others do the same. “I love what I do,” he said. “Everyday there are new challenges. The customers change everyday, the associates come from 125 different countries and the things you deal with are never the same. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”
Michael Stengel has been named the 2006 Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus and will be honored at Commencement ceremonies in May. The Alumni Association makes the award annually to a graduate of GSC–Rowan whose professional accomplishents and personal contributions to the community show exemplary expertise and character. To nominate an alumnus for the 2007 award, contact Alumni Relations Director Kathy Rozanski.