Have you ever wanted to be like somebody when you grow up? Someone who was beautiful, successful, genuinely good and make knock out koulourakia to boot? Well, girls, now we do–Her name is Niki Leondakis. She typifies what a real Greek woman is–stylish, beautiful, intelligent, a business maven, committed to excellence, devoted to family, proud of her heritage and a humanitarian who actively contributes to worthy causes. As a follower of greekamericangirl.com, Niki has been honest and gracious enough to share how how “Greeki-ness” has shaped her success and her life. If you have not heard of her yet, here is the only site where you can get an intimate glimpse into the workings of a true Greek American girl.
Is it by coincidence that Niki has been working in the hospitality industry for the majority of her life? She grew up in a warm Greek American home in West Springfield, Massachusettes. Her Greek culture’s emphasis on “philoxenia” and the values of treating strangers as if they were gods probably had some bearing on her career choice. As she stated in her interview, “Growing up both Greek and American has taught me to respect and appreciate diversity of thought that comes from unique backgrounds, life experiences, and cultural upbringing.” She wound up graduating with a degree in hotel, restaurant management and travel administration from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
She began her hospitality career as a manager for Marriott Hotels in 1982 in Nashville, Tenn. She then got a position as a food and beverage director for the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company in Marina Del Rey, Calif., Atlanta and San Francisco, from 1985 to 1993.
Her big break came when she was hired by the Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, a chain of 40 boutique hotels and chef-driven, destination restaurants throughout the US and Canada. Her meteroric climb in the Kimpton chain took her ten years: from director of restaurant operations in 1993 to VP of restaurant operations, then senior VP, to executive VP, and finally to CEO in 2003.
After spending 20 years at Kimpton, she is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Commune Hotels and Resorts, which has 46 properties in its portfolio and over $450 million in revenue in 2012. They are hoping with Niki on board to reach the goal of $1 billion in revenue and expand the Commune Hotel empire into Hawaii, London, New York, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, Cabo San Lucas in Mexico and Palo Alto, California.
Leondakis has received several industry awards, including being named one of the “100 Most Influential Women” by the San Francisco Business Times from 2002 to 2006, being recognized as one of “30 Women Power Players” by Nation’s Restaurant News in 2002, and named one of the “Most Powerful Women in Travel” by Travel Agent Magazine that same year.
Besides being a respected businesswoman and CEO, Niki is a saught-after speaker and instructor. She teaches courses in Hotel Management and Hospitality at Johnson and Wales, the premier hospitality college in Rhode Island. In 2010, she presented a lecture about “Driving Innovation and Profitability through Sustainability” at the National Innovation Conference in Chicago organized by the Greek America Foundation. She also ran the Athens marathon with her sister that year.
An avid contributor to the community, Leondakis has donated her time and expertise to boards of directors for several nonprofit organizations including Dress for Success, an international nonprofit organization that provides job interview suits and career development assistance to low-income women, the National Restaurant Association and the University of San Francisco Hospitality Program, for which she gives speeches to women around the country on career development and marketing.
Niki lives with her husband in Hillsborough, California.
For the readers of greekamericangirl.com, she has this advice: “Stay true to who you are, choose a career in a field you’re passionate about and always tell the truth with compassion.”
We asked: ” What’s the best thing about being a Greek American woman?”
Her answer, “My appreciation of family and how that makes me a better leader at work.”
We asked: “What’s the worst thing about being a Greek American woman?”
Her answer,” My hair–it lets me know who’s boss.”
With Niki Leondakis, we are not suffering for lack of a dynamic female role model. You go, girl!