Jul 6, 2021
We are happy to be speaking to another inspiring leader in our industry today! Vince LaRuffa is the Senior Vice-President of Resort Marketing at the Universal Orlando Resort. He is joining us today to share his experience and offer some great advice.
In this episode, Vince talks about what he did during the pandemic, how he leads his team, work-life balance, and how he used to be an amazing drummer!
We hope you enjoy listening to our conversation!
Vince LaRuffa’s bio:
Vince LaRuffa, Senior Vice President of Resort Sales and Marketing, has been with Universal Orlando Resort since 2003. He is responsible for the achievement of on-site hotel revenues and integrating the eight on-site hotels into all appropriate Universal Orlando messaging and programming.
Vince holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Marketing from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Tourism and Hospitality from the Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at San Diego State University. With a combined 35 years of Hospitality Sales and Marketing experience, he has worked with a variety of brands including, Renaissance Hotels, Marriott Hotels, and Crestline Hotels and Resorts. Before Universal, he served as Vice President, Convention Sales, and Services for Visit Orlando.
Vince currently holds professional affiliations with MPI (Meeting Professionals International) and HSMAI (Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International) and served for five years on the MPI Foundation Global Board of Trustees, including a term as Chairman. He has also served on the International Board of Directors with MPI.
He is a past board member of Canine Companions for Independence, Past Chairman of the Universal Orlando Volunteer Board, and served as Chairman of the Universal Orlando Foundation Charity Classic since 2007.
Vince was recognized in HSMAI’s Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales & Marketing, in Biz Bash’s Most Influential People in Events, and as a Smart Meetings Supplier of the Year.
Vince has been married for 29 years to Jennifer Kuehl LaRuffa and has three daughters, ages 27, 23, and 19.
An unusual way
Vince found his way into the hospitality industry in an unusual way. One day, while selling office equipment in downtown Philadelphia, he had a 300-pound copier on a pushcart, and it started sliding off. Vince ended up in the gutter with the copier on his lap when an old friend walked by. She told him that she was working as a catering manager at a new hotel in Philadelphia and mentioned that they had an opening for a small group salesperson. Vince applied for the position, and after three or four interviews, he landed the job.
A true passion
For the first time in his professional life, Vince realized that he had a true passion for hotels and hospitality! He worked hard and was able to move quickly through the ranks. He ended up taking a transfer to Orlando as a salesperson at what is now the Renaissance, across from SeaWorld.
A great team
A new General Manager came in and took over. He and Vince bonded and formed a strong relationship. He took Vince with him as he progressed through the organization, all the way up to Senior Vice-President of Operations. As he moved and advanced, so did Vince. They formed a great team, and Vince worked his way up to Regional Sales and Marketing.
Marriott bought the company, and Vince stayed on with them for about a year. After leaving Marriott, he took a position in Atlanta with the Stormont Trice Corporation as their VP of Sales and Marketing (it later became Crestline Hotels and Resorts.) Later, Vince took a position as VP of Sales and Services with Visit Orlando, and eighteen months later, he became the VP of Resort Sales at Universal and remained there for the next eighteen years. Three years ago, he was promoted to Senior Vice-President of Resort Sales and Marketing.
A unique and evolving environment
Vince has found the environment at Universal unique. In eighteen years, Universal has evolved from a regional theme park business to a destination resort.
Vince finds his work at Universal intellectually challenging, and he enjoys leading his team, which is a tightly-knit group. Together, they have marshaled the growth of the organization and helped transform it into a full-blown vacation destination.
Vince LaRuffa is a lifelong learner
Vince LaRuffa received his Master’s degree when he was in his fifties. He had a full-time job and a family to take care of at the same time. He was motivated to do it because he enjoyed it so much!
A new vocabulary
Vince was hiring kids out of school with Master’s degrees, at the entry-level to management. He realized that there was a vocabulary that he had not been exposed to, so he wanted to continue learning and growing intellectually.
The San Diego University Program
Last year, Vince was asked to teach the Marketing Communications class for the San Diego University program. He and one of his colleagues in Orlando created the curriculum for the class. He will also be teaching the Marketing class for the Hospitality and Tourism Master’s Program going forward.
Dealing with the pandemic
The pandemic was dealt with differently in Florida and California, even though both destinations share the same leadership. Vince felt that Universal managed the situation sensitively and well, even though some difficult decisions had to be made around eliminating some of the staff members.
A proactive approach
The company took a proactive approach, and the safety and wellbeing of their team members and guests were at the forefront of every decision made.
In the last two months, they have had record booking levels and a record number of calls coming into their guest contact center.
A proud leader
Vince is proud of how the leadership team at Universal handled the pandemic and treated all their team members. He is proud to be part of the leadership team.
Thoughtful and strategic leadership
As business leaders, you cannot control all the variables. However, you can be thoughtful and strategic about how you approach the opportunities that come your way.
Navigating the change
The leadership group at Universal decided to come back after the pandemic with a hybrid model. That means that Vince and many other team members will be going into work, but not every day. They will try that model out for some time to see if it works over the long term.
Vince has learned the value of being face-to-face with his coworkers and misses it.
Many people don’t need much team interaction and prefer to work from home. For Universal to be competitive as an employer and attract the best talent, they will need to employ some people who live far away and allow them to work remotely. That is the trend, and the team at Universal has already proven that working remotely can be done effectively.
What Vince LaRuffa says about work-life balance
Although Americans are very productive, Vince feels that there is a lot we can learn from Europeans about work-life balance.
The value of volunteering
The value of a network is not to be underestimated. As a young person, volunteering is an excellent way to expand your network. It is also a great way to prove your effectiveness as a leader.
The only way to effect change is to be part of the solution, and the only way to be part of the solution is to get involved.
Get involved with the chapters
If you are interested and want to make a difference, you have to do it from a platform. Vince encourages young people to get involved with the chapters because they are where all the magic happens. The chapters are the essence of organizations like MPI.
Vince loves music! Although he is retired now, he used to have lots of fun as a member of a rock band. One year, he brought in The Guess Who to perform at an event in the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel and became friends with one of the band members, a singer and guitarist. Later, Vince and some of his musician friends had the opportunity to back him up.
The real joy for Vince LaRuffa
For Vince, the joy in his business is accomplishing things with other people and then sharing the success.
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