HPW’s Inspiring Women series profiles remarkable Greek-American professional women whose stories of success inspire and encourage us to achieve our own career goals and aspirations
With more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry, building lifestyle brands and creating award winning work-place cultures to drive innovation and customer loyalty, Leondakis has consistently built and lead some of the most diverse and customer centric teams in the industry. Most recently as CEO of Equinox Fitness Clubs, oversaw all facets of Equinox Clubs and headed up its executive leadership team.
Prior to joining Equinox, Leondakis was CEO, Hotels & Resorts for Two Roads Hospitality, the newly formed company as a result of the merger between Commune Hotels & Resorts and Destination Hotels. One of the leading women executives in hospitality, Leondakis joined Commune Hotels & Resorts in November 2012 as it’s CEO to lead the expansion for the Commune brands propelling its global growth including being named #9 on Travel and Leisure Magazine’s top 15 hotel brands in the world in 2016. Leondakis expanded the company’s Thompson Hotels and Joie de Vivre Hotel brands, as well as introduced the Singapore-based Alila Hotels & Resorts to the Commune portfolio. Previous to Commune, Leondakis led Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants as their President and Chief Operating Officer, where she started in 1993 and was a key member of the executive team that led the growth of the company from 15 hotels to 50. Under her leadership, Kimpton was named one of Fortune Magazine‘s 100 Best Companies to Work For.
Leondakis also held various leadership roles with the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company from 1985 – 1993. She began her hospitality career for Marriott Hotels in 1982 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Her goal of creating a workplace culture that instills pride and ownership among employees has led to numerous awards and accolades including Commune Hotels & Resorts being recognized as one of the “Best Places to Work” by Crain’s New York and rankings on both the San Francisco Business Times’ “Best Place to Work” and Chicago Tribune’s “Chicago’s Top Workplaces” lists. Individually, Leondakis has received numerous industry awards, including being cited in 2015 by the San Francisco Business Times as one of the Bay Area’s Most Admired CEO’s. A recipient of the Leadership Excellence award by HR.com and LEAD2016, Leondakis has been named one of the “100 Most Influential Women” by the San Francisco Business Times annually since 2002. She was recognized as one of “30 Women Power Players,” by Nation’s Restaurant News and named one of the “Most Powerful Women in Travel” by Travel Agent Magazine. She was the recipient of the International Food Service Manufacturer’s Association Silver Plate Award for Operator of the Year, the Fred Tibbits Hospitality Award for Lifetime Excellence, and Penn State’s Hotel and Restaurant Society Hospitality Executive of the Year. Further, Leondakis’ alma mater, the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Department of Hospitality and Tourism, awarded her its Stephen E. Elmont Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011, and in 2012 she was honored with Hospitality Design’s Platinum Circle Award. In 2014 she was awarded the Horst Schulze Award for Excellence in Hospitality.
Tempering business with community stewardship, Leondakis served as Chair of the Dress for Success Worldwide Board of Directors from 2009 – 2011; an international nonprofit that promotes the economic independence of disadvantage women. Leondakis continues to serve as a board member for Dress for Success where she chairs the Strategic Planning Committee.
A native of West Springfield, Massachusetts, Leondakis and her husband divide their time between San Francisco and Sonoma, California.
What is your passion?
I’m Greek, so passion for whatever I do runs through my veins! One thing I am committed to is helping disadvantaged women achieve economic independence. I’ve supported Dress for Success Worldwide as a board member, board chair and mentor for the last 15 years.
I’ve also been an active promoter of all types of diversity, including gender, in executive leadership in the workplace. Research has shown that the diversity of thought and perspective diverse leadership teams bring to the table facilitates innovation and lead to increased financial performance.
What motivated you to move into your profession?
I grew up watching my grandmother run the Greek diner she and my grandfather owned in Western Massachusetts. He passed away before I was born so I was influenced watching her handle herself in all types of difficult situations with suppliers, employees and customers with strength, grace and poise. I worked in restaurants through high school and college and came to love the opportunity and challenge presented by working with and serving so many different types of people. The memory of my grandmother’s way of handling difficult situations shaped the standard I held for myself when faced with challenges and difficult situations.
Who stands out the most in your mind as a mentor?
My father. He grew up in Crete and came to the U.S. with his sister as a teenager. He rose through the ranks and became a district manager at a grocery store chain. Since English was not his first language he was never comfortable doing written performance evaluations of his managers. When I was in high school, I would sit at the kitchen table after dinner with him and type his management performance evaluations while he dictated what he wanted to say. I learned a lot about telling the truth with compassion from his way of providing constructive feedback.
Tell me about a few of your most proud accomplishments?
One of my proudest accomplishments was, as President of Kimpton Hotels, I was able to carry on Bill Kimpton’s legacy after he passed away in 2001. I was so deeply touched by him and grateful for the opportunity he provided me, I worked hard to ensure the company operated based on his beliefs and in a way that would make him and his family proud.
I am also proud of the fact that I’ve built and led diverse leadership teams that have received recognition in numerous national, and local publications for being a best place to work.
Was there anything you would have done differently?
I would have gotten more sleep! I used to believe I could perform well on very little sleep and finally learned that while I got by, I wasn’t performing at my absolute best. Why would you want to do anything at less than your best?! I now try to get 7 hours of sleep a night.
What is your leadership style?
I like to think I lead with a balance of inspiration, support and accountability. I expect people to give their best and to be fully committed to giving 100% in whatever they do. When people don’t live up to their potential or don’t achieve their goals I tell them the truth and try to do so with compassion.
What advice would you give to professional Hellenic-American Women today in their careers?
Whatever you choose to do, be all in. Don’t look back or waste energy worrying about whether you’ve made the right choices, once you’ve made the decision to do something, you have to go for it. If you cannot, then do something else that you want to put your whole heart and best energy into.
What impact has your Greek heritage had on your career and professional life?
My Greek heritage has taught me to believe in myself, go after whatever I wanted to accomplish and to get the most out of life. I learned to live life to its fullest, never stop learning, loving and having fun. I bring that attitude and spirit to the workplace. I think it also taught me to care about others and give back including in small ways. Caring deeply about the people I work with and the culture I facilitate has enabled me to attract and retain some amazing talent to my team at various stages in my career. These talented people were key to my success along the way.
Are you involved with the Greek community?
I’m a member of the Elios Society in San Francisco and support and participate in as many of the activities that promote the preservation of Hellenic culture and heritage as I can. I co-chaired the Hellenic Charity Ball benefiting the Elios Society’s Hellenic Charitable Foundation in 2017 and I’ve served on the Board of Trustees for the American College of Greece. Whenever I participate in anything within the Greek community, even if I don’t know many people at the start, by the time it’s over, I go home knowing I’ve made lifelong friends.
Who has inspired you in your career? Let us know at email@example.com