“Always be a stiletto in a room full of heels” is a bit of grandmotherly wisdom that has led one Coast hotelier to a successful career.
“My grandmother, Helen Shular, babysat me a lot, and would keep me with her behind the front desk,” says Jessica Shular Chevalier, general manager at the Clarion Inn, located off Highway 49 in Gulfport. “I have pictures of me in my playpen behind the front desk.”
Her grandparents and parents operated hotels and restaurants, and Chevalier grew up loving the business.
“I would love to help the housekeepers clean when I was little, too. We also had restaurants and I loved taking each table a basket full of crackers and taking drink orders,” says Chevalier, who started taking reservations over the phone when she was 10 years old. “The people would always laugh when a child was taking their reservation and credit card information. Before we had electronic keys, my grandmother would let me grab the keys and hand them to the guest.”
But it was her father, Michael L. Shular, who made her start work from the bottom up so she would know how to work and eventually manage each department in a hotel. When she was in high school and received her first car, her father had her driving to the hotels to clean guest rooms every day.
“I love meeting new people, and you meet people from all over the world in the hotel business, says Chevalier, who at one time wanted to be an architect or interior designer.
“I also enjoy the challenges of each day: You never know if a staff member will have a situation or a guest. As a general manager, you have to be a quick problem-solver and a therapist!”
The hotel business can be easy when everyone is content, but Chevalier is quick to say that rarely happens. Being a good organizer is a must as well as having patience and forgiveness.
“When you have 177 guest rooms and more than 400 guests and 30 staff members, you will always have something to do. I enjoy making people and families happy. Every time you think you have seen and heard it all, something new happens! That is what I enjoy the most, that every day is different,” says the active mom of two sons. Chevalier, who has been in her current position since 2016, does not make rush decisions. She asks both staff and guess to give her a moment to mull a situation so she can make the best decision.
“Always take deep breaths and never say anything you cannot take back,” says Chevalier.
“Plus, I always try to lead by example and never be afraid to get my hands dirty.”
“In my 20s, I thought I knew everything, and now that I am 40 I laugh at that! I learn something new every day; I love to read about new things and learn from interesting people,” says Chevalier, who lives and learns and tries to do her best every day. “It is truly amazing if you really listen and keep an open mind how many doors will be opened for you. Stay organized and prioritize each day. Every day is different and new. Everyone has heard don’t be afraid to fail, and that is so true. In the hotel business, you cannot be black and white about rules, you have to learn to navigate in the gray.”
She credits her father, her mother, Leslie June Shular, and her grandmother for the woman she is today. Her father showed her how to turn nothing into something and her mother for showing how to be the best mom she could be.
And when it comes to family, family time is family time, and business time is business time.
“My rule is that when I am home with my family, I focus on them, and the same when I am at work, I focus on work. For me, family always comes first,” she says. “My husband, Brian Chevalier, also is busy 24 hours so we both are very good at teamwork.”
The couple has two sons, Trystan and Nikolas. When the family gets home, it is all about the boys and things they can do together.
Chevalier’s advice for women who want to pursue hospitality careers:
1. You must believe in yourself first.
2. Surround yourself with people who have similar dreams and ambitions.
3. Be prepared for long days and nights. The hospitality business is a 24-hour-a-day and 365 yearlong business.
4. Make sure you have a team you can count on, too.
5. Don’t be afraid to delegate because you cannot do everything yourself.