With nearly 30 years of hospitality industry experience, Aaron Fish has spent his time in the hospitality & senior living industries with a singular focus on the customer experience. Having gained experience in some of the top hospitality organizations in the United States, he has brought keen attention to building customer-focused hospitality operations in the senior living industry.
From Dining Room Manager to Senior Vice President, Aaron has spent his career creating best-in-class experiences for the residents he served. He does this with an eye towards innovation in concept design, as well as implementing a combination of best practices, system development, and quality training for all levels throughout any organization. Aaron holds a B.S. in Hospitality Management from Kansas State University as well as an MBA in Marketing from Baker University.
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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Aaron Fish: As a working undergraduate at Kansas State University, I was drawn to the hospitality industry by my work in hotels. I loved the ability to create amazing events and experiences for our guests, and I enjoyed the ever-changing clientele and fast-paced environment. I was going to be a hotelier and eventually run my own high-end hotel or boutique operation. But as life would have it I found myself needing to relocate for work. I took a role as a dining room manager at a continuing care retirement community and found that the opportunity & desire for hospitality-minded operations in the senior living industry was massive. So I went to work and brought that mindset and mentality to that operation, and simply haven’t looked back and have brought that approach to every senior living organization that I have worked for over the past 19 years.
Trestle Hospitality Concepts was born out of the realization that my impact on bringing hospitality to the senior living industry is still needed as the industry grows and smaller operators and developers need and want this support. We are planning to grow and provide that spirit of creating an amazing customer (and resident) experience to as many senior living residents as we can.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Aaron Fish: There are quite a few people that I could speak to, but I truly believe that it all started with the first COO I worked for in senior living. Her name was Barbara Frank, and she gave a fresh-faced 26-year-old a shot at being a Director because she saw the potential in me that even I had not yet found. She was demanding and had high expectations for how we were going to transform our food & beverage experience, but was empathetic and took a mentor’s approach to manage me.
She helped me see my talents and then showed me how to use those skills to offset my areas of needed growth and opportunity. She invested resources in me, as she knew very early on what I now know and practice every day with anyone that is on my team – investing in those around you and preparing them for long-term success only makes you and your team better.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Aaron Fish: That is a loaded question – I feel like I could share multiple stories! I think the worst advice that I ever was given was that to be successful in your career you have to craft a certain professional personality. The thing about it was that early on in my career, I not only did this but actually shared this as advice as well. It wasn’t until many years into my career that I learned that the exact opposite is true.
We hear many people talk about “being authentic” and it has become very much a buzzword. But I do think that there is a powerful message that leaders can send if they embrace authenticity. I allow your flaws and fears, mistakes and failures to be seen, as well as all the success that you crafted by learning from them. It allows your team to trust you, and with that trust comes a higher-performing team.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Aaron Fish: Resilience for me is being able to take your losses and not let them stop you. They will slow you down for sure, but that may not be the worst thing in the world. Starting my career in hospitality and specifically, hotels helped me early on develop a lot of resilience.
Tight deadlines and unhappy customers (envision an unhappy mother of the bride at a reception for 350 people) help you to start to see things from other people’s perspectives. You also learn to try and anticipate a customer’s needs to avoid those losses. I have carried that mindset into everything I do, and as I have started Trestle Hospitality Concepts, I see the need for being resilient. You have to be able to be told no or maybe a few times in order to be told yes once!
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Aaron Fish: In five years I hope that Trestle Hospitality Concepts has grown to a few associates and that each one of those individuals is making a difference in the lives of the seniors that we are serving in this industry. The senior living industry is on the verge of experiencing significant change and explosive growth, and I want us to be at the front of that wave creating lifestyles and experiences that not only are trendy and marketable but actually meet the needs of every person, every day.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Aaron Fish: There are so many ways to look at this but I think if forced to pick three, I would go with curiosity, resilience, and trust.
I don’t think anyone can be successful in their chosen field if they are not curious. I love to learn about not just things happening in my industry, but things that are new and trendy, or that might spark creativity. I’ve always been curious from a young age, which was something that my parents did a good job of nurturing. And I’ve found that my curiosity and being a life-long learner have allowed me to come up with some out-of-the-box solutions to problems that a more rigid mindset might not have allowed.
We’ve already talked about resilience, so I’ll simply add that if you can’t handle take a few tough losses or get around obstacles thrown at you, it’s going to be a long hard road ahead.
Lastly, I think trust is critical from both sides of a relationship. I try really hard to approach new relationships with trust as I believe that it allows the other person to be more open and free to express themselves personally and professionally. Having a mutual trust is a key component to any partnership that you want to build, and business at its core is really about building relationships with people and then figuring out how to maximize that relationship for everyone’s benefit. A rising tide raises all ships, if you will.
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Aaron Fish: Absolutely. Especially in my business where having industry expertise is our primary product. I still struggle sometimes to use my true voice when sharing on social media, because I am acutely aware of how my personal brand interacts with my company. Leading a startup, my personal brand and my values are more prevalent than my company brand and values. I have to make sure that as I continue to build my business brand and share our values that they stay close to mine and that I can go to sleep at night knowing they are seen as one and the same.
How would you define “leadership”?
Aaron Fish: Leadership is being willing to set your team up to be successful, give them the credit for the wins, and take the blame for the losses. A true leader doesn’t really thrive off of always being in the spotlight, but rather building their team into one that always wants to share the spotlight and builds on that success. You have to build a solid foundation of standards and expectations, set your expected goals and outcomes, and then give the team space to make it happen. Otherwise, you won’t build the type of team that people want to be on, and you won’t see the successes come as quickly or as often as they otherwise would.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Aaron Fish: I believe that it’s really a combination of both. You have to have some characteristics – instincts, resilience, openness to name a few. But there are plenty of things that you can learn to make you a successful entrepreneur. The most important is creating the right mindset for yourself, and understanding that you are going to have great days, you’re going to have awful days, and in general most of them are going to be average days. You have to learn to ride out those peaks and valleys to create an even approach. You also are going to have to have a workhorse coffee maker!
What’s your favorite “leadership” quote and how has it affected the way you implement your leadership style?
Aaron Fish: I recently changed my personal email signature to include this quote from Gary Vaynerchuk:“Love your family, work super hard, live your passion.” I think that this sums the right approach for me the best. It starts with getting your priorities in line.
Next, you have to find work that makes you both happy and benefits the community and industry that you are in as a whole. And lastly, you have to bust your ass and put in the work to be successful. I want every associate that has ever or will ever in the future to follow this simple plan. Because if they do it, then I’ve most likely been successful in business and will have made an impact on people’s lives. Which is the whole reason to get in the game, to begin with.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Aaron Fish for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Aaron Fish or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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