Naomi Umhey’s Rise to the Top

Naomi Umhey
Naomi Umhey, bottom left, and the staff at Emerson Resort & Spa.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we are profiling inspiring leaders in the industry, and here we focus on Naomi Umhey, CEO of the Emerson Resort & Spa, a popular meeting spot in the heart of New York’s Catskill Mountains.

As CEO, Naomi Umhey develops all aspects of the property’s strategic planning while overseeing its management, finance, and program initiatives. A long-time Emerson team member, she has mastered every facet of the property and surrounding Mt. Tremper area. She began her career at the Emerson in 1996 as a part-time sales associate in the onsite Country Store, currently branded as The Shops At Emerson. Over the next seven years, Umhey quickly moved up the ranks, holding positions such as Merchandise Buyer, Store Manager, and General Manager. In 2003, she was appointed Operations Manager to oversee Emerson’s entire maintenance and operations branches while continuing to act as the liaison between its Managing Partner and retail division. She was promoted again in January 2009 to Chief Operating Officer before accepting her current position in 2009. Umhey’s strong leadership skills and remarkable acumen for motivating, mentoring, and nurturing staff development have proven to be a primary factor in the hotel’s success.

Naomi Umhey

Andrea Doyle (AD):  You are an exception to this, but do you feel the glass ceiling, the invisible barrier that blocks women from top jobs in this industry, still exists?

Naomi Umhey (NU): There are more women in executive management positions within the hospitality industry now more than ever. However, there is still a long way to go to achieve parity in salaries, since men continue to earn substantially more than women.

(AD) Is there anyone who mentored you early in your career, or helped you become the type of leader you are today?

(NU): Our former CEO/CFO, Mark Johnson, was one of my earliest mentors. He stressed the importance of holding our roles in hospitality, and ourselves, to a higher standard. He also taught me the value of the golden rule. Treat everyone with respect and understanding, and in addition to receiving the same in return, you’ll also bring out the best in people.

(AD): What is your proudest accomplishment?

(NU): Twenty-five years with the Emerson Resort & Spa.  I was first hired as a temp and rose through the ranks to become the CEO.

(AD): What are the challenges that keep you up at night? 

(NU): A changing industry. Certainly, the short-term rental industry has resulted in fiercer competition for travel dollars. The challenge is to continue to grow and provide value for the guest while maintaining profitability.

(AD): What attributes and/or qualities have you developed that have helped you become successful?

(NU): At heart, I’m an introvert. I’ve developed ice breakers throughout my career to help me break out of my shell and improve the way I communicate with others.

(AD): How do you define success? 

(NU): Reflecting on the day’s successes and getting a good night’s sleep regardless of the daily challenges. Worry and stress do nothing for you.

(AD): What is the one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

(NU):  My first job was as a dental assistant.

(AD): How did you get started in the hospitality/meetings industry?

(NU): Completely by accident. I was hired as a temp in the Emerson’s retail stores.  I’ve always loved magazines and I was soon asked if I would stay on as a full-time employee and order magazines for the stores. It was my love for magazines, and mail-order catalogs that led me to take an interest in product buying, and I later became the retail buyer. Throughout my 25-year career with the Emerson, I’ve been the maintenance manager, general manager, and have been the CEO for the past seven years.

(AD): Is this what you envisioned yourself doing?

(NU): No!

(AD): What does the future hold?

(NU): I take the Emerson’s future very seriously. We are the largest private employer in our town.  That’s a hefty responsibility, and our future means we can be nothing less than the absolute best.

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