AHL INSIDER

Julien Laracine

Managing Director at Santa Monica Proper Hotel

Julien Laracine

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We had the pleasure of catching up with Julien Laracine, managing director at Santa Monica Proper Hotel, about his career, his love for hospitality, the changes he’s seen in the industry, and what motivates him the most these days.

What do you do and how did you get here?
I am the managing director at Santa Monica Proper Hotel, a lifestyle luxury hotel located on the Westside of Los Angeles. I am running this beautiful hotel with my wife Cara Stoffel, who is our general manager. This is the second property that we are running together, after having spent two years leading an incredible property in Indonesia called Nihi Sumba, and being awarded two years in a row #1 hotel in the world. One of the co-founders of Proper Hospitality, Brad Korzen, and his wife Kelly Wearstler — who is also our amazing designer at Santa Monica Proper and who designed all our four Proper Hotels — were long-time guests of ours at Nihi Sumba. They gave us the chance to come and run the flagship property of Proper Hospitality in sunny California, and here we are. We arrived in early January 2020 and it has been a lot of fun!

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Why do you love your job? 

Hospitality is in my blood. It is a people’s business — people taking care of people — and I get to interact daily with our 300 colleagues and the hundreds of guests coming through our doors. That’s what I like. Every day at work is different, which makes it pretty exciting, but the team and I show up in the morning with the same vision and intention: we all want to have a positive impact on the lives of the people we will be interacting with. Whether it is our coworkers, guests at the hotel, our friends, family, or the old lady who needs help to carry her bags across the street. We are here to help and to make them happy 🙂


What does a good day at work look like?

My day at work starts early. I walk the floor, inspect our beautiful public areas, and restaurants, and make sure that our team is set up for success. Along the way, I make sure that every single corner of the hotel looks spotless, and that the ambiance and design is right. I get to check on our colleagues and our guests. I then gather all our managers for a 15-minute lineup at 9 am and we review challenges and success from the day before and what the day and life of each department are going to look like. The rest of my day is filled up with meetings with the operations team, in rooms, food & beverage, tasting new dishes, and working closely with our Human Resources, Sales, marketing, and finance teams. In between meetings, I jump back on the floor, roll up my sleeves and interact with our guests, in the lobby, on the floors, by our rooftop, and in our restaurants.

Santa Monica Proper. Photo credit The Ingalls
Santa Monica Proper. Photo credit The Ingalls
Santa Monica Proper. Photo credit The Ingalls
Santa Monica Proper. Photo credit The Ingalls

Where did you get your sense of hospitality?

I think I inherited my sense of hospitality from my parents and grandparents. I grew up in the french countryside and my family always hosted parties at home. I always loved having guests at home, cooking for them, opening special bottles of wine, and sharing great moments. My studies and career then brought me to Asia in early 2000. I lived in Bangkok, in the south of Thailand, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Indonesia. In southeast Asia, I worked so closely with a culture that has hospitality so deeply ingrained in their blood. This developed my passion for hospitality and sharpened my eye for detail and a warm and genuine sense of service that I then was able to bring here to Santa Monica.

Julien at the Proper... Travel on!
Julien at the Proper... Travel on!
Julien, Cara, and the team at the Santa Monica Proper hotel
Julien, Cara, and the team at the Santa Monica Proper hotel

What main differences do you see in hospitality today compared to when you started?

Hospitality used to be an art-de-vivre, where you would hire cooks, housekeepers, hosts, and servers, hoping to create great experiences and make money from it. This industry has now become a science. Room rates are being set up by directors of revenue and are changing several times a day based on offer and demand, micro and macroeconomics data that are reviewed and assessed carefully. Prices of dishes and drinks are also changing almost weekly based on supply and demand. The last thing I heard was a competitor hotel that is using dynamic pricing in their restaurants, charging different prices on weekends vs weekdays. Same menu, same venue but you would pay a premium to dine there on a Saturday vs a Tuesday… I am asking myself if this is the right thing to do or if this science is just going too far.

If you could choose a hotel to stay in, that isn’t the one you work for, anywhere in the world, which one would it be?

I would go back in a heartbeat to Nihi Sumba. Not to live there again but on holidays. This is the place where Cara and I first went on holiday three months after we met. We were so blown away by that place that Cara, who was working in private equity back then, told me after our stay: “I want to run this business with you.” We went back there four years in a row, on holidays, before we took the job and moved there for a couple of years. The genuine sense of hospitality from the local team, the wide range of activities (the spa safari, the most amazing surf break in front of the hotel, the wild horses, baby turtles to release, the partnership with the Sumba Foundation that is building schools on the island and teaching English to the local kids, eradicating malaria, bringing drinkable water to local villages…) and the clientele that you meet there is second to none.

Santa Monica Proper Hotel designed by Kelly Wearstler
Santa Monica Proper Hotel designed by Kelly Wearstler

In which ways is technology helping you do your magic?

Technology helps us to be sharper hotel operators. Commonly used softwares help us optimize our sales and maximize our event spaces. Our Proper app also helps our guests to do a self-check-in, and order a delicious meal from in-room Dining. But I still believe the real magic is the one that is created by a human being for a human being, the suite that our guest relations manager decorates for a couple staying with us on honeymoon, the birthday cake that our pastry chef handcrafts for someone knowing what his / her special preference is… and my team goes above and beyond every day to delight and surprise our guests.

 

The wackiest thing that ever happened to you at work (name changing allowed)?

One of our team members sacrificed a pig and read its intestines to determine if we were able to use our event space for weddings again… don’t ask!

What advice would you give to someone starting this career today?

There are plenty of industries and jobs that give you an easier ride. So if you do it, do it for the love of people and remind yourself of why you’re in it every day.

What excites you the most these days?

Coming home after a busy day at work to see my two beautiful daughters.

Julien Laracine A Hotel Life 2
Julien Laracine A Hotel Life
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