2000 hospitality graduate joins an elite field
Throughout his 25-plus years in the hospitality industry, 2000 Lakeland graduate Geoff Gaumer has worked at some impressive resorts and hotels.
Now he can add some equally impressive industry recognition to his resume.
Gaumer, the area general manager at the Sheraton Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Hotel, was recently named to Hotel Management magazine’s annual “GMs to Watch” list, which showcases “strong, passionate leaders in the hospitality industry.”
He is one of just 48 people chosen this year from a group of more than 900 nominations. Winners are chosen by Hotel Management’s senior editorial staff for their dedication and outstanding achievements.
“It tells you we’re making a difference,” said Gaumer, who noted that he works with a strong team. “We’re living what hospitality is all about if we’re making a difference in the lives of our guests and associates at the end of the day. It’s that simple.”
Gaumer oversees a total team of more than 300 people at the DFW location and the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Dallas - DFW Airport North, a role he’s had for nearly a year.
“It’s all about creating experiences that are memorable and having the opportunity to do it every day, and that’s something not everybody gets to do,” Gaumer said. “It shows me what we’ve done as a team. It’s all about we, not me. That’s a cool thing.”
It’s the latest chapter in a career that’s taken him to leadership roles around the country, but always led back to Dallas. Since graduation, he has worked in Cincinnati, Ohio; Raleigh, N.C.; Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.; and Bradenton, Fla.; along with four stops in Dallas, including his current role. He has significant leadership experience, often at AAA 4- and 5-Diamond properties.
Gaumer’s hospitality career started after graduating from Oostburg High School when he worked banquets at The American Club in Kohler. His father, Rick, a 1974 Lakeland graduate, was working as a full-time Lakeland accounting professor, and his mother, Paula, was a two-time Lakeland graduate (1973 and master of counseling in 2006).
“I really enjoyed it,” Geoff said of his American Club experience. “It was a lot of fun, although I didn’t realize I could get a degree in it and create a career. I thought I would be an engineering major, but I quickly realized calculus didn’t make any sense and I pivoted.
“As I got more acquainted with the way things ran at The American Club, I saw how prestigious it was. Once I understood what I was a part of, that was motivating to me. And then to see the opportunity to major at Lakeland was the mind shift I needed to catapult my career in the right direction. It’s worked out pretty well.”
A career highlight came at the start of 2018 when Gaumer helped developed, launch and ultimately manage the independently owned Legacy Hotel at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The property reached more than $18 million in revenue while hosting high profile parents and athletes from around the world during his nearly four years as general manager.
Gaumer was at Legacy when the COVID pandemic shut the world down in the spring of 2020. The WNBA was looking for a place to develop a “bubble” to hold its 2020 season, and Gaumer led negotiations that led to his team developing and implementing hospitality operations for the 2020 WNBA season inside a COVID-free environment, the largest, most high-profile event in IMG Academy history.
Gaumer met virtually with, among others, WNBA Commission Cathy Engelbert, then-coaches association president and Las Vegas Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer (a longtime Detroit Pistons star) and then-WNBA star player Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm.
Topics ranged from developing COVID protocols, food delivery including quarantine meals, living accommodations for all WNBA players, coaches and personnel, adequate personal protective equipment and delivering meals that featured agreed-upon menus to everyone three times a day.
“We finished the contract in two weeks and had three weeks to prepare for the teams to arrive,” Gaumer said. “We had just furloughed the majority of our team the week prior, and we brought everyone back and then some. It was really a blessing for everyone because they stayed employed through COVID and were do something no one else had ever done.
“I remember telling our staff ‘We are going to do the impossible. This is going to be our legacy for that hotel.’ The league was blown away by everything we did.”
And for this former Oostburg High School and Lakeland basketball player, getting a chance to do business directly with the league’s biggest names was a special treat. “It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” Gaumer said.
For now, Gaumer and his wife, Joleen, are happy to call Dallas home. A career goal has been to one day lead a hospitality property associated with a golf course.
“That would be full circle moment, to manage a property like an American Club that is associated with championship golf and a 5-star resort,” Gaumer said. “I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had and the colleagues I’ve gotten to meet along the way.
“You learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You’re going to be in situations that are not easy. Pressure can burst pipes or makes diamonds. It’s all about how you deal with adversity.”