Welcome to Checking In, our feature that spotlights fascinating associates across the company and globe. Today, Heart of the House checks in with Teaker Harris, Loss Prevention Supervisor at the JW Marriott Marco Island, who recently went above and beyond to return belongings to a guest. In this feature we are meeting with both Teaker and the training director for the hotel, Monica.
HOTH: Teaker, thank you for meeting with Heart of the House. We were very impressed by a recent story we heard and wanted to meet the man behind it. First, can you tell us about where you are from?
TH: Liberia, West Africa.
HOTH: What did you do in Liberia?
TH: It was a Non-Governmental Relief Organization called Lutheran World Service. Liberia experienced a civil war in 1989 that lasted almost ten years. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) sent relief services workers. I worked with their relief department to help refugees and internally displaced people.
HOTH: Why did you move, and how long have you lived in America?
TH: I migrated to the United States in April of 2000. I lived in Nashville, Tennessee and then moved to Florida. Since I moved to United States, my first employer was the Renaissance Marriott. That was my very first job, and that’s where I learned my training and valuable guest services. The United States government issues a certain amount of Green Cards every year. It’s a lottery. I was encouraged by my administrative executive of the international humanitarian organization I used to work for in Liberia, and I was encouraged to apply. I really did not have any intention at the time of leaving because I found my job very helpful, but I was encouraged. It would be good to come to the United States, live learn, and develop myself. Then, I would be more of a value, and I could do better services. I took the challenge and I played the lottery, and I was selected that year. I had just gotten married, so I discussed it with my newly-wedded wife, and decided it was a good idea to come to the United States to learn, and live, and develop ourselves better and become better citizens of United States and world at large.
HOTH: Did you work in Loss Prevention in Nashville too?
TH: I started as a Banquet Setup Supervisor. I did that for a year, and I was noticed by Loss Prevention who called and asked if I wanted to transfer to Loss Prevention.
HOTH: How long ago did you move to Marco Island, and did you start working at the JW Marriott immediately?
TH: I moved because I have a son that is named after me – he is Junior and I am Senior – who suffers from Sickle Cell and the cold weather is not good for Sickle Cell patients. Nashville gets very cold, so during the winter he would get very sick. I was looking for a suitable weather condition.
We have relatives in Tampa, so we took a vacation to Tampa. Since then, I just developed a love for Florida. I love the weather in Florida. I love the landscape. Everything seems very similar to that of Liberia, and I thought that Florida would be a suitable place for us to relocate. I did some research. I studied the history of Naples and looked at schools.
We decided to move in 2007. I applied for a supervisor position and we did a full interview, but they offered me another position, which at the time I could not take. I decided to work at Sears, who had a Loss Prevention Supervisor position, as plan B. Two years later, my director in Nashville called me when he saw an opening here at Marco Island. He told me, “I want you to come back and work for Marriott,” and he encouraged and referred me. I came back here in 2009.
HOTH: We love that you came back. Can you explain this story of going above and beyond in your own words?
TH: I saw this as an opportunity for me actually to deliver a service. And I was shocked when the story began to spread. A call came in from a guest who had just checked out regarding some personal items left in her room safe. The officer [who took the call] said, “Let me transfer you to my supervisor who will probably be able to make arrangements to get this to you.” The call was transferred to me, and I could sense the importance of why she needed her items and why she wanted to make sure that she would get them.
I contacted the island’s transportation services, and called her back to explain the options available. The price would be too much, so she asked if they could meet half way to cut down the cost. I began to sense what her situation was, so I discussed that option with a cab driver and he was concerned because he had tried it before. Sometimes it gets confusing, when agreeing to meet at a point on the interstate.
I thought to myself, having just completed a JW training course and knowing my leadership team here that always encourages us to feel empowered to create lasting impressions, I thought this was an opportunity. My concern was that I would get there at 2am and I would wake her up, and she had a flight at 5am in the morning.
“I can deliver the items, I don’t mind.” She seemed happy and said, “OK for how much?” I told her, “It’s for nothing. You don’t have to pay me. This is my service. Doing the delivery is not my concern, my concern is how do I hand this to you? I don’t mind, I can come and wait.” If she is going to take a 5am flight, I expect that maybe at 3am or 4am she will start getting ready.
[I told her,] “I can come and wait in the parking downstairs so when your alarm goes off and you wake up to get ready for your flight, give me a call and I can deliver the items to you.” And she said, “You don’t have to do that. If you can deliver the items, call me when you get here. Any time, 2am in the morning, wake me up.” So I said, “OK, rest and relax. The items will be delivered. I will get it to you.”
I went across the street, I got some gum and snacks to keep me up, then I took off. I knew I had to make it back because I have three kids, and normally I take my three kids to different schools. They are five years apart, so I have one in high school, one in middle school, one in elementary school. They all go to different schools in three different directions. I have to take one at 7:00am and come home. Take another that goes at 8:00am and come home. Then, take another that goes at 9:00am. So I have to start at 6:30am.
I felt so pleased and humbled. I hoped and prayed that I have the energy that I make it. When I got there, she told me she reserved a room for me to stay in because she didn’t want me to travel back home at this time, but she did not know I had other obligations. She couldn’t believe it. But thank God I made it home just in time to take my kids to school. For some reason, like I said, this was just a service to deliver. I did not want to make a big deal. A guest really needs something, I would do it for anyone. Not just a guest—anyone. I thought, “It can’t get better than that.”
HOTH: You didn’t want to make a big deal of this, so you didn’t tell anyone. Monica, how did you hear about this story?
MA: The lady sent an amazing letter. It was a beautiful letter, and she was just so humble about how helpful and empathetic, and such a caring human he is. Teaker thinks, “Oh anyone would do that.” No, not everyone would do that! He doesn’t think it’s a big deal.
TH: She had a need! I almost cried when I read her letter. I didn’t want anything back from her. I want her to come to a place like this, and when she is in need, her need will be met. I want all guests to feel like that. I did not know the guest had sent this card to the GM, so it surprised me.
MA: And I should say that nobody in the hotel is surprised by that. All the associates and coworkers say, “Teaker is like that.” I use Teaker’s example of being thoughtful—and he is really, really thoughtful—and was able to put himself in someone else’s shoes. I mean Teaker really felt how this lady was in a pickle. Just the type of human he his. He does it for his coworkers too. That’s just who he is. It’s nothing that we taught him. No one trained him, that’s just the way he is.
HOTH: Have you ever done anything like this before for another guest?
TH: Yes and no. I have done something like this. But to be frank, don’t tell anyone! They don’t have to know. I know what it means for a guest who comes and forgets something and needs it. I take it very seriously when guests leave their personal belongings. But I learned something; I experienced something. I got to learn Miami. So it was nice!
HOTH: You mentioned you had just taken a training course. Are there other parts of Marriott culture that influenced you to do this, or something you would do regardless?
TH: I have realized that I have it in me. I was shocked when I saw the reaction here. And the training helped, but yes, this is something I would have done anyway, with or without the training. I did not know the guest had sent this card to the GM, so it surprised me.
MA: But it’s not the first letter. You get letters all the time.
MA: But this was three pages. She made me cry.
TH: I was impressed by how she appreciated what I did.
HOTH: Do you have a mantra or favorite quote you like to live by?
TH: Yes. Lead by example. I have in me a leadership skill since my youth. In high school, I played soccer back in Africa. I was captain for my soccer team. My senior year, I was a student leader for my high school. In my church, I was a youth leader. After that, as I began my adult life, I have been in many leadership roles. Before I came to the United States when I worked for the relief agency, I was a senior radio operator, training other people. My code has always been to lead by example. If I ask them to go above and beyond, which has no limit, then other people can see and they will believe they can do it.
HOTH: We have heard a lot about you as a genuine and caring person, but what are interesting facts others might not know about you?
TH: I am all over the place. I am jack of all trades, master of none! The only thing I would say that I stand out between even my siblings and myself is that I’m a peace maker.
HOTH: Any final thoughts?
TH: I really love this company. I’ve had a lot of opportunities, but I think this is it for me.
HOTH: Thank you for taking time to speak with us. You are an inspiration to all!