Melissa Milione (HRIM ’88) says she was not the typical college senior when she stubbornly set her sights on working for just one company. But as it turned out, her instincts were right. Milione has spent most of her successful 31-year career at Hyatt Hotels, where she started as a corporate management trainee after graduating from Virginia Tech.

“I think everyone around me was pretty baffled that my only interview was at Hyatt,” said Milione. “But I was adamant back then and, to this day, I thank my lucky stars that the company I chose also wanted me.”

Milione refers to her vast industry experience as a “lattice” approach, because it includes all aspects of food and beverage management, catering, sales, event planning, and customer service.

As a director of catering, her teams were twice named Catering/Convention Services team of the Year for Hyatt Hotels and she was named Director of Catering/Convention Services of the Year for large hotels in 2008.

In June 2014, Milione was promoted to corporate director of events. In this position, she supports the professionals who sell and coordinate the catering and conference services for all of Hyatt’s full-service hotels in the Americas. In addition, she is responsible for developing and executing all training for the division, delivering innovative technology to support events, and developing talent for the hotels.

Milione earned the Certified Professionals in Catering and Events designation from the National Association for Catering and Events, a nationally recognized program and mark of excellence. She also earned the Certified Meetings Professional designation from Meeting Professionals International.

Starting from the Beginning

Milione’s path to the hospitality industry was a bit circuitous. A first-generation college student from Christiansburg, Virginia, she entered Virginia Tech as an electrical engineering major. Three years later, she began to question her initial career choice.

“I was working at the Farmhouse Restaurant in Christiansburg where a faculty member from the Virginia Tech hotel restaurant and institutional management program was doing some consulting,” she said. “One day, I was talking to him about career options, and he told me I would be a natural for hospitality. I had no clue I could major in restaurant management. The next day, I switched majors and never looked back.”

One of the notoriously difficult classes in the curriculum at that time, said Milione, was Cost Controls. But she loved the class and was one of few students to really excel in it.

“Learning how to manage profitability has served me well throughout my entire career. Many of the managers I knew early in my career had a good handle on the service components of the industry but not the financial controls. “I felt I had an edge in this area,” she said.

“Virginia Tech will always be home for me. I love being back on campus,” said Milione.

She is often invited to speak to students in hospitality and tourism management classes, where she offers tips on interviewing and how to succeed in the workplace based on her long-time experience.

“Being in the hospitality industry, I look for a great personality and attitude, first and foremost. I’m always looking for candidates who make me smile within the first few seconds of meeting them. Recruits should be able to answer questions thoughtfully and thoroughly. They should also be prepared with good questions for me,” said Milione.

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Advising Current Students

Once hired, new managers should be prepared to learn and ask questions. “There is the temptation to act like you know everything, but this way of thinking can be a barrier to success. You are missing out on a great opportunity to learn,” she said.

One other bit of advice: “Focus on what you can do rather than on what you cannot change. This mindset will help you be more nimble when dealing with unexpected things that come your way.”

Milione said she was excited when she was asked to join the Hospitality and Tourism Management advisory board four years ago. She has served as chair for the past two years and in that position, also serves on the newly created Pamplin Community for Leadership and Engagement.

Last October, Milione attended the inaugural Pamplin Engagement Summit.

“I found the experience very valuable,” she said. “It was great to engage with board members from other departments within Pamplin, and we were able to identify some best practices on how to improve our board engagement and effectiveness. I was thrilled to learn about Hokie Mentorship Connect and look forward to participating in this program.”

Having worked at Hyatt in a number of U.S. cities, Milione is currently based in Jacksonville, Florida, where she volunteers at local schools and with an organization focused on voter registration.

– Barbara Micale