Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Grad now helps run Seattle’s largest hotel

Burl Battersby-wsmBurl Battersby had been in Japan a day and a half. He was 18, an exchange student from Arizona. Someone handed him a book and asked him to read it to a classroom of 14-year-olds to improve their English pronunciation.

“I think the book was Greek fables,” he said. “I had trouble saying some of the names.”

When he finished, he heard the desks shaking. Three thoughts went through his mind: 1) Wow, this must be the Japanese version of applause. 2) This is great, I really like teaching English. 3) It’s an earthquake!

The ground stopped moving, but Burl’s desire to become a teacher had taken root. In so much of life, however, inspiration is seismic but accomplishment is incremental.

To pay for college, Battersby got a room-service job at a Scottsdale resort. He got promoted—got promoted again and again—working at top Arizona hotels, the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, the Sheraton Seattle.

By 2006, Battersby’s teaching goal had been derailed by success. He was director of Six Sigma at the Sheraton Seattle. He had a dream job—helping re-envision the future of 1,100 hotels worldwide—in a dream location: A marble-floored high-rise next to the convention center in a city vibrant with technology and aerospace.

In 2007, the Sheraton added a new tower and became Seattle’s largest hotel, with 1,236 rooms, 44 meeting spaces and two posh ballrooms. “This a city in itself,” Battersby said, “with upward of 4,000 people here on a given night, plus 500 or so associates, who represent almost every culture you can imagine.”

The new tower required new employees, many of whom spoke little English. Battersby saw a chance. He got an ESL certificate, and taught hundreds of classes in the basement cafeteria.

Re-inspired, Battersby enrolled at Washington State University Distance Degree Programs, now called WSU Global Campus. By 2012, he had earned his bachelor’s in humanities—“it gave me a global perspective, and helps me work better with the different cultures here”—and went on to earn his 2013 Executive MBA online from WSU.

Last year, Battersby became director of rooms at the Sheraton, where he oversees nearly every aspect of the guest experience. Also last year, he finally became a faculty member. He teaches hospitality business management classes for Skagit Valley College’s online program.
Did the reality match the dream? “It’s exactly what I wanted it to be,” Battersby said.

Battersby plans to start his doctorate —perhaps moving to Pullman—in the next few years, then become a full-time professor.

For now, he’s delighted to be both a teacher and a hotel executive. Each, after all, involves sharing knowledge. And, in each role, he offers people the same advice he’s followed for 25 years, advice that applies whether you envision yourself running an opulent hotel or a college classroom: “Don’t lose sight of your end goal,” he said. “I never gave up. Don’t give up.”

--Richard Miller


  1. This is great and touching at the same time. I would love to meet him one day. I am a grad student starting my MA here @WSU

  2. Burl is a great Coug!