Shelby Pywell Yarbrough, at 28, is probably the youngest general manager of a major hotel in Colorado Springs. She landed the job because nobody knows The Mining Exchange, a new Wyndham Grand Hotel downtown, quite like she does. She started working as a manager in what is now Springs Orleans seven years ago. Her career has grown up with the hotel. From catering manager to sales and marketing, she has been living and breathing Mining Exchange for years.
When owner Perry Sanders asked her to take the job, he told her it was inevitable she would eventually end up with the job, so she might as well take it now.
Pywell Yarbrough is Canadian and moved to Colorado with her family when she was in high school. She played volleyball at Otero Junior College in Southeast Colorado before transferring to the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, where she fell in love with the city. Since graduating, she’s only been away from the hotel for six months. She left to change her immigration status after marrying in 2011.
But she kept her eye on developments at the property and came back ready to work.
She’s young, energetic and eager to learn. She doesn’t know it all, but she wants to.
How did you find your way to Colorado Springs from Canada?
My family came over from Canada because the economy wasn’t great out there at the time and we wanted a fresh start. My father moved to Denver my junior year of high school and begged me to come out here with my mom in order to go to high school and possibly earn an athletic scholarship. In Canada, they do not offer athletic scholarships so this would be a great opportunity. I moved to Denver my senior year of high school, which was extremely difficult since I had grown up with most of my friends from elementary school. I played a semester of volleyball at Green Mountain High School in Lakewood and earned a few different offers to colleges. I decided upon Otero Junior College in southeastern Colorado because I had just moved countries. I wasn’t ready to move to another state. When I was there I met some wonderful people, many who lived in Colorado Springs. After I received my associates, I applied to a few different schools and decided upon the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. UCCS has a great business school rated high in the nation and I fell in love with Colorado Springs.
Why did you decide to stay?
Colorado Springs has a wonderful small-town feel without being too small! I interned at the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. and realized my passion for events and catering so decided to start my career in Colorado Springs. My husband, friends and associates I have met here are the main reason I stayed. I feel so lucky to have such a diverse set of friends and they have always made me feel welcome. My husband, who is also not from Colorado Springs, and I love the relaxed atmosphere and the ability to grow. I have brought on one of my best friends and a Colorado Springs native, Patrice Ravenscroft, as a member of the sales team. I am always surrounded by positive, wonderful people who I have found in this city.
Tell us about your career with Springs Orleans and the Mining Exchange
I started with Raphael Sassower as my mentor at Il Postino. Raphi taught me an overwhelming number of things about the restaurant business and introduced me to his longtime manager at The Warehouse, Jenny Schnakenberg. Jenny and I ran Il Postino with Raphi’s direction until the restaurant turned into Springs Orleans. When it turned into Springs Orleans, Jenny and I were co-general managers. Jenny, also with a tremendous amount of knowledge, taught me so much about customer service and the fast-paced life of a restaurant general manager.
I recently had to take about six months off to change my immigration status after getting married, but was never far away and missed being there very much. Upon my return, I moved over to the hotel in November 2011. I was the Catering Manager and was able to build the catering department. I had the pleasure of creating menus with our amazing chefs, ordering all the supplies, budgets, book events etc. It was a very exciting time and I saw the hotel go from an empty shell to Perry Sanders’ beautiful creation.
Upon opening of the hotel, I was asked to take on the director of sales and marketing position. I was lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful sales team and ownership that pushed me and had an extraordinary amount of confidence in me. Since I had been on the service side, the sales side came easier because I knew exactly what we could deliver well and was able to truly build relationships with people. About two weeks ago, Perry approached me and asked me to become the general manager of the hotel. I was extremely grateful and very thankful for his confidence in me.
How did you become the youngest GM of a major enterprise like this in town?
I feel very confident in my new role despite those people that may question being a young executive. To me, this has become a normal piece to a growing trend throughout the world. Many people, including young individuals, are driven, excited, and eager to learn, regardless of their age. I think those are the traits I embody and have used to become an asset to all my positions and The Mining Exchange. From Day One, I never stopped learning about our property or from the people around me. I have also had the opportunity to work and learn from business leaders with more than 30 years of experience throughout the years and have always soaked up their advice, best practices and leadership techniques. They have truly groomed me along the way. I found my true passion in life through events, sales, catering and hospitality and daily, I feel empowered to better myself. I feel that all these instances, hard work and the ambitious people I have surrounded myself with has directed me to this position and I welcome the challenges and successes to come.
What is your vision for the Mining Exchange and where do you want to lead the hotel?
When I think about the longevity of The Mining Exchange, my vision encapsulates many goals. One being exceptional and personalized service we extend to our guest that defines us as a place people feel welcomed and taken care of while they are away from their homes. We are striving to carve our own niche in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs that sets our services apart from any other establishment. Internally, like all businesses, we have strides to make as a new property. With that said, we truly have found our key players that are making our daily operations run effectively and smoothly. Having been at this property for more than seven years and watched this project from the very beginning is a strength I bring and gives me an advantage in implementing and improving our management techniques as well as the quality of our products and services. I feel honored to be leading this special place and will work diligently to meet and exceed expectations.
Do you feel young professionals have any advantages or face any obstacles in Colorado Springs that they don’t in other places?
I don’t think Colorado Springs is any different from any other town. We live in a beautiful, growing town that has a great reputation. I believe in hard work and that good things will come to you if you work hard. There were jobs that I didn’t love before this and knew I had to wait out my time before I could get to the position I am in. I never once felt entitled to a job. I believe I had to work even harder because I was Canadian and couldn’t just get any job I wanted due to visa restrictions. It made me push through some tough times, which made me stronger and appreciate the place I am at now. Young professionals are a growing number. We have a lot more people out there that are hungry to learn and make our town even stronger!