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Branding life’s moments: Melissa “Lisa” Holladay ’89

Clemson Alumna Lisa Holladay

As global brand leader and vice president for The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Lisa Holladay says her job isn’t to sell you a room, but to provide guests an experience. “The ‘Why?’ we exist as a company isn’t to sell hotel rooms or to sell beds, but it’s to create memories,” she said.

Landing at the Ritz-Carlton from Clemson wasn’t a straight line for Holladay. As an education major, Holladay had plans of entering the classroom. Even though she loved teaching high school seniors, student teaching revealed she didn’t want to move into the classroom. Next was graduate school at Georgetown University to pursue an English degree, but a study abroad program in England revealed to Holladay that she loved travel. Her path eventually led to a public relations firm in Washington, D.C., then to a non-profit. A half dozen jobs later she was in San Francisco and found her niche with Mercedes-Benz.

“I grew up there,” she said about staying with the company for over a decade. “I loved it. I knew I wanted to be passionate about something, but I didn’t know what it was. That’s when I went to work for Mercedes-Benz and did everything from PR to marketing to advertising.”

Her last move with Mercedes took her to New Jersey and New York where she was national manager for experiential marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA, and where she finally found her “Why?” — her love of brand management.

“My job is to make people fall so in love with our brands that they are loyal beyond reason,” she said.

When the opportunity came open from Marriott to interview for the Ritz-Carlton, Holladay said she studied like there was no tomorrow.

“It’s travel, food, wine, spa, luxury … I really, really wanted that job and thought, ‘They’re never going to hire me because I have no hospitality background,’” she said.

Being an outsider was her “in.” “They wanted to extend the brand as more than just a hotel company,” she said.

Now as a global brand leader for luxury brands, Holladay wants to have guests explore the city and the hotels, while providing relevant, contemporary luxury that aligns with core brand values.

“There’s a reason my two longest career stints have been with brands that have heritage,” she said. “I should have known when I was at Clemson that I was a brand person because even then I was enamored with the Tiger paw on everything, the football team running down the hill and the story of Clemson.”

— Julia Sellers