Since its opening in 2008, Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis has earned the distinction as Missouri’s only AAA Five-Diamond hotel, along with plenty of other accolades, ranging from recent spots on Travel + Leisure’s 500 World’s Best Hotels list to USA Today’s 20 Best Hotel Breakfasts in America. If you ask hotel GM Alper Oztok who is to thank for all this success, he’ll tell you it’s the great team of employees—and he’s probably right. But we think it also has something to do with the man at the top himself.
Originally from Istanbul, Turkey, Oztok got into the hospitality business almost by accident, when he took a summer job working for an uncle who was a hotel manager. “It helped me learn in many ways from the ground up, especially in how employees feel about management,” he says. “It was great training.”
Before eventually making his way to St. Louis in 2010, Oztok took positions in locales, including Chicago; Philadelphia; Punta Mita, Mexico; and Atlanta, where he met his wife, Nikol. Their first encounter—like his entry into the business—was a fluke of fate. To Oztok, it was ‘destiny.’ At the time, she worked at a neighboring hotel to Swissôtel Atlanta, where Oztok was GM. She called to see if they had any rooms, since their hotel was booked up, and Oztok answered the phone only because the front-desk staffer was already helping a customer. Also from Turkey, Nikol noticed Oztok’s accent, and asked if he was new in town. He had only been there one month, and she offered to show him around. “The rest is history,” he says. They now live in Clayton with their 6-year-old daughter, Sofie.
Moving to new and different cities is one of the perks of the job, in Oztok’s view, although he has no plans to leave St. Louis in the near future. Apart from being a great place for his daughter’s education, “traffic in St. Louis almost doesn’t exist. I can get from my home in Clayton to downtown in 15 minutes,” he declares. “I’m also passionate about the development of downtown. With the work at Ballpark Village and the Arch grounds, and so many businesses coming in downtown, it’s very exciting. St. Louis has lots of potential. It hasn’t reached its top yet.” A board member at RCGA, the Saint Louis Zoo and Army USA, Oztok is doing his part to make that potential a reality. Most recently, he took part in an employee holiday drive by donning a Santa costume to deliver gifts to kids in treatment at Children’s Hospital. “Seeing the smile on their faces was huge for me,” he says.
Smiles are part of what drive Oztok in his business life, as well. “We’re in the entertainment industry, so our job is to provide happiness,” he says with the air of someone who can’t believe his luck. “If you’re really passionate about hospitality, it’s wonderful. Every day is different: This is not an 8 to 5 job. In this business, you don’t know what you’ll get yourself into when you come to work. It’s a mystery. But what you can control is your attitude.” He admits it’s not the life for everyone; but for him, it’s a dream. “Do something you love and your true colors come out. Otherwise, you’re in prison.”
For Oztok, passing on that love of the work is a key part of his job. “Our role in management is to motivate people, to get them excited about what they do every day so they come to work bringing that passion.” He emanates pride in his staff, and the fact that 90 percent of the hotel’s employees come from the St. Louis region. “St. Louis has a hospitable culture. It’s in the DNA,” he says.
He credits the company for putting its employees first. “We practice the Golden Rule—it’s easy to say, but very difficult to practice. The goal is to be authentic, genuine and treat each other with respect. We have almost 400 employees and everyone has their role. Everybody contributes.” With that outlook, are the accolades really a surprise?