• Meet Jill Torke, Reinventing the Ritz

    An empowering approach to leadership makes Jill Torke, director of sales and marketing for The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, a superwoman in the city’s hotel scene.

     
    FROM THE Winter 2019 ISSUE
     

When I first learned Jill Torke was from Wisconsin, I had to ask her all my questions about supper clubs. Much to my delight, she was well-versed on the Midwest phenom and happily obliged. It’s her down-to-earth personality and affable approach that make her as lovely as a leader as she is as a friend. Having carried The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago through its management transition period in 2015 (when it officially came under the Marriott umbrella) and a renovation in 2017, she and her team are a major reason the luxury hotel consistently ranks among the city’s best.

ILM+E: How does your Midwest upbringing inform your management style?
JL:
My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic. It applies not only to your business life, but your personal life. Everything that’s worth having takes hard work and dedication. What stems from the foundation of a great work ethic is trust. I try to create a team here that’s built around trust and respect. I think we’ve been successful because when leadership has trust in you, you bring that down to your team. People want to work where they feel good about themselves. 

ILM+E: What challenges have you faced in the repositioning of The Ritz-Carlton?
JL:
For years there was a lot of confusion, as it was managed by Four Seasons—a direct competitor. Then management shifted to Ritz-Carlton. We closed to remodel, and when we put a new product out [in July 2017], we said, “we have these wonderful bones and reputation, and now we’re going to give you something better.” So far it’s been embraced.

ILM+E: Torali, the hotel’s new steakhouse, has been a hit. What’s your favorite dish there?
JL:
The avocado toast is ridiculous. It has a fried egg and olive oil on top—so good. And coming from Wisconsin, I like a good steak.

ILM+E: As Chicago’s hotel boom continues, how do you differentiate?
JL:
Our No. 1 focus is to distinguish ourselves with our name and the fact that we are now a true Ritz-Carlton. We fly the flag, carry our credo cards and have that commitment to quality—that is a huge change from what this hotel was three years ago. From a group perspective, yes, we’re a luxury property, but we’re super agile in our approach. We’re not a cookie cutter that says, “here’s your rate, here’s your offer,” and we don’t have a take-it-or-leave-it approach. We look at how we can become even more flexible to fight for a piece of business. 

Jennifer Dalsbo, recreation sales manager for Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, just north of the Illinois border in Wisconsin, shares her best advice for planning a golf outing for a group.

 

Z BAR, the globally inspired cocktail lounge atop The Peninsula overlooking Michigan Avenue, offers customized batch cocktails for groups in an upscale, but relaxed atmosphere. The individual responsible for dreaming up and preparing these communal beverages is Vlad Novikov, who’s official title is director of cocktails and culture. Novikov’s travels frequently inform his mixology.