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Hotelier of the Year: Ken Hayward

By Kelly Skarritt-Williams

Ken Hayward has spent nearly his entire career serving at one hotel. But when you start your career at one of the most iconic and historic hotels in Michigan— even the nation—it’s hard to see yourself anywhere else. Hayward, executive vice president and managing director of Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, was recently named Hotelier of the Year by Historic Hotels of America. This honor comes decades after Hayward was given an unexpected opportunity. “I didn’t find the hospitality industry, the hospitality industry found me,” says Hayward, who earned a bachelor of general studies degree but had hoped to play professional baseball. 

However, another path opened to him instead. A contact through his university suggested him for a summer job as convention services manager at Grand Hotel. He decided to give it a shot. “I planned on staying a summer and now it will be 35 years in August,” says Hayward. “I fell in love with Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island.” He says he learned a lot in his early years at the hotel by just watching its owners. “The way the Musser family cared about the guests and owned a seasonal hotel was really special. You felt like you were part of the special potion that makes it work. I felt like I had found my calling.”

The hotel was built in 1887 and has been open every summer season since. Although the hotel has gone through many extensive renovations over the years, including the addition of 101 rooms and other luxury amenities in the time he’s been there, Hayward says so much hasn’t changed. “We are a unique experience that our guests appreciate, which may be lost on some people,” he says. “Historical buildings that have been taken care of are treasures. People will continue to look for that experience.” 

Hayward says he feels very humbled to receive the Hotelier of the Year award, mostly because he recognizes that he cannot do what he does without his talented and dedicated staff supporting him. “I’ve worked with so many great people; our management team has been here a long time, over 20 years themselves. They make me look good every day,” he says. 

Despite his modesty, Hayward has had a distinguished career, not just with Grand Hotel, but also with groups like the Michigan Travel Commission. He served as chairman of the commission during the conception and development of the successful Pure Michigan campaign. “I was in the right place at the right time, and I’m very proud to have been involved with that,” says Hayward. “What that campaign did for Michigan was give them a sense of pride for their state.” 

As he now prepares for his 35th summer at Grand Hotel, starting May 1, Hayward compares the preparations to training for a baseball season. “On Mackinac Island, the parallels to baseball are so similar. You prepare for months leading up to ‘game time.’ Every day is different, and it keeps you young.”