By Barbara Frankel
“This is the big step,” Gail Mandel said of her recent promotion to President and CEO of Wyndham Exchange & Rentals.
In her new position, she oversees RCI, the global leader in timeshare vacation exchange, with about 3.7 million members in more than 100 countries, and Wyndham Vacation Rentals, with 103,000 vacation properties in Europe and North America.
How did she rise to the top? “I’m an advocate of going out there and getting what you want,” she explained, adding that seeing opportunities and “grabbing” what you want is key.
Sometimes she had to do the job before even being given the job, she continued, “proving I could do the job and had the skills.”
Mandel’s promotion was heralded by her boss—and mentor—Wyndham Worldwide Chairman and CEO Stephen Holmes.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Gail for the past 20 years, and have relied on her consistent leadership, exceptional expertise and great passion for our business,” he said in a statement. “I am incredibly pleased to welcome her into this new leadership role for which she is uniquely suited.”
Mandel previously was both Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Wyndham Exchange & Rentals, but this is her first time heading a business unit—and one that represents approximately a third of Wyndham Worldwide’s operations.
She demonstrated her abilities when she stepped into the dual COO/CFO roles in March after previous division President and CEO Geoff Ballotti moved to the Wyndham Hotel Group.
“Gail is an incredibly strong executive, with unmatched knowledge and experience in the exchange and rental businesses,” Holmes stated. “In the months since she assumed the additional duties as COO, she has seamlessly and successfully led that team, and in collaboration with its leaders and managing directors has set the business on an exciting course for the future.”
President and CEO, Wyndham Exchange & Rentals (Wyndham Worldwide is No. 39 in the DiversityInc Top 50)Previous Positions
Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Wyndham Exchange & RentalsEducation
Bachelor’s Degree, Public Accounting,
Since about 60 percent of the revenue in her segment comes from outside the United States, global diversity and local cultural competence is critical to that success, Mandel said.
“We need a diverse associate base so we can service those customers. Having D&I provides us the opportunity to attract the best talent [and to] be sensitive to each market and the needs of each customer,” she said.
“The greatest challenge to global diversity is prioritization,” she added, citing the 9,000 associates around the globe. “They have all these great ideas. … We are making sure that we are matching how we are using our resources to what is best for our customers.”
She noted that Wyndham has an Ideas Lab where associates can submit innovative suggestions online, which are then sent to the HR team and discussed by senior executives.
Mandel is a true American success story. She grew up in what she terms a “modest home, a post–World War II garden apartment. My sister and I shared a 10-by-10 bedroom and neither of our parents graduated college.”
She put herself through college, and she recalls that financial independence was her top priority. She studied accounting and secured a position with Deloitte & Touche as an auditor.
She worked with many different companies and the experience helped her understand critical issues and industry variations. “But I wanted to be part of a company” instead of a consultant, she recalled.
A recruiter in 1993 approached her about joining HFS Inc., which had gone public the previous year. HFS’ successor, Cendant Corp., eventually broke up and evolved into Wyndham.
“The culture was dynamic and exciting. It was a good fit. We had the opportunity to acquire other companies and I had the opportunity to expand my knowledge,” she said. She served as controller for the relocation business, and then the travel company, which included car rentals.
A First-Rate Mentor
Mandel cited Holmes as an example of everything a mentor should be.
“He is a fantastic listener and always makes time for any question. A good mentor is someone you respect, who you want to emulate,” she says.
She had other mentors who have helped her with more tactical skills, such as presentation skills or being a better manager of HR. “It’s critically important to get this right because our people are our greatest asset. We’ve got to have strong people who are passionate about what they do. As a leader, you’ve got to motivate them,” she said.
Her advice to younger executives is to pay attention to successful people. “Early on I took the time to study the people I respected—[I looked at] what traits do I have that sync up with what they do and what do I need to develop,” she said.