The Wow Factor

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“I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and it was extremely diverse and the community has a great respect for all people, cultures, you name it,” said Cindy Hill, director of sales and marketing at the W Hotel in Austin. “It gave me a solid foundation which has allowed me to thrive in any environment.”

Sitting in her office tucked away on the second floor of the W Hotel on a typically busy afternoon, Hill is the picture of calm. Four framed pictures of Caleb, her curly-haired 3-year- old son, as well as plaques of the launch posters for each of the dozens of W properties around the world she has helped open in her 13 years with the company, are nearby. This busy mom, Northern California native, and longtime executive has acclimated so well to Austin that one might think she was a native. She moved here just 18 months ago to open the hotel.

Back in 1998, when Hill was housed in a small design office on Market Street in San Francisco while opening one of the first W properties in North America, she met Terry Haney. He had been hired as the director of catering at the W San Francisco and was living with his partner, Robert, at the time. Meeting and becoming good friends with them changed her perspective in key ways regarding same-sex households and their possibilities of family.

Her friends, now life partners of more than 20 years, decided to adopt a little boy via Oakland’s foster adoption system instead of using some other method. Their choice, which allowed them to transcend socioeconomic and racial divisions, had a big impact on Hill.

“It changed my overall outlook on the gay community and why they should be able to adopt or marry, because it can have such a positive impact,” she said, adding that her friends’ adoption was finalized after Starwood transferred her to Chicago. The couple ended up adopting a six-week-old biracial little boy, Charlie, who is now seven years old.

When Hill goes back to San Francisco for a visit, she’ll often surprise Haney and his partner and have dinner at their place, catching up and even comparing notes as parents. “People who have [negative] opinions about this should revaluate their position, because you have this little kid who would have otherwise been raised in a system that has flaws. He is so loved by these two men, they adore him, expose him to amazing people, take him to church, and I have to say he is one of the most well-adjusted little boys I have ever met.”

1-4Hill, who resides in North Hyde Park, got her start in the hospitality industry at the Holiday Inn in Union City, near Oakland. Her openness and extroverted personality have served her well at Starwood. The W Brand has come a long way from its modest beginnings, moving from a concept on paper to more than 45 properties worldwide by the end of this year in a relatively short amount of time. Hill, still bearing the same level of enthusiasm she had at the brand’s genesis, has been fortunate to bear witness to it all.

Based out of the Windy City for six years as a brand manager for openings, she was often traveling to open hotels in locations in such as Hong Kong, Istanbul, Atlanta, Miami and Hollywood. While opening W Santiago, when she was gone for seven days, she would Skype every night with her son (then 18 months old). Although Caleb was being well cared for by his nanny and her family, Hill realized she needed a different type of job. “It was so emotional to be gone for seven days,” she recalled. “I needed to find a job within our brand that would allow me to tuck him in every night.”

Typically, Hill would open a property and then move on to the next project. After meeting the owners of Stratus Properties, Starwood’s planned partners for the Austin property, she told them what she could bring to the table in this new role. There were job offers on the table in both Las Vegas and Austin, and she gladly settled on Austin.

She recalled her plane ride to Austin for her interview where her seatmate was Austin resident Jill Wilcox. “Typically I put my headphones on, but I decided to chat it up and asked her about the city and particularly about the diversity of Austin.” Wilcox was so warm and proceeded to explain her love for the city and quickly invited Hill over to meet her wife, following up during her visit. “At that point, I realized any concerns I had were out the window,” Hill said, adding that she remains close friends with the couple that guided her through her transition to Austin. “I love the brand I work for; I still think it’s genius, and I think Austin remains one of the best hotels I have had the pleasure of opening.”

As a result, Hill travels maybe four times a year (her old schedule averaged three or four cities a week), so it’s been a pleasant transition for both her and her son, who is now three years old. Even though she’s still a newcomer, Hill plans on getting involved with such nonprofits as Dress for Success and Zach Scott Theater.

“Austin is such a wonderful city; it’s great for children,” she said. “I am proudly the single mother to a brilliant and vibrant little boy who loves the weather here and riding the Zilker Zephyr on weekends.”

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