Q&A: Dan Musser on how the Grand Hotel preps for the Mackinac Policy Conference

This is “all hands on deck” time for Grand Hotel President Dan Musser III – this week is the Mackinac Policy Conference, which brings more than 3,000 people to Mackinac Island and to his hotel in particular for conversations about Michigan, the economy and more.

Musser said his staff of more than 700 employees is ready for the crowds, the service demands and the technology needs of the Detroit Regional Chamber, who hosts the event at the historic hotel. Having a supportive partner in the Chamber as well as devoted employees will make the days ahead busy yet exciting, he added.

This season has already been busy – over the winter, the Grand Hotel completed what it calls the Cupola Suites project, officially restoring the 1887 roofline with a row of 24 dormers lining the entire roof. Believe it or not, this was a project Musser himself suggested decades ago, and he is glad to have the extra space for guests and families.

Grand Hotel has been owned for three generations by the Musser family. President R.D. (Dan) Musser III runs the hotel alongside his sister Mimi Cunningham and mother Amelia Musser. Since 1933, the Musser family has made it their mission to give every guest a grand experience.

Dan started full time at the hotel in 1986 and worked his way up through every department to gain a thorough understanding of all aspects of running the hotel. He served as kitchen assistant, bellman, bartender, bar manager, front desk clerk, front desk manager, reservations manager and vice president. He was named President in 1989.

Q: What kind of effort does it take to put on the Mackinac Policy Conference?
A: The Chamber is our largest customer. We have some groups that have more individuals that come – one example is the Knights of Columbus, but that’s a different type of conference. The Chamber and its conference requires us to do everything that we can do. Every function space is used. Spaces that are not usually function spaces are becoming function spaces. We will be doing everything from served meals to buffets to cocktail parties to box lunches. We do everything that we’re able to do in a three- to four-day period.

Q: How do you make it happen?
A: I just finished up a meeting with our head waiter, chef and others to go over the notes for the week one more time. We have a regular managers’ meeting every Monday, but we go over our notes several times for the Chamber event. For this group, we double down. We go over it and over it. Because things change even up to the date of the meeting, I want to make sure they’re all on the same page. Do we have enough ice, food, beverages? It all has to be on the island when we need it.

Q: What are the challenges of doing this on an island location?
A: We don’t know any better – we’re used to it to a certain extent. It forces us to get to our A game immediately. That’s great for the business because gets us to our best right at the beginning of the season.

Q: What kind of role does the Chamber and its employees play?
A: We could not do it without the chamber and the chamber staff. Of all of our groups, they’re brilliant at looking and dissecting the meeting. They focus on the good stuff and they change the stuff that needs improvement. It’s forced us and me to look at our business as well and change it. Then we can pour gas on what’s great and change what’s not working.

Q: What is new at the Grand for 2019?
A: When I was in college, about 30 years ago, we were rebuilding the pillars that hold up the third and fourth floor. I suggested at the time we should put not just steel in the pillars to hold up the roof, but we should go in and redo the foundation to put rooms up on the fourth floor. … So this is a 30-year plus project –and it is finally done! It looks like they’ve always been there. We’ve also updated more than 150 guest rooms with wallpaper, drapes and carpet. We’ve also updated bathrooms with glass showers and all tile.