More than 30 years of a simple love to help people has earned Pittsburgh native and Westinghouse high school grad Walter Wade the honor of 2009 inductee into the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Hall of Fame.
“Walt has a very colorful history in the business and specifically with Hyatt, and he’s also got a fantastic memory,” said Joe Hindsley, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta’s general manager.
Wade’s sense of humor, penchant for storytelling and passion for hospitality make him so memorable, the first question meeting planners who’ve worked with him before ask is whether Wade will be helping them again, Hindsley said.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Wade grew up listening to jazz—the favorite music of his mother, who was the first female African-American school principal in the city—on the radio. He began playing piano in local clubs at age 17.
“People very often say they like my solos. I try never to play the same tune the same way twice and to paint a picture with my solos,” said Wade, whose proudest moment was opening for Gil Scott-Heron in 1976 at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Still, in order to meet the usual challenges of trying to make ends meet as a musician, Wade had to do other work on the side. The way he treated guests during a temporary job at the just-opened Hyatt Hotel in Pittsburgh in 1977 caught the attention of then-General Manager Horst Schulze, who would go on to found The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC.
“I met him in passing on the terraces of our hotel and the way he said hello, I realized this is a man who belongs in our business,” said Schulze, now president and CEO of Atlanta-based West Paces Hotel Group LLC. He ordered his staff to hire Wade on the spot as a doorman.
Schulze became a mentor for Wade, who was promoted to concierge for a new concept by Hyatt.
“Horst gave me the fine-tuning to do well in the hospitality industry,” Wade said. “The highest satisfaction that I still get from my job is setting goals and seeing expectations exceeded, not just met.”
Wade went on to serve at various hotels in Michigan and New York. In 1995, he became assistant manager at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, later becoming the hotel’s first and only meetings concierge manager. He acts as a liaison between the meeting planner and hotel staff to ensure customer needs are met for the hundreds of events from five to 35,000 attendees that take place at the hotel annually.