Westin GM Bike to Work
Ron Tarson commutes 13 miles each day from his home in Sandy Springs to his job Downtown as general manager of The Westin Peachtree Plaza.
He winds down Windsor Parkway, through Brookhaven, along the residential roads of Morningside to Highland Avenue, where he turns onto Freedom Parkway to make his way to Peachtree Street in Downtown.
But unlike most Atlanta residents, each day Tarson rides his bike to the 1,073-room hotel. It takes him about an hour.
“Sometimes I go longer if it’s a rough day at work,” he said.
“I’m not on a mission. But, setting a good example with a brand like Westin isn’t a bad idea.
arson said he’s been athletic most of his life. As a kid, he played basketball and football, and wrestled. In college, he played rugby.
“Then, I started exercising daily,” Tarson said. “It was all running.”
He would run marathons, sometimes finishing the 26.2-mile race in less than four hours.
But as he got older, he slowed down as a runner and decided to switch to cycling.
It can be a dangerous ride. Last March, Tarson broke his elbow in a fall from his bike.
“I fall a few times a year,” Tarson said. “But, I just get right back on. It keeps me happy.”
Employees at the Westin and around town seem to admire Tarson’s competitive streak.
“He’s a winner,” said Michael Fletcher, director of sales and marketing at The Westin Peachtree Plaza. “He wants to make sure we stay in a position where we are prevalent and relevant in the community. He’s just the right person.”
Tarson didn’t start his career in hospitality. He was a teacher.
The Chicago native earned degrees in English and education from the University of Colorado.
“Then I started moving around,” he said, and soon landed a teaching job in St. Louis. In addition to teaching English, he also tutored disadvantaged children. And, he coached boy’s soccer and girl’s basketball.
“I loved it,” he said. “There’s no better work than that.”
But, around 1986, Tarson found it time to pursue a new job to support his growing family. He said he convinced a hotel manager at the Sheraton St. Louis hotel that he would be a good director of training due to his background in teaching.
He got the job.
“That’s how I got into the hotel business,” he said.
In the years that followed, Tarson moved throughout the country, working at various hotels.
Later, he moved into a position at the corporate office of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Boston.
He was there for about 14 years, working his way up to vice president of sales and marketing for Starwood.
Then, he got into hotel operations, working as general manager at a hotel in Boston and most recently, opening The Westin Chicago North Shore in 2006.
“I liked being at the hotel,” Tarson said. “I like to be close to people.”
He started at The Westin Peachtree Plaza in January 2012.
At the time, the hotel was in the middle of a nearly $70 million renovation. It had sustained major damage when a tornado tore through downtown in 2008.
“He’s certainly leading the charge at one of the most iconic hotels in the country,” said Mark Vaughan, executive vice president and chief sales officer of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “He’s done a fine job of stepping right into that.”
Under Tarson, the hotel’s famous revolving restaurant got a much-needed facelift.
The Sun Dial Restaurant Bar & View reopened last August after a $1 million makeover, its first since 1998.
“It was scary,” Tarson said. “It’s a successful hotel restaurant. There aren’t very many of those.”
This February, the Westin will complete its six-year cycle of renovations. All that remains is to redo the meeting space, ballroom and motor court, and finish updating the lobby area.
The renovations should position the Westin for good years just as downtown experiences a resurgence.
New attractions such as the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights are opening this year in downtown.
The Atlanta Streetcar, which should help tourists travel between the city’s top sights, also will begin service this year. The Westin sits along its route.
“I think downtown is getting its swagger back,” Tarson said. “It’s about time."