MPW '14: Leading a cultural treasure

Ryman GM Sally Williams channels history, dreams big
Mar 2, 2014 2:05 PM

Q&A: Ryman GM Sally Williams

The last few months have been eventful for Sally Williams, general manager of the Ryman Auditorium. In May, Williams was promoted to vice president of business and partnership development at Opry Entertainment, the parent company for which is Ryman Hospitality Properties. At the time of the announcement, the company said Williams also would remain as Ryman GM, a position she has held since 2008. Last week, officials with the Ryman and SunTrust Bank announced a multi-year partnership. (Read more here.) The changes come as Opry Entertainment in the first six months of the year posted an operating profit of $6.3 million on revenues of $34.9 million. Post Managing Editor William Williams caught up with Williams for a brief chat. 

How long was the partnership with SunTrust Bank in the making?

SunTrust was a sponsor from 2000-05, involved primarily with the Ryman Concert Series. So we’ve had a relationship for over a decade, and there’s always been a great camaraderie between our two businesses. Within the last couple of years, there’s been a spark to renew our partnership.  Now, as an official partner of the Ryman Auditorium, SunTrust will be integrated into all aspects of the Ryman’s business — from daytime tours to nighttime concerts.  

Can you provide a specific example of what the partnership will yield?

Guests of the Ryman and the Nashville community as a whole will begin to see evidence of our partnership on Wednesday, Sept. 25, our official kickoff date. Cumberland Heights does their annual fundraiser concert at the Ryman and Kenny Rogers will perform. Kenny has a relationship with SunTrust, so it’s a great fit. Watch for billboards around town announcing “Music City’s Newest Duo.”  More will unfold in the coming months — ranging from online to community initiatives — that will reflect our partnership.

What does the partnership with SunTrust mean related to your partnership with Nissan?

Nissan North America also is an official partner of the Ryman Auditorium and this won’t change. For both Nissan and SunTrust, the sentiment is that it is a perfect match. The Ryman, Nissan and SunTrust are three entities that have very deep roots in Nashville. We all have the same interest, which is to positively impact the community.

You mentioned your daytime tours of the Ryman. Can you provide some numbers?

We’re trending 10 to 12 percent over this time last year. I feel like we’re doing a great job telling the story of the Ryman in a fun way during our daytime tours and that’s evident in the positive feedback we get from guests who’ve taken the tour. Certainly it helps that you can’t get any hotter than Nashville right now.

How long have you been giving tours?

The Grand Ole Opry House opened in 1974 and at that time the Ryman “went dark” for the most part. But in the 20 years between the time the Opry moved and the Ryman was renovated and reopened, visitors could still come into building to take a tour, although at the time it was pretty rudimentary. People have always felt a deep connection to the Ryman and whether the doors were formally open or not, music lovers have made the pilgrimage to the Mother Church. Next year, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Ryman’s “rebirth,” and sharing this building’s amazing 119-year history via our tours has been an important part these last two decades.

What is the relationship between company employees given there are the facilities that Ryman Hospitality Properties manages (such as Ryman Auditorium) and the four hotels RHP (which operates as a real estate investment trust) owns but are managed by Marriott International?

As a REIT, Ryman Hospitality Properties still owns all the hotels as well as the General Jackson Showboat, the Wildhorse Saloon and the Gaylord Springs golf course. The relationship between company employees really hasn’t changed much at all. There are still many of the same people working at the other properties and we continue to work well together on projects just like before the transition.

Sep 23, 2013 7:15 AM

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May 22, 2013 7:10 AM