27 Sep 2023

Know Your HBS Staff: Meredith Keaney


by Shona Simkin

If you’ve picked up your Harvard Business School (HBS) ID or moved into a dorm room on campus, Meredith Keaney, associate director for campus residences and services, and her team in Operations have worked to make that process as smooth as possible. We asked Meredith about the new student rush, what brings her happiness both at and outside of work, and how her background in hospitality informs her role here at HBS.

Where are you from?
I grew up in Stoughton, Mass, which is 10 minutes from where I live now in Easton. I went to college at Boston University (BU) for hotel management, worked in hotels in Boston, and then did a stint in Florida before I moved back to New England to be with my family. My husband and I met in college when we were both interns at a hotel, so hotels are close to our hearts.

What was your career path to HBS and this role?
Higher ed has always been a part of my life. My brother works at BU and my mom worked at Berklee College of Music. I wanted to be a general manager at a hotel by the time I was 30. Once I did that, I wanted another challenge and thought it would be cool to combine my loves of higher ed and hospitality. I got a job in Executive Education and was there for seven years managing the guest services team. That team now works in the Chao Center, but when I started Chao and Tata Hall didn't even exist yet—I saw a lot of transformation with both being built, and I started a team that supported longer hours for international arrivals.

Then I moved to Operations. I always enjoyed working with long term stays in hotels, so it was kind of a logical move to move to Operations where students are here for nine months. They're not staying for three nights and leaving without any real input on the experience. You really get to work with them to figure out how you can improve the whole operation. It’s nice to build a relationship with the students, see them go through the two years and graduate and have them want to introduce you to their family at graduation. They gave me a Mother's Day card this year—it says I’m the mom of all the dormers and they couldn’t imagine their lives without me. They all signed it. I never cry at work, but this was like one of those times. I felt really validated that I was doing a good job of taking care of them.

What does your work look like day to day?
Everyone thinks that housing is super busy just during registration, but it's busy every month. There's always a different housing event that leads up to either check-in or check-out. Every day is truly different here—at hotels it got a bit monotonous, but not here. We’re a small team of just five people, so we’re preparing for the housing lottery, hosting housing webinars, or getting our systems ready for the next session. We also have residents year-round so we deal with their daily requests. In April we start planning what's going to be new for check-in next academic year. This year we’re letting second years check in remotely from their phone. When they say they’re on campus, they automatically get an email with their PIN so they can enter their bedroom with their HUID. We're always trying to innovate to make things easier for the students, so there’s a lot of planning and testing and testing again. We're definitely more in the forefront during registration, but it’s a yearly cycle to get there. It takes a village to pull off registration—from custodial services to security to facilities, we’re all chipping in to make sure all the buildings are ready.

We know that there’s a lot of competition for housing, so we do our best to make the experience seamless. We clean rooms once a week and take out trash daily, we give them sheets and a comforter, there are tunnels to classes and printing stations in the tunnels, we offer free laundry, and have 24/7 security and facilities support. It really is kind of like a hotel with a very long-term stay. We do all of that to really make it their home and so that they don’t have to worry about housing and can focus on their classes. This year we put chocolates on their bed when they arrived—just a nice little touch.

What’s the most important thing you’re working towards at check-in?
We're aiming to avoid someone getting to their room and having their ID not work. Imagine you’ve just gotten off an international 30-hour flight, you have six suitcases, we give you your key and you get to the door and it doesn’t work. So we double, triple, and quadruple check everything. IDs are printed at the Smith Campus Center, and we get them about a week before and put them through a rigorous process to make sure that the PIN and accesses are correct so that when they get to their door they can just jump in their bed. We have 544 rooms across six buildings, and we also check all of the IDs for incoming students who aren't staying in housing. We’re checking close to 900 IDs.

What skills from your time working in hotels do you still call upon?
The biggest is empathy, and after that it’s normal customer service. There are a few models that are used all the time, like ‘learn, listen, empathize, act, react, and notify.’ That’s ingrained in my brain. After 10 years, I have finally stopped automatically saying “My pleasure” every time someone says “Thank you”!

What do you enjoy most about your job?
The thing that gets me motivated each day is making someone’s day, whether it be a resident who had a bad day and I leave chocolates and a note at their door or helping an employee find an easy resolution to a problem. This was especially true during the pandemic, when we were taking care packages to rooms and helping people who were in isolation. That and the teamwork and the fact that no day is the same. Every day there’s a new challenge to solve and I like being involved in continuous improvement.

What do you like to do outside of work?
My husband and I love taking walks around our neighborhood. We live near a state park and get deer, gophers, ducks, and other neat animals in our yard all the time, which is cool to see out the windows. This year we even saw a snapping turtle! My husband and I like to travel and try new restaurants. Until recently he worked in the hotel industry, so we’d travel a lot and get crazy discounts. Now we like staying in smaller independent hotels instead of the bigger chain we always stayed at—it’s fun trying new things but also hard because it costs so much more! One of my other passions is baking—most holidays that we host I come up with something new. Most of my co-workers know I make an excuse to celebrate anything with something home-baked. For a people presentation I made brookies in the shape of people running to work, and when we switched to portal X for our housing application platform I made goodies in the shape of an X—there’s always a reason to involve a fresh baked sweet.

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