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Why I moved to Pittsburgh: Matthew Sterne, GM of the Fairmont Hotel







You know what the problem is with Pittsburgh? asked someone of Matthew Sterne when they were discussing his just-announced transfer as general manager of the Fairmont Pittsburgh.
 
Sterne waited expectedly for a response.
 
"Once people get there, they don't want to leave.”
 
More than a year and a half after moving here, Sterne would agree.  While he has lived in eight other places, including such stunners as Sonoma and Banff, his favorite city is emphatically Pittsburgh. And he doesn’t want to leave.
 
"In terms of quality of life and overall enjoyment, it's Pittsburgh," he says as he sits at a table at Habitat, the modern and serene restaurant on the second floor of the hotel. His back is to the expansive and open kitchen, a scene from a movie where cooks move in harmony and one fabulous local-fresh dish after another is presented on the counter.  On the other side, a long communal table graces the room, perfect for watching the culinary theatrics.
 
"It has everything a big city has," Sterne says of Pittsburgh, “world-class sports, fab theater, great restaurants—and it's half the price of any major city.”
 
And it has the 185-room Fairmont, a luxury hotel that for two years running has captured the number one spot among all Fairmont Hotels in North America for customer satisfaction.
 
There are 60 luxury Fairmonts in the world, from Dallas to Dubai and the Fairmont Pittsburgh ranks number five among them all.
 
That translates to the staff, credits Sterne. “They're good people; they don't have attitudes or egos. They sincerely care.”
 
Recently, the chief concierge, Mark Chambers, became the first and only concierge in the area to be inducted to Les Clefs d’Or, USA, the association of professional concierges. Translated, the name means “the keys of gold” and the goal is to  promotes the highest standards of service; in other words, they will attend to any request as long as it’s “moral, legal and kind.”
 
All those accolades for the Fairmont speaks very highly of Pittsburgh as well, Sterne points out. Guests "get here and see that it's a really pretty city with great hospitality."
 
You don’t have to be a guest to experience it.  Walk by the hotel entrance on Market St., just across from the new and leafy parklet on Liberty and just down from Market Square, and the genial and gracious staff greet you warmly whether you’re going in or not.
 
Not to mention the friendly and well-behaved hotel Labrador Boxer mix, Edie. One begins to wonder when she, too, will pick up an award.
 
 What happens at the Fairmont…
 
The Fairmont opened in March 2010 as part of the modern and distinctive green-glass and steel Three PNC Plaza which was LEED certified Gold, as in very green indeed.
 
The decor is chic yet inviting with local art displayed throughout the lobby and beyond. While Sterne admits the Fairmont “captures a lot of luxury business,” word is they get just about all of it, from Clapton to Clinton. 
 
“Pittsburgh is on the map of a lot very sophisticated travelers and it's great to see,” Sterne says diplomatically.
 
One thing is for sure: The Fairmont filled a need for a luxury hotel with its lush rooms and gorgeous views of PNC Park on one side and Market Square and the Monongahela on the other.
 
The $4000 a night presidential suite was recently named number one in the city by the Pittsburgh Business Times. In some cases the entire top floor gets booked for long-term stays for visitors, whether they’re here for medical treatment or business, such as partnering with a university on a project, says Sterne.
 
Who are they? He’s not telling. Privacy is essential.
 
So is the ultimate in personal service.  Sterne is adamant that they will do anything a guest requests, from creating a gym in a hotel room (even though the hotel gym with steam room, sauna and spa is a joy to behold) to transforming the airy ballroom, with its floor to ceiling glass windows, into a personal gym. Once, they morphed a guest room into a classroom for a guest with kids. Whatever it takes.
 
Happy Landing
This is Sterne’s ninth city in his 17 years with the Fairmont.  He has lived in Scottsdale, Mont Tremblant and most recently Boston, to name a few places.  He now lives quite happily in Mt. Lebanon, where his son plays hockey and his daughter is into horseback riding and swimming and “there are a thousand activities for kids,” he proclaims.  
 
To give you a clue to his personality, the single dad celebrated his recent 40th birthday by competing in a triathlon with his best friend in New Orleans—followed by another triathlon in Canada with his brothers a few weeks later.  Four years ago, he completed the Ironman Triathlon.
 
With his tall and elegant physique, he was called upon to pose for a Mad Men photo shoot for Pop City not long ago (so he’s got the modeling cred now, too, on top of the athletic prowess.)
 
And if he’s as impressed with his workplace community as he is with is new neighborhood.
 
He cites the different trusted partners he works with, from VisitPittsburgh to Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. One reason? “People are upbeat and have a positive attitude.” 
 
And PNC are great owners, he says, referring to the Three PNC Plaza building. “They are committed to a fabulous product and want this to be done the right away. You can't have the success we have without the right ownership group.”
 
As for the downtown scene, it’s “thriving “ and an awful lot of fun to be involved in a city that 's on a the upswing," says Sterne, citing the new residential projects, for one.
 
And as a newcomer to town, he has a theory on the resilience of the city and its residents. "People were beat up in Pittsburgh for many years,” he offers, “and Pittsburghers don’t' know how great their city really is." That's changing but still, they don't take anything for granted. "Nothing was handed to them. They did it strategically. They had patience. “
 
And now they have a luxury hotel that is usually sold out Tuesday through Thursdays –check out the weekend specials for a sweet downtown getaway—and a lobby bar called Andys that is a popular place for after work meets, now with outdoor café seating.
 
It’s a good fit for Pittsburgh and for Matthew Sterne, too. “I’d like to be here as long as I can,” he says with a grin.
 
 
 Photographs copyright Brian Cohen
 
 
 
 
 
 
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