Chattanoogan: Rick Cadena – Chameleon Of Change

Saturday, June 22, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

Rather than being a ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ Rick Cadena considers himself more like a chameleon. Aside from his longevity with Marriott International, Rick isn’t defined by one thing. He has a passion for many things.

Born in Dallas, Rick grew up with his four younger sisters. His father Juan was a waiter and his mother Laticia worked at Bell Telephone. When she stopped working she would iron clothes for people and would babysit.

“I was all over the place as a kid. I liked everything there was to do and I was fortunate that I ‘got to be a kid’. I got to play and do what I liked to do. I didn’t think about going into the service then, but my friends and I would play ‘Army’. There was a television show back then called ‘Combat’ that I would watch on the weekends with my dad,” Rick says.

“My father was always there for us. He worked hard, but when he was home he invested a lot of time in us. We went camping every year at Camp Dallas. I loved that time – it was when I got to see a side of my dad I didn’t get to see the rest of the year,” Rick recalls.

The Dallas Cowboys came two years after Rick was born and he has followed them ever since. He enjoyed growing up in the city which was just beginning to grow. There was only one AM radio station that played country music, so Rick has always loved country music even if he was a city-boy.

“Dallas grew very quickly. When I was little, it was about the size of Chattanooga. I grew up watching it develop into the city as it was growing – very metropolitan …very ‘now’. I went to the second best prep school for boys and that pushed me further ahead than I would have been anywhere else. My parents had invested in me,” Rick insists.

“Dad had high expectations of me. He wanted me right with him watching what he was doing so that I could learn to do it myself, whether working on a car or building a cabinet. Whatever it was, he always made me be there whether I wanted to or not. Now that I look back, I see what all I have learned from my dad.  He gave me my work ethic,” Rick says.

His mother loved to shop and Rick admits that he does to. From clothes to antiques, he could spend hours shopping, as a favorite past-time. His mother also taught him to be forgiving and to move past any upsets gracefully.

His mother, Laticia, was of German descent. Her parents came from Germany and settled in Texas. During the war, there were internment camps and Rick’s grandparents had dealt with a lot of questioning, so they decided to move to Mexico.

“My mom grew up there and it was where she met my dad. Ironically, they met in a restaurant at a hotel. Who knew that that would be what I do today?” Rick says.

His parents moved to the States in 1957. Rick’s first job was mowing lawns. His father had taught him to earn his spending money (though Rick admits that he would sometimes be spoiled at Christmas).

“If I put it on my Christmas lists, I almost always got it. I never asked for a lot of things, but sometimes I would ask for something big. When I was nine, Sears had a chrome mini bike and I fell in love with that thing. A few years later when I was 15, I bought a motorcycle from a friend of mine and have been riding ever since,” Rick attests.

He joined the Navy right out of high school in which he served for 12 years. “My training was in culinary and housing. After my time in the Navy, I was looking for something that still had structure. I tested the waters and started working with hotels,” Rick says.

He applied in Orlando with Marriott International, a company he would be with for 25 years.

Having traveled in the Navy and working at various hotels through Marriott, Rick now enjoys being settled in Chattanooga. He worked for a few Marriott franchises around town and is now serving as the general manager at the Courtyard Marriott near Hamilton Place Mall.

“Once I came to Chattanooga, I wanted to slow down the speed of my life,” Rick says. He wants to give his family the roots and a sense of stability that he had while growing up.

Though Rick didn’t get a tattoo while he was in the Navy like most sailors, he did eventually get one (that he keeps hidden professionally) of a Chameleon - which relates to his ability to adapt to any lifestyle.

“I am like a Chameleon. People who see me on my motorcycle, aren’t going to picture me in a suit and those who see me in a suit during the day, don’t expect me to ride a motorcycle. I ride pretty much all year long. If the weather is forgiving, I am riding,” Rick vows.

Having a passion for the outdoors, Rick enjoys backpacking and hiking. “I love being outdoors and hiking in Denver, Yellowstone, the Tetons and hiking in the mountains,” Rick says. He had received the Presidential Sports Award for hiking approximately 55 miles in a given amount of time.

Rick will participate in most motorcycle charity rides such as the recent “Ride 4 A Smile” event benefitting craniofacial patients and frequently participates in rides for MDA and Ronald McDonald Charities among others. He does not belong to a particular motorcycle group for fear of feeling ‘boxed in’.

“I like the freedom of choosing where and when I ride. With the association type things, as an organization they do well for charities and I will ride to support their causes, but as far as joining them - you have to ride when they tell you to ride and log so many miles …I am a little too old for that. I have ridden longer and more than most of them,” Rick says.

Wife Beth will occasionally ride with him and supports his passion for riding. Rick had taken safety courses and has ridden since he was a child so Beth doesn’t worry too much for her husband in that respect.

“I haven’t hit the pavement since I was 17 years old. A car had pulled out in front of me and I was sliding and pushed the bike away. I ended up on my feet and only got a sprained ankle.  I have had a few close calls over the years, but never anything serious,” Rick says.

“As far back as high school, I liked what it felt like to do something for others. With Marriott, they are very involved in the community and that is just a natural thing for me. I have the benefit of Marriott supporting the things I like to be involved with such as MDA, Ronald McDonald House and Make-A-Wish rides for causes. We are also working with Orange Grove right now to have a cookout for them,” Rick says.

When he is not working or riding for an event, something else Rick enjoys is music. “I play the spoons,” he laughs. “I think it started as an annoying thing I did to my parents just banging on things and one day, someone taught me how to play the spoons. I really love blues, but I can listen to anything, I love music as long as it is quality music, it doesn’t matter what style,” Rick says.

A few of Rick’s friends threw a party for his 55th birthday at Jack A’s Chop Shop Saloon. “They got the band to let me play spoons and it went over really well … at least the band didn’t say I stunk,” he laughs.

“I am comfortable in my cowboy boots and at the same time, backpacking and hiking or to be at an elegant dinner event dressed up,” Rick says.

When it comes down to what motivates him, Rick says, “It’s all about people. How I can help nurture them and help them get to the next level. I am a big believer that everybody needs a pat on the back. I have had leaders in my life who made me feel that I was contributing and that no matter what I did it was important,” Rick says.

“With my team at the hotel, I make sure everyone is part of our discussions and they can voice their thoughts and opinions on whatever we are about to do. My door is always wide open and the guest and staff know that they can just walk right in here,” Rick says.

His goal with Marriott is to get into human resources as a personal director. “I grew in the company under a great GM who had been a human resources director and I had the great benefit of learning the dos and don’ts and thinking about your people. A lot of places don’t spend time with much training and developing - you just go, but if you start off with nurturing your staff, you will be successful,” Rick maintains.

“To be a really superior team is to do for somebody else. We did volunteer stuff for WTCI on PBS. When my staff came back, they had this totally different feeling. It is a good feeling when you do something that is right to do,” Rick says.

Chattanooga has welcomed Rick as he has rolled up his sleeves and got involved. “It is a great place for family, a great place to ride my motor cycle and it is down to earth. I traveled with the Navy and saw many things, but I love this and I can’t picture living anywhere else,” Rick says.

 “Chattanooga nurtures what is …me.”

jen@jenjeffrey.com


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