Jason Ilstrup

My day job is general manager of HotelRED. I’ve worked in the hotel industry since 2008—before that I was a lawyer and worked in politics at both the state and national levels. When I decided to change professions, I knew I still wanted a role where I could connect with and serve people. The hospitality industry has been a great fit.

I love the fact that hospitality is one of the few industries where it’s still possible to start at the bottom and work your way up the ladder. It’s awesome to watch that happen.

The diversity of people you cross paths with each day is amazing and there is such an array of tasks and roles that need to work together to create an optimal experience for our guests. A large hotel can have thousands of employees, in dozens of roles, and functions like a small city.

One thing I enjoy about my role is that every day is different. I try to be mindful of the reality that something that seems minor to me could be a game changer for the person experiencing it, whether that’s a staff member or a guest.

For instance, say the iron in a guest’s room is broken and they are absolutely irate, which might unreasonable. But maybe the guest is in town for an interview or an important meeting and not being able to iron their shirt means their carefully constructed day isn’t going the way they planned. My goal is to solve those problems and get them back on track. I sleep with two cell phones next to my head to make sure I’m available to solve those problems!

HotelRED’s location allows us to tap into the energy of Camp Randall—there’s no place better on Badger game days!—and Monroe Street. We’re committed to partnering with local businesses. For instance, we host events for the Mystery to Me bookstore, which is just down the street, and J. Kinney, who used to have a shop on Monroe, still does all our flowers.

My most memorable caffeine was the “Gu Energy Gels” I used when I was training for a marathon. I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life and I didn’t realize that these gels had caffeine in them. I ate one and within a mile or two I felt awful—I went from zero to 60 in terms of caffeine and it was not good! Now I check the label for caffeine.

My current caffeine of choice is none though I’ll occasionally have a cup of tea or hot chocolate.

My favorite place for caffeine is also none. I’ve never been big on coffee shops, but I am a big lunch guy! It goes back to my days in politics where lunch meetings were a common event.

The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is Nelson Mandela. It’s hard to fathom having the patience and personality to forget the many atrocities committed against him. Before I went to law school, I was in the Peace Corps in Niger and also spent six months in South Africa. My experiences on the continent of Africa gave me a small glimpse into the challenges people have dealt with in the face of poverty and racism.

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine:  homelessness. I simply don’t understand how a country with as many resources as we have, can have such a huge problem with homelessness.