“I kept saying, I’m a meeting planner, not a salesperson! And my husband at the time said, Why do you say that? 


And I said: Well if I were going to do it, it would have to be a product I really believed in. If I knew and loved the product, then it would make sense.” 


Kara Pappas is the Director of Sales for The Grand America and Little America Hotels in Salt Lake City. Since joining the team in 2006, these hotels—and this city—have become the “product” she can sell because she wholeheartedly believes in it. 


Almost 18 years into her tenure at The Grand America and leading the “most collaborative” team of salespeople she’s ever worked with, Kara’s path into her role has not been direct. But, by following a passion for people, she’s carved her own way into an industry that has become her “home.” 


An Education in Taking Risks


Kara is adamantly not a “risk taker.” 


At a certain point in her life, as a single mother with bills to pay and children to put through college, the most important thing in her career was stability. She never wanted to “job hop.” 

But for someone so risk averse, Kara has taken on career curveballs with a steady hand.


And a wrench was thrown in the plan right away. 

After graduating from Weber State University with a degree in Elementary Education and having always seen herself teaching young children, Kara never actually became a teacher. 


Applying for teaching positions, she realized she had more financial stability in her part-time job at FranklinCovey, known then as the Franklin Institute. So, she decided to stay on and took up a full-time position as a Meeting Planner. 


Though it wasn’t ever the “plan,” Kara hit her stride in this role. 

Over 12 years in meeting planning, she grew into leadership roles, serving as President of the MPI Utah Chapter, followed by 5 additional years of service on various International Committees for MPI, one of which as Chair of the International Chapter Leadership Committee. 


Booking large events and conventions and connecting with Sales teams from all areas of hospitality, it was only a matter of time before Kara would be recruited into sales herself.


Gear for Sports was a custom merchandising company she had often purchased conference “swag” from. The more she worked with them, the more they started pursuing her, looking to pull her into a sales role for their company. 


After a year and a half of persuasion, though risk averse, Kara decided to take a leap of faith and left Meeting Planning for Sales. 



From Day One


When asked how long it took for her to realize that she enjoyed Sales, Kara says she knew “on day one.” 


Though she loved her work in Sales, after three and a half years at Gear for Sports, Kara missed her “home industry”—hospitality. 


Through connections built through her time at FranklinCovey, she found her way back home, taking a Sales position at the Downtown Marriott in Salt Lake City—a successful move she attributes to their then General Manager, Steve Lundgren, who fought for her place there. “I always say,” Kara says, “I owe it all to Steve.” 


Happy where she was, Kara never expected to get a call from The Grand America. What began with an unassuming invitation to lunch turned into a months-long recruitment. “I did turn them down…I didn’t think I needed to go anywhere else.” But, eventually, Kara agreed to take a chance on something new. 


Never one to “risk” it, she says she doesn’t know what prompted her to accept a position with The Grand America. “Honestly I don’t remember,” she says, remembering just thinking, “Oh, why not?” 


This why not has grown into a dream job. Almost 18 years later, Kara attributes her success to the people. Here, people are like a family. She knows people across departments in a way she’s never experienced with other companies. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime culture that’s welcoming and warm. 



The People Make the Work Important


When asked about the future, Kara laughs. As she sees it, her next ten years will see a role transition—spending less time as “director” and more time as “YiaYia” with her grandchildren.  


Still, she is excited about what the future holds, whether she’s selling event space in it or not.


As Salt Lake City steadily grows and the Grand and Little America Hotels meet that growth with innovation and exciting renovations, she feels “jealous of,” but excited for, the next generation. 


Looking back on her career, she feels most proud of how her team grew during the closures and uncertainty of the recent pandemic. 


During that time, she watched as the human side of her business was put front and center. With nothing to sell, her team was checking in on their clients just to check-in. Just to ask “Are you okay?” and “What room in your house are you painting today?” 


She believes that due to this focus on relationship building, she’s currently leading the most high-functioning, most collaborative team she has ever led. “They make my job easy,” she says. 


And while she’s looking forward to a new stage of life on the horizon, she’s not quite done yet. She loves this work and knows it’ll be hard to leave. 


“It’s not just a passion for the buildings,” she clarifies, “it’s a passion for the relationships we build with our clients. And it’s a passion for the purpose of their events and why they’re coming together. We help fulfill their purpose.” 


She cares so deeply about this work because she knows: “The events that happen in our building leave long-lasting memories, so it’s important.”