A Pioneer Soul

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by Lisa Gunther / photography by Hemali Acharya

With a thoughtful look in her eyes and her fingers wrapped around a steaming hot cup of coffee, hospitality maven Ingrid Summerfield tells the story of her life. It’s the quintessential American story; the struggle for independence, the search for opportunity, a lot of hard work, and dreams that come true.

Ingrid was born in Stuttgart, one of Germany’s largest cities, well-known for being the home of Porsche and Mercedes. The oldest of four children, Ingrid would describe her childhood as traditional, albeit nomadic.

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After finishing the second grade, her family began an epic trek to new and exciting foreign lands, starting with the south of France, where she finished the third and fourth grade, and then Northern California, where her father—an agriculturist—bought a small farm near Red Bluff. Between the sixth and eighth grade, she continued to move back and forth between California, France, and Germany before finally enrolling in the Lausanne Hospitality School in Switzerland.

Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the frequent changes in her life, Ingrid found them exhilarating, and subsequently developed a life-long love of travel that would lead to a career in the field of hospitality.

“You just learn to be independent, how to adapt, how to make new friends quickly and how to enjoy different environments. I went to 18 schools in my entire career. And I learned three languages.”

It was this sense of independence that led Ingrid back to San Francisco after finishing school in Switzerland. For Ingrid, the City by the Bay offered the freedom to spread her wings, while in Europe she had struggled against societal dictations about what she, as a woman, could do with her life. She didn’t want to settle for a job in middle management or housekeeping. She longed for a more dynamic career.

“Coming here, there was something that, for me, equated freedom and opportunity. That was definitely a vision I had. And I think the vision stemmed back from a childhood memory of standing on the Marin Headlands, when I was 12 or 13 years old, and just looking at the bridge, and thinking, this is the land of opportunity. Just seeing that spectacular beauty, of the bridge, the bay and the city, there was always this dream or this image in my mind’s eye of where there was a future.”

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Arriving in San Francisco with only two suitcases and $900, Ingrid was ready to face that future. She found employment at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, working in the accounting office, before deciding to go back to school. After receiving a degree in photojournalism at San Francisco State, she initially began looking for work as a journalist in the city, though the need for more money would soon lead her to work as a sales coordinator for a group of hotels in the South of Market area. After a few years working in sales, she joined Joie de Vivre as a General Manager.

“Reconnecting with the hotel industry in the sales and public relations arena, and more in the people aspect, the creative side of things—that really was more my calling than the finance and accounting side. And one thing led to another, and I am still in the hotel industry.”

Today, as president of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, Ingrid oversees multiple aspects of the company, including the hotel, restaurant and spa operations, human resources, the technology and revenue departments, and finally, sales and marketing. In her personal life, she enjoys street photography, visiting museums, and of course, traveling. She lives in what she describes as the cultural center of the city, Hayes Valley, with her husband, Ron, and their two cats—Casper and Cinder. Fortunately, Ron’s career as a realtor offers him plenty of time to travel with her, and the two take delight in visiting the great cities of the world together.

Her favorite city? San Francisco, of course.

 

 

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