Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Leona Helmsley: 'The Queen of Mean'

A Jekyll-Hyde Management Style

Leona was a stickler for detail and demanded from her staff total perfection. She required that employees work above and beyond their call of duty, forbidding any mistakes or behavior that would reflect poorly on the hotel or her. To put it mildly, she ran an extremely tight ship, almost excessively so. If any of her staff accidentally slipped up, they were harshly reprimanded or fired in a flurry of emotion. Needless to say, those who worked beneath Leona began to dislike her and in time many began to despise and fear her.

Leona in ad for Helmsley Palace Hotel
Leona in ad for Helmsley Palace Hotel

Leona had a short temper, and could quickly change from being pleasant to fuming mad within seconds. Many thought she had a Jekyll-Hyde personality, which in many respects was true. Amongst hotel staff, Leona's outbursts became legendary. Those who were the victim of Leona's tirades usually didn't keep their jobs long enough to experience it a second time. Thus, there was an extremely high employee turn over rate during Leona's reign at the Palace.

Leona's frequent explosions became the subject of much backroom gossip. Many of the Palace employees learned through communication with other Helmsley hotel employees throughout the country that they were not the sole victims of her obnoxious behavior. In fact, almost the entire chain of hotels staff had at some point or another witnessed her tirades.

According to some of the chain's ex-employees, staff would often alert another hotel's staff if they learned Leona was on route to their location. It gave them time to prepare for her arrival and quickly right any wrongs that would ignite an eruption from Leona. Leona was at least consistently mean to a vast majority of her employees, earning her the nickname, "the Queen of Mean."

Hammer acknowledged in his book several of many incidents related to Leona's vicious moods, which shocked and even terrified employees throughout the chain of Helmsley hotels. He stated that on occasion, Leona was said to have shouted obscenities at busboys, waiters or chefs before firing them simply for having dirty fingernails. There was one particular incident where Leona purportedly "chased an executive down the corridor after he told her he was quitting". Frequently, Leona allegedly fired maids during room inspections if there was as even a piece of lint on the floor or an uneven lampshade. Many of those who were reprimanded suffered a barrage of foul language and curse words almost always followed by an immediate termination. Some employees were so fearful of Leona that they would actually tremble in her presence. It was an intolerable working environment, but Leona didn't seem to care.

Needless to say, many who knew Leona began to hate her. On one occasion, the hate almost ended Leona's life. One day in the 1980s, she and Harry were allegedly attacked while sleeping by an intruder. The person apparently stabbed Leona in the chest and also injured Harry during a struggle before fleeing. Leona and Harry managed to survive the harrowing incident, but to their dismay the assailant was never caught. Leona believed the intruder was a former employee and wondered if they would return to seek out their revenge against her. Luckily for Leona, they never did. However, she never seemed to grasp the consequences of her behavior and continued to treat people in the dreadful way that she was accustomed.


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