When researching for this interview, Versha (Vicky) Patel realized that 20 years had sped by since joining AAHOA in 1996. She has been steadfast in her support of AAHOA as has attended nearly all of the annual conventions since. Her commitment and respect for AAHOA has carried over to her three wonderful children, Darshan (24), Pooja (21) and Aarti (20).
While Versha has received many awards and recognitions, the award she cherishes most is being recognized as AAHOA’s Outstanding Woman Hotelier of the Year, which was presented to her during the 2014 convention. “To be recognized by my peers and by such a strong, accomplished organization such as AAHOA was very humbling to me,” Versha said.
Her husband, Bhavesh (Bobby) Patel, served on the Executive Committee and the board of AAHOA from 1998-2000. While he served, his tenure and networking with new friends increased his experience and sphere of influence, which, in turn, allowed him to become well-acquainted with AAHOA and its leadership culture.
Tell us a little bit about how you got started in the hospitality industry.
In 1986 my parents, my brother and I immigrated from Birmingham, England, to Livingston, California, where my parents bought a 17-unit independent hotel. There I would help my parents before and after school, and on weekends, by cleaning and renting rooms. In 1990, I was married to Bhavesh and soon thereafter we leased a 44-room hotel in Fresno, California. The hotel was quite challenging, but those challenges helped us understand clearly that nothing comes easy in life, and hard work always pays off. We initially operated the hotel ourselves, but soon evolved to hiring staff. This freedom away from day to day operations afforded us the time to grow our company and soon thereafter, Hotel Investment Group Inc. took shape. Through strategic planning and staying true to our plan we were able to endure the ups and downs of the business cycle. As I look back on my journey, it has been a wondrous joy. I never imagined I would be a mother of three and the CFO of such a large company, buying and selling almost 90 hotels, and today, employing more than 300 incredible associates and support staff. To my peers I say: “Chase the goal but enjoy the process even more.”
What makes a great leader?
A great leader is a person who leads from the front, follows her convictions, and above all, acts with integrity. A leader listens, coaches, offers public praise and discreet criticism. A leader has a knack for bringing her vision to life in the hearts and minds of the people who follow her. A leader always accepts mistakes while always giving credit and acclaim to others. A leader inspires others to be great.
What book has influenced you most?
There are so many great books, so I can’t really point to any one in particular. However, The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie are two books I would credit to shaping the foundation of my leadership skills. The Bhagavad Gita I would credit for shaping my spiritual life.
What do you think is most important for the next generation of hoteliers to learn?
Never take shortcuts. Technology has its place but can never replace the human touch found in customer service, kindness and empathy. Be positive, slow down, be strategic and not tactical. Always have your eye on the prize, and do not let the noise cloud your mind. Do your best and then more.
Who is your role model and why?
I have been influenced by so many people; I don’t even know where to begin. But first and foremost, I would say my husband. He was 20 years old when I married him, and not a day has gone by where he has wavered in his vision for family or business. He has systematically worked though his checklist for life and family.
Secondly, I would also say Mahatma Gandhi, a mild, meek and humble man who, with a smile and compassion, changed the future of a billion people. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates took us out of the proverbial “primitive era” and catapulted us into the Age of Technology.
Tell us about an accomplishment you consider to be the most significant in your career.
Well this answer might be unorthodox, and I will try to be humble, but if I am not then please forgive a mother for gushing with pride and forgetting her humbleness. The single, most significant accomplishment of my life is having three amazing children. I have been able to teach them the qualities of humility, empathy, honesty, and the desire to work hard with good character all the while carrying our family name forward with dignity and pride. They are the future torch bearers of my family and company, which comes with great responsibility. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful family.
If you could meet anyone who would you want to meet?
I would like to meet Mahatma Gandhi. My questions for him would be, “How, in trying times, were you able to persevere? In the darkest of days, did you think you would not be able to reach your goals, and, if so, how did you find a solution? How did you convince and empower people to actions that were against their fundamental values? How were you able to stay on course and message in spite of all the trials and tribulations?”