Tell us about how you got started in the hospitality industry.
My parents, my two older sisters and I emigrated from England to the U.S. in 1980. My parents purchased an independent hotel, and I was only 10 at the time but quickly learned to help out with every aspect of hoteling.
Our days off from school involved doing the hotel laundry, pulling sheets from the checkouts, and even making the rooms, cutting the grass and cleaning the pool. During summer break from college (I went to pharmacy school), we would go through the same routines as we did when in grade school. I grew up in the business literally, as many of us did, which eventually gave us the stepping stone to have franchise hotels.
What makes a great leader?
There are many qualities and characteristics that make a great leader, not just one. A combination of many, I believe, makes a leader. One has to be confident; if you are not, no one you lead will be either.
You have to have passion for what you do. If you don’t like what you’re doing, you can’t lead yourself or others. A great leader has to be honest, as no one will trust you or follow you if they’ve been misled. One has to accept failure with responsibility; your team will appreciate your humbleness. Leaders also have to be able to communicate their ideas/thoughts to their team and employees.
What book has influenced you most?
I have never been a book-reader, however, I am an avid reader of newspapers and magazines of all types. I like to keep current and knowledgeable whether it be a topic of science, business, current events, sports, nature, travel, etc. If I see a topic of interest, I’ll pick up the article and read it.
What do you think is most important for the next generation of hoteliers to learn?
Values. I believe that is the most important thing the next generation of hoteliers needs to learn. Values determine how we live, play and work. The reason being is that our community has come a long way from the first generation of hoteliers (i.e., our parents, uncles, other relatives), and the one thing they instilled is having values, not going above yourself, staying true to the roots of how we were raised and not taking anything for granted. Having a good set of values and staying true to them will not lead one down the wrong path.
Who is your role model and why?
I would say my father (along with my mother). He grew up in Malawi, Africa, in a successful family business, and eventually moved to England by himself with little to no money and was always looking to do better and succeed for his family.
This eventually led him to move to the U.S. with his family, again with very little money, where he worked hard to succeed. I may have not seen it that way growing up as a child, but looking back at all the sacrifices he and my mother made for the family, it is a debt of gratitude that is hard to repay. However, this is what one does for family and it’s never forgotten. Once again, back to values; values instilled by parents go a long way.
Tell us about an accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
Probably the most significant accomplishment in my career would have been when my family and I built our first franchise hotel, a Holiday Inn Express and Suites, which was a first for us and felt like a major accomplishment. It was a learning curve from a development, construction management and operations standpoint – something we hadn’t dealt with before, but that is what sparked the fire.
What’s the number-one asset a skilled hotelier should possess?
People skills should be the number-one asset a skilled hotelier should have. If you cannot be a people person, you will not run a successful business. You have to be on a personal level with your team, and they should be able to feel like you are one of them while knowing you are still the boss. People will go to great lengths to help you succeed if they are made to feel welcome and know they are treated with respect.
If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would you want to meet?
Ronald Reagan. He was the ‘great communicator’ and knew how to reach out to everyone and bring everyone together for the greater good.