Q&A with Radisson Hotel Group’s Jim Alderman
You have worn many hats in this industry. Why Radisson Hotel Group? Why now?
As you can imagine, I never expected to be joining Radisson Hotel Group right as the COVID-19 pandemic had an unprecedented impact on our industry. However, I’m beyond excited for this leadership role, even during these unprecedented times. Throughout my 34 years in this industry, I have been fortunate enough to work for some amazing companies in a variety of different roles. Now, I hope to leverage all that experience to lead the Americas for Radisson Hotel Group, one of the top hotel companies in the world – and the last job I ever intend to have in the hotel industry. Regardless of what we as a company, industry, and world are facing, I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead this organization, which has undergone a complete transformation of its business over the past few years. I am confident that the company’s vision, revitalized plans, and dedicated team members will deliver on our strategic five-year plan and beyond.
How has starting a new position in the midst of a crisis informed your new role?
Let’s just say I was very fortunate in that regard. When I joined Radisson Hotel Group back in early March, I immediately stepped into a role where I was surrounded by a seasoned leadership team that is experienced, strategic, and resourceful. Not everyone is that lucky. I am thankful that the team had already begun making immediate operational plans and adjustments to our business and were in contact with our franchisees to see how we could help them. My main task was to continue to facilitate these procedures and help open any other doors I could. We also had an experienced global leadership team, led by Federico González, helping navigate us through this pandemic along with the support of our shareholders.
Tell us about your personal relationship with AAHOA. How long have you been involved with AAHOA and what is your fondest AAHOA memory?
As I have come in and out of different organizations such as Holiday Inn Worldwide, long before it was renamed several times, I have become keenly aware that franchisor success is distinctly tied to full and robust participation with AAHOA. Having watched the success that Mike Leven brought to Holiday Inn and how that was inexorably tied to AAHOA support, I feel like I learned at the feet of the master. Transitioning to becoming a franchisee myself while at Bristol Hotels, I found that even though we were the largest owner of a particular brand’s hotels, we did not enjoy the power of AAHOA’s unified voice as a franchisee advocate. When I think about my fondest memories of participating with AAHOA, I think they are still developing. I find myself enjoying my time at regional meetings and AAHOACON even more at each occurrence. Memories that resonate with me more than anything have come at regional meetings – once the business is done and the trade shows have run their course, it is usually late in the afternoon. At that time, when schools are out and the extended families with kids all show up, you really get to see the essence of the community. You know that these kids you are greeting and handing out pens or other fun little branded items to will one day likely be signing a franchise agreement with you. So, I would have to say it is the family aspect and ultimate advocacy from AAHOA that I have come to admire most.
What can industry professionals do to show true leadership during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic? Which of your skills helped drive your leadership style during these uncertain times, especially given how new you were to the team and the company?
I have been in this industry a long time and I have been fortunate enough to join a well-oiled machine here at Radisson Hotel Group. Our leadership team brings an owner-centric mentality to everything we do. I fully respect the groundwork that was laid before I joined the team and I am excited to use my experience to further bolster our growth in the Americas. I am not new to dealing with crises and issues within our industry or in business in general. Growing up in Florida, my father was the head of crisis management for the largest employer in our region with more than 17,000 employees, and we endured numerous hurricanes. I learned early on the importance of remaining calm, having a dedicated plan, and being resilient and positive to get us all through those tough days ahead.
RHG is owned by a Chinese company. Since China was the first country impacted by COVID-19, was RHG able to prep U.S. operations or anticipate anything from that standpoint?
When COVID-19 started to develop into an unpredictable situation in China, our Radisson Hotel Group team members in Asia-Pacific had to quickly develop a game plan to manage hotel operations, communications, guest relations, and employee impact immediately. From the onset of the situation, they were informing our Americas and Europe-Middle East-Africa teams as to what was happening in real time so we could not only support them in all facets of their business but also prepare ourselves for what could potentially lie ahead as this situation unfolded. With that said, all of the major hotel companies, regardless of ownership, were paying attention to these developments and preparing for what was to come. We are fortunate to have our shareholders recognize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our business and provide us with the support we need, as we need it. As a global company, we deployed region-specific crisis response teams that have also been collaborating on a global scale to share key learnings, best practices, and resources.
What is RHG doing to help its franchisees during COVID-19?
Supporting of our franchisees is one of our highest priorities. Since we own and manage hotels, too, we understand the severe impact COVID-19 has had on our franchisees. We have been regularly communicating revised policies, strategies, and best practices that can be implemented during this historic crisis. So far, we have implemented or deployed more than 20 measures designed to assist franchise owners operationally, commercially, or through cost and expense savings. A wonderful example of this is our virtual regional meetings that have proven to be successful in addressing specific COVID-19 measures related to operations, sales, and revenue generation. To date, we have held 10 virtual meetings with more than 1,000 attendees hosted by our veteran team of Regional Directors. This format also provides an open forum for peer-to-peer interactions. We also have offered to work with our owners on a case-by-case basis regarding franchise fee deferral options.
RHG’s brand promise is Every Moment Matters. How does that guide RHG through
We are living in unprecedented times right now, and even in the difficulties, we are seeing our hotels do their part to keep employees and guests safe. Many of our hotels are trying to make a positive impact. In some situations, this has meant ceasing operations out of an abundance of caution, but it has also meant finding a way to make a difference in their communities and supporting their local government’s efforts to mitigate the pandemic. While there is no doubt our business has taken an unexpected blow, we still see the resilience of our team members protecting guests and employees while simultaneously finding a way to keep moving forward. Even in these challenging times, our hotels are making every moment matter in some way or another.
This industry has navigated crises before. What did those crises teach you about leading RHG through this one now?
I began my career 34 years ago in the middle of a crisis, and Radisson Hotel Group has been through both sudden and prolonged events that have dramatically affected what is considered “business as usual.” We have always come back stronger, and we will this time, as well. When it comes to COVID-19, we are all on a level playing field, so it’s more important than ever to rely on organizations like the AHHOA and the American Hotel & Lodging Association to keep us informed and connected better than ever as we move through uncharted waters together.
We know the hospitality industry is united like never before. What are some of the things you’ve witnessed in navigating COVID-19 that remind you how resilient we are as an industry?
This is a crisis that affects all of us, regardless of our respective size and scope. Additionally, many of us have been in the industry for decades, working alongside one another for the same hotel brand or competing ones. Regardless, we still have common goals for our industry. What I’m noticing is the overall desire to work together for the greater good of the hospitality and travel industry, which might mean more collaboration and inclusiveness. We need to help be a voice for our hotels – together, we can be even stronger.
With layoffs being a huge current impact from COVID-19, what will the industry see once we’re on the other side of this? Will the industry be permanently changed in any way? Are there any silver linings to this crisis?
Travel will always be a priority for the world’s diverse population, and maybe even more so coming out of “shelter in place” rules due to COVID-19. While this experience may require permanent operational changes, Radisson Hotel Group believes that our team members are the ones that truly deliver our “Yes, I Can” spirit in our hotels. But with challenging times, hotel companies will now be better prepared to rethink our future preparedness models to account for unexpected issues and recognize the value of collaboration. Our guests will have different expectations than ever before, so we must collectively use this situation to successfully shape our businesses for the future.
Jim Alderman is the newly appointed chief executive officer Americas for Radisson Hotel Group and is based at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Minnetonka, MN. Alderman is responsible for the corporate offices and more than 680 hotels in the company’s portfolio throughout the Americas. He also is a member of the Global Steering Committee for Radisson Hotel Group.
With more than 34 years of experience in hospitality real estate, Alderman has an extensive background in hotel and restaurant development, private equity fund investment, management contracts, franchises, public/private partnerships, and investor relations. Most recently, he served as Executive Vice President for Extended Stay America (ESA), where he was instrumental in driving the company’s franchising strategy. In just 18 months, he took ESA from zero to 150 franchise deals. He was responsible for their next-generation product through new construction and franchise sales, and asset management of existing real estate portfolio, as well as acquisitions/disposition, and future redevelopment.
Alderman joined ESA from Kimpton Hotels, where he was chief development officer. Prior to joining Kimpton, he held various senior leadership positions with Wyndham, Starwood Capital, IHG, and Ernst & Young.
Throughout his career, Alderman has been involved in the acquisition, development, joint venture, and financing of more than $15 billion of hotel real estate projects globally. He has helped guide the strategy and branding of hundreds of hotel projects from limited service and extended stay to independent boutiques and ultra-luxury properties with branded residential components.
He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Real Estate from Florida State University. He is an Executive Board Member for The Center of Real Estate Education and Research at Florida State University.