Who Are the Pacemakers in Hospitality These Days?

August 6, 2013

By Dr. John Hogan, CHA CHMS CHE CHO

The two questions posed in this article were prompted by last week’s news in the American media. They both deal with purchases that were substantially lower than the sale of the same assets over the last decade. I’m referring to the $70 million sale of the Boston Globe to John Henry, the somewhat laid-back owner of the Boston Red Sox, and the $250 million sale of the Washington Post to the founder of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos.

While nothing in his background suggests what kind of newspaper owner he will be, Henry has earned a reputation as a pioneering investor and businessman who has followed his own instincts in running an array of successful enterprises. After deciding to close his shrinking commodities company in 2012, Henry focused his attention on a number of other endeavors:  the sports group that owns the Red Sox, a majority stake in the popular regional sports channel New England Sports Network, a successful NASCAR racing team, and a sports-marketing arm. In 2010, Henry made another big leap when his Fenway Sports Group paid $477 million for one of the most well-known brands in soccer: England’s Liverpool FC.

“The Boston Globe’s award-winning journalism as well as its rich history and tradition of excellence have established it as one of the most well-respected media companies in the country,” Henry said in a public statement. He also noted the “essential role that [the Globe’s] journalists and employees play in Boston, throughout New England, and beyond.”

Bezos, a much more visible public figure, shared similar intentions in an August 4 letter to the staff of the Washington Post:  “[T]he values of the Post do not need changing….The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not the private interests of the owners.”

These questions came to mind because I have begun to wonder who is taking a serious look at hotels and hospitality these days. While there seems to be a continuing announcements of new brands, the lasting power of many of them remains a hopeful desire in the imagination of the founders. I am not being negative, yet one wonders what real changes are being developed that will lead to hotel companies offering more than an another additional commodity.

Elsworth Statler, Ralph Hitz, Conrad Hilton, Howard Johnson, Kemmons Wilson, Robert Wooley, and Henry Silverman each created organizations that were remarkably different than the competition over a century that spanned from 1898 to 1998. They were pacemakers who were not afraid of being labeled “contrarians.”  While each had challenges and problems, they overcame them with tenacity and conviction.

Our group at HospitalityEducators.com has the distinction of working with a number of hotel owners and senior managers in a variety of programs, and it is exciting to see their enthusiasm as they search for their dreams.  Henry and Bezos are both high-tech successes embracing a medium from the past that favors a high touch. I, for one, wish them both well, and I also hope there are some innovators in our industry that are open to creative bursts of energy that can enliven our offerings. Success seems to be connected with action.

“Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”  Conrad Hilton

John Hogan

Dr. John Hogan, CHA CMHS CHE CHO is a career business professional and educator who has held senior leadership with responsibility in several organizations involving operational, academic and entrepreneurial enterprise. He has demonstrated competencies as a strong leader, relationship builder, problem solver and mentor and is frequently invited to speak at franchise meetings, management company and hospitality association industry events. He also acts as an expert witness in both research and testimony in hospitality industry related cases.

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