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AAHOA Superstars Share Personal Success Stories

Not every son or daughter of an AAHOA member hotel owner wanted to be in the hotel business. Here is how they returned to the family business and found incredible success.

Friday, March 21, 2014
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The Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) is about different things to different people. Advocacy, unity and shared experiences, for example. But one of its most important missions is one of inspiration. And after 25 years AAHOA is not only an inspiration to all hotel industry owners, that inspiration is becoming a keystone precept of the organization as it looks to bring career focus to its younger members.

So it was great to see at this week’s annual conference a discussion of a different sort. Instead of hearing the same old discussion about strong industry fundamentals and how it relates to RevPAR, ROI, ADR and other industry benchmarks, this session focused on the pathways to success for its members.

It was a great diversion from the traditional panel because instead of sharing what we already know, it gave the 2,200 people in attendance a better understanding of how family unity can be the backbone to success.

The panel also addressed the doubts these top level executives had about entering a family business, the desire to find themselves through other career paths and how and why these individuals finally chose to seek success in the hotel industry.

President of Vision Hospitality Mitch Patel shared how he grew up in the family hotel business and how at an early age he took out trash, checked in guests and did whatever was required of him to help the family business. But rather than make him want to pursue a career in hospitality it turned him off.

“This is not the sexiest business you would want to pursue, so I went on to do other things. I went to be an engineer and I didn't care for it. I got a master’s degree and realized my heart was not in it, so I went back to the family business,” said Mitch Patel.

He started by acting as a contractor on a hotel 17 years ago and then as its opening General Manager. “I found my passion and fell in love with business and went on to do my second and third hotels,” said Patel, whose company now has 32 hotels, eight of which opened last year with another 15 in development pipeline as well.

His lesson: “Don't be afraid to follow your dreams and follow your passion. Sometimes it takes a while but then nothing can stop you. If you have passion you will work harder and find success,” said Patel who added that will to accomplish outweighs raw IQ every time.

The president of JHM Hotels, DJ Rama, said a career in hospitality was implanted in him early in life. But it was also about self-discovery. “The journey has been about education and learning for me. I was directed and guided and it is all about a vision, now I have 7,000 rooms,” said Rama. “Education and learning is a great journey to broaden horizons and take the family business to the next level.”

He said a family business can be a very powerful thing and it’s important to fully understand the capabilities of each family member and play to those strengths. “Be pragmatic and figure where [each family member] can add value to the organization,” said Rama.

Rama’s lesson: Leave egos at the door and make sure it doesn’t come in way of growing the business. It’s also important to have new sets of talent and diversity too in order to continue to expand. Also, ask what is the purpose and mission for what the family unit wants to accomplish.

The CEO of Hersha Hospitality Trust, Jay Shah, believes in personal responsibility as a key to success. “You have to keep a careful eye on ambition by making it personal while also having courage and accepting accountability,” said Shah.

Meanwhile the CEO of Noble Investment Group, Mit Shah, said it’s important to have smarter people in the room than you and that’s a strong success driver. “Our ability to unlock the ideas of those smartest people in the room has everything to do with the success we have enjoyed. My hope is there are many others who will inspire us in what we do,” said Mit Shah. “My peer group gave me knowledge of world class executives and leaders that took opportunity to come to build our organization.”

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