Putting People First
Wischermann Partners Strives To Create Memorable Experiences For Guests
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
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Paul Wischermann acknowledges his timing may not have been very strategic when he made the decision to start Wischermann Partners shortly after 9/11, but some 15 years later he hasn’t looked back as the company continues to carve its niche as an operator of upper-upscale and luxury hotels.
The company founder, president and CEO had a deep background in hospitality when he decided to leverage his experience and pension for deal-making by starting the third-party operator in 2002. Wischermann Partners, based in Minnetonka, MN, now has 12 properties open—encompassing brands such as Westin, Le Meridien, Sheraton, The Luxury Collection and Courtyard by Marriott—as well as two properties under development.
Wischermann—whose experience includes an eight-year stint with Carlson Hospitality Worldwide as well as a general manager position at the Parkhotel Oberhausen in Germany—detailed the company’s operating philosophy, which is rooted in the guest experience.
“Our mantra always has been creating memorable experiences with world-class brands. If you have a commitment to that then you need to put people first. Putting people first means the only way you turn guests in our business into happy, loyal, raving fans is you need to create an engaged employee culture. There’s no secret sauce with that it’s just a lot of hard work; it’s a culture you need to build from within. You need to lead by example and when you do that over time it becomes very powerful,” he said.
Nowhere is that commitment to the service culture more evident than with the company’s approach to food & beverage, which Wischermann refers to as a “big point of differentiation.” He underscored the importance of food & beverage within full-service hotels. “It is very important in order to bring certain parts of the hotel to life,” he said.
However, when it comes to establishing the right culture, Wischermann acknowledges the importance of identifying the right people, although he is quick to point out that hasn’t been an issue for the company.
“We’re so different in terms of our focus on culture that that is very attractive to a lot of high performers in our industry. If you treat people right somehow that comes back to you,” he said.
While the company will consider acquisition opportunities as a means of growth,
Wischermann conceded the “majority of our focus has been ground-up development for the last two or three years.”
For example, the company in 2016 opened the 450-room Westin Nashville, which took some three years to develop. Meanwhile, currently under development are a Westin in Jackson, MS, and a Luxury Collection hotel in Nashville.
Wischermann Partners got its start in the Midwest, primarily because that’s where the capital sources were located, according to Wischermann, but has since expanded geographically to areas such as Hartford, CT; Charlotte, NC; and Atlanta previously. The company is also in the predevelopment phases for a property in Los Angeles.
Wischermann, however, stressed that the deal must make sense, regardless of location. “We definitely have a national focus and it is truly about individual projects. Can we provide the value? Can we make a difference? Do we believe we are better than others [for that property]? Just signing up a deal for the sake of fees is not in our DNA,” he said.
Wischermann pointed out that the company works with a variety of different capital sources and ownership groups, many of which do multiple projects as a result of its ability to generate returns. “The most important thing is that your vision has to align with the vision of an owner…If you do have the right philosophy, if it’s aligned, and you know that you both care about service excellence then you have an owner which is also supportive. The returns at the end of day can be measured very quickly in ADR premiums, which flow right to the bottom line.”
Wischermann provided the Le Meridien in Columbus as a prime example of the benefit of being able to drive rate as he noted the property is outperforming the overall marketplace by 70 to 80 dollars on average per year. “That couldn’t have been done any other way, you can’t save your way to those kind of returns,” he said.
Many owners and operators throughout the industry could potentially be impacted by Marriott International’s acquisition—and subsequent integration—of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, but Wischermann points out none more than his company.
“We are probably the most unique case study where we crossed over with an almost clean Starwood portfolio over to the Marriott side. I can’t be more excited about the future with Marriott. They are very keen on protecting the brands they just acquired; they talked a lot about defining the swim lanes…The support infrastructure from Marriott is second to none, they are clearly at heart hotel operators. Our philosophy couldn’t align more with putting people first. So culturally it’s a superb fit and the transition from a technical standpoint has been flawless. Guests have not experienced any kind of disruption,” he said.
Looking ahead, Wischermann said he sees a unique opportunity ahead for operators of upper-tier lifestyle product. “I do expect more flexibility from the brands in terms of allowing, on a select basis, third-party operators like us to operate some luxury brands. I just see that happening. Those are some of the opportunities trend-wide in a mature industry like ours and we’re positioning ourselves that way,” he said, citing W Hotels as an example of a brand that could be franchised eventually.
Wischermann elaborated on the company’s long-term strategy, particularly as it relates to expansion. “It’s not numbers, but by the same token we do want to grow in order to keep the momentum going in our company. Momentum is always important because it helps build positive energy and it gives opportunity for growth for your employees, your team members, and therefore that’s important. It’s exciting in our position to be part of this current lifecycle of the industry,” he said.