There’s no shortage of hospitality experience when it comes to the senior management team of HP Hotels, but that didn’t stop the company from seeking out a diverse range of hospitality veterans to help strategize and explore new avenues of growth.
The Alpharetta, GA-based company unveiled this past summer the formation of the HP Hotels Advisory Council, which is made up of five experienced professionals that meet periodically. Kerry Ranson, chief development officer, detailed how it came together following discussions that he had earlier this year with HP Hotels’ Chairman Mike Hines and President/CEO Charles Oswald as the management company readied for the next phase of growth.
“We said ‘what if we went to some of our peers in the industry and asked them to be part of a council to really press us and say are we doing the right things? What are we missing?’ They could also guide us to potential opportunities that could be there for us in this next growth spurt,” said Ranson.
According to the company, the objective of this team—which embodied a broad range of hospitality disciplines, experiences and accomplishments—is to provide insights and recommendations to the company’s executive team as it builds a strategic plan for continued success in the short, immediate and long term. He explained the company’s internal motto with regards to the council, “Feedback is a gift and don’t get offended.”
Ranson acknowledged there were a couple of concerns initially. “We’re opening up a Pandora’s box. We’re proud are we going to be able to handle it and then are they going to want to do this again?” he said. Ranson went on to point out that the group—which has already met three times—has actually expressed a desire to get together more frequently.
Ranson noted that HP’s senior executive team—which has nearly 70 years of combined experience—was particularly pleased with the professional makeup of the group and how it came together. “We had an A list and if A says no here’s our B list, which was still an A list. The A list all said yes,” he said.
The members of the HP Hotels Advisory Council are:
• Jim Holthouser, who was former EVP, global brands, marketing and loyalty at Hilton as part of a three-decade career in hospitality.
• Kirk Kinsell, Principal of Panther Ridge Partners in Santa Rosa Beach, FL. Kinsell is a former President and CEO of Loews Hotels. Prior to that, he held a number of positions, including President, Americas, IHG.
• Raman (RP) Rama, President of Sarona Holdings in the Greenville, SC area, and past owner, EVP, CTO/CIO of JHM Hotels.
• Jim Hartigan, chief business development officer and partner for Orgwide Custom Learning Solutions and former SVP at Hilton Hotels.
• Adria Levtchenko, founder and CEO of PurpleCloud, a developer of hotel management software systems.
Ranson maintained that the diversity of the group was very much by design and he acknowledged that Holthouser—who was the first to join the Council and chairs the committee—played a key role.
“He helped us come up with a combination of disciplines. He felt like it can’t just be a bunch of owners or one type of person and so we came up with different disciplines. So we went through databanks to figure out who are some of the top people out there?” he said.
Ranson noted that in addition to rewriting the company’s mission statement, the advisory council—which is done entirely on a volunteer basis—has already had a profound impact. “They’ve helped us and they’re seeing implementation so I think that helps too. There are parts of the month where I’m getting calls from them checking in saying, ‘is there anything you need? Do you want to talk about anything?’”
One of the key recommendations of the Advisory Council was that the company should raise an investment fund to better compete in a changing marketplace. The company agreed and three of the five ultimately decided to contribute to it as well.
Ranson talked about the fund and how it can help fuel growth going forward.
“The fund is not about us going out to be like other funds that are out there. It’s actually for us to have a fund where we can put additional money out there to place in partnership with clients or with existing opportunities that may be out there now. We’re seeing more and more ‘hey we’d like you to be a manager but you have to place equity in the deal,’” he said.
In addition to the formation of the advisory council, the company has undergone a “big staff increase” in the past 18 months to prepare for continued growth, according to Ranson. With some 47 hotels under management—including the addition of 15 properties in the last 8 months—HP Hotels is very much in a growth mode.
Ranson noted that corporate staff has been added in a number of capacities, including accounting, sales, operations, revenue management and information technology. He called particular attention to the recent addition of Liad Hare as business development/acquisition analyst.
“I brought in Liad to assist me with looking at deals but also from the standpoint of pinpointing the right markets. What opportunities could exist out there we’re maybe not looking at that could be up and coming markets or up and coming segments?” said Ranson.