By Dennis Nessler
Identifying the need to provide financial assistance to its associates in need during times of crisis, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, Aimbridge Hospitality recently created a charitable foundation known as Aimbridge Aid.
The foundation will allow associates in the U.S. facing catastrophic financial impact to apply for financial assistance with funds distributed though a direct grant or an application process by the Aimbridge Aid committee based on timing and assessment of need.
Dave Johnson, CEO, Aimbridge Hospitality, acknowledged the company had been considering developing such a program for some time. “We had spoken about something, especially when the company grew and got to a really large scale. The company has had explosive growth so we’ve got so much tenure amongst our employees whether they’re property level or corporate level. We talked about it but obviously with the devastation caused by COVID-19 it really accelerated it,” he said.
Aimbridge Aid anticipates raising funds by donations from other Aimbridge associates, as well as its partners and guests. Aimbridge Aid will act as the vehicle to collect and distribute funds to impacted associates.
According to Johnson, the program has already raised close to a million dollars and figures to grow considerably as the majority of the Plano, TX-based company’s senior management team have either contributed or plan to contribute to the fund. In addition, he added that Boston-based Advent International—which acquired a majority stake in Aimbridge last year—committed to a matching contribution that was “pretty sizable.”
Johnson noted the program recently opened up for applications and had already received in excess of 100 requests ranging from $500 to $3,000. “We raised it to use it, we didn’t want to raise it so it could sit in a trust. We’re talking about average contributions of $500 to 2,500 so it’s going to be able to affect quite a few people and we still think we have the werewithal to be able to continue to raise more,” he said, adding that vendors and key partners would eventually contribute as well.
Johnson further stressed he was particularly pleased with the early progress of Aimbridge Aid. “We’re ahead of where we thought we’d be. We’re excited about where we’re at in such a short period of time,” he said.
But while Johnson acknowledged that the foundation is clearly designed to help people through the current pandemic, he also emphasized it represents a longer-term initiative. “We didn’t want to bill it as COVID-19 related, it was just the perfect time to kick off the program. It will be an evergreen program. Given the scale and size of the company we have the ability to impact lives within our Aimbridge family and we’re pretty fired up about it. It’s probably one of the few bright spots as we’re struggling through this pandemic that we’re able to reach out and help so many people in a time of need,” he said.
Johnson further acknowledged the far-reaching impact of the pandemic on the company as it has had to close roughly 20 percent of the more than 1,400 properties it now operates following its acquisition of Interstate Hotels & Resorts last fall. Furthermore, Aimbridge has furloughed roughly 60 percent of its workforce, which equates to some 38,000 employees. He also noted that everyone on the corporate team has been asked to take a 20 percent pay reduction.
“It’s impacted every single person in our organization,” he said. Johnson maintained that the company’s efforts extend beyond the current foundation. To help people understand the Payroll Protection Program (PPP)—a provision of the CARES Act—Aimbridge appointed Erica Hageman as a chief government affairs officer. The former general counsel for Interstate Hotels & Resorts was hired as the Coronavirus outbreak began.
“She’s done a phenomenal job working hand-in-hand with the AHLA on behalf of our company and our owners mainly. We’ve had so many of our owners reach out to us for assistance on PPP and the good news is so many owners have already been funded, which obviously takes care of part of our collective employees,” said Johnson.
The CEO did address the ongoing integration of Interstate and it’s nearly 600 hotels and insisted that it has not been impacted in a major way by COVID-19. “I will tell you that the bulk of the integration was done before the pandemic hit. We had a very aggressive timeline to get the companies integrated and to pick the senior leadership team, which really came from individuals on both sides of the aisle. All of those decisions were made and implemented. I will tell you that the integration has gone extremely well,” he said.