Shooting for the Moon

CEO Eric Danzinger plans to lead Wyndham Hotel Group to new heights.

THE NAME BRAND

Jeff Wagoner, who created ByRequest in 1998 when he was senior vice president of brand operations for Wyndham International, has returned to lead the brand. He worked as a front-desk clerk at a Wyndham in 1984 and is a hotel guy just like the man who hired him. The two worked together at Wyndham before and Wagoner followed Danziger to ZipRealty and WhiteFence, so it's no surprise he's back.

To say Wagoner has a target on his back might be unfair, but there's no disputing the fact he's leading the brand the entire company is named for. With the management division he also oversees, it's also the most important piece of Wyndham Hotel Group's transformation. And with only 82 properties worldwide (19 managed), excluding the 162 Wingates also under the Wyndham umbrella Wagoner oversees, this is the place to grow WHG's revenue.

Wagoner has only been on the job since February, but he's outlined three areas of focus to grow the brand: clarity, contribution and profitability. The Wyndham brand with its seven tiers — Grand, Grand Bay, Historic, Hotels, Resorts, Garden and Wingate — could use some clarification and Wagoner says there could be tweaks announced at the Wyndham brand conference later this month.

Design- and marketing-led initiatives have been the focus the past two years, but under Wagoner the attention has turned to operational excellence and customer service. The ‘Count on Me!’ service culture that debuted last year will get a bigger push.

“Day in and day out we want to be great operators of hotels and creating a product that can be managed well and is contributing with great sales programs,” Wagoner says. “We're in the hotel business, we need to be out there running hotels first and foremost and innovate when the time is right and in a way that is smart. When I talk about those components (contribution and profitability), they all live whether it's a franchise or a managed hotel.”

The management component allows Wyndham to build operational excellence and then transfer the knowledge and skills to franchised properties, increasing contribution and ultimately profitability. Some of those skills and lessons can be passed onto other brands, too.

Having the “skin in the game,” Holmes says, is one of the reasons buying Wyndham was critical for the growth shareholders sought. “We need to become a more meaningful player in the management business to share with our owners the success we drive into our hotels.” He adds WHG isn't interested in owning hotels or any hard-asset plays.

The biggest challenge for Wyndham now is rebuilding its portfolio that has dwindled through multiple ownership changes through the years. “We want to be big,” says Alderman, the man tasked with growing the brand globally. He's got ambitious goals: multiple locations in the top 40 U.S. markets and top eight Canadian markets, rebuilding the resort portfolio Wyndham used to have and growing internationally (the first Wyndham is opening in China this month). Alderman is willing to take some chances to make that happen: “We're going with creative flexibility in the types of structures we'll consider, for managed and franchise contracts,” he says. “We'll be open to different opportunities and willing to take some risks in the types of agreements we'd consider.”

Wyndham Hotel Group's transformation began with the purchase of Wyndham International, and its success probably rests in many ways with the brand, too. But becoming a true hospitality company, both in perception and reality, starts and ends with the dynamic Danziger. There's a buzz around the new office and Wagoner, his right-hand man, says Danziger has never missed landing on his moon.

“The type of leadership Eric brings to the team is meaningful and palpable,” says Holmes. “It's contagious. When I walk the floors, you can feel the energy level has increased dramatically.”

Wyndham Hotel Group
By The Numbers
As of 3/31/09

Brand Properties Rooms
AmeriHost 7 438
Baymont 225 18,914
Days Inn 1,851 150,319
Hawthorn 90 8,448
Howard Johnson 475 46,273
Knights Inn 309 19,920
Microtel 313 22,476
Ramada 885 114,448
Super 8 2,105 130,725
Travelodge 471 35,477
Wingate 166 15,195
Wyndham 82 21,650
TOTAL 6,979 584,283

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