Don't Let This Business Keep You Down

I recently spoke with a man who is 27 years old and holds the position of vice president of brands for a large hotel chain. I was impressed by his intelligence, humility and pleasant personality. I felt compelled to relate my own story in hopes of providing him some veteran insight and help for the exciting journey ahead. For him and other young professionals, the trip through the hospitality industry isn't always a smooth ride.

By the time I was 27, I had been promoted and moved five times in five years for an excellent company, Winegardner and Hammons, and was the general manager of a 300-room property in Virginia Beach, VA. Thirteen months later, I was promoted to district director of operations with responsibility for 13 hotels. Nine months later, without warning, I was fired.

My mother always instilled in me the old Vince Lombardi attitude of “it's not whether you get knocked down, but whether you get up.” Sometimes that's not as easy as it sounds.

I interviewed with a company called The March Company, which was starting a subsidiary, Diversified Hotel Management. I was up against people who were big names in the industry and more qualified, but I clicked with the main partner and landed the job. What an incredible experience it was: I set up the back of the house, did the acquisitions, managed operations, secured financing, helped raise equity and before you knew it, we were a 2,000-room-plus hotel company.

My attorney introduced me to an international investor who gave me 49 percent of Premier Hotel Corporation and equity in every deal we acquired. My partner decided after several years he was going to buy me out and divest his U.S. holdings. He was very fair and I left with the money, confidence and enthusiasm I needed to seek out my next venture.

One Sunday it fell into my lap. I was reading a restaurant review that described an Italian concept 10 minutes from my house. It was unique and perfect — we were going to be the Italian Boston Chicken. I was the operating partner, despite pledging never to get involved with the restaurant business. We failed and it was ugly. I had a hard time getting up. No problem, I decided; I'll get back into the hotel business — only it was a period of downturn and jobs in New England were nonexistent.

After being on my own for more than 10 years, working for bureaucratic organizations was not a great match for me. I was fired from back-to-back hotel jobs. This is certainly not something to brag about — I simply forgot how to play the game and paid the price. However, I did recognize that I needed to work for myself if and when I could and refused to lose that focus.

I became director of development for MainStay Suites in the Northeast and did very well with the Choice organization. I was fortunate to work for a man who was a superb teacher of business development, a skill that serves me well today.

After five years at Mainstay, a friend and I formed a company that managed timeshares, senior assisted living facilities and hotels. After five years, I realized I wanted to start a new business without partners, so they graciously bought me out.

I formed The Providence Group in 2005. We specialize in managing 70- to 200-room hotels and I'm personally involved in every deal. This is the most fun I've had since the March Company.

The moral of the story?

Life is not one seamless journey. Never give up and if you do get knocked down, remember to get back up. Take your family seriously and take your job seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously. Good luck and continued success for all the up-and-coming hospitality professionals.


Jed C. Heller is president of The Providence Group, LLC and a 30-year veteran of the hospitality management industry. He can be reached at jcheller@providencegrp.com. For more information on The Providence Group, check out www.providencegrp.com.


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