Could there be a more challenging time to ascend to the chair of the hotel industry’s premier trade association? A frightful economy, war on two fronts, a new regime of unknown business quantity in the White House, and a host of legislative and regulatory initiatives awaiting action this month set a stage that will long create memories for incoming AH&LA chairman Joe Martin. That’s a scenario Martin acknowledges—and relishes.
“My timing could have been better, Joe Martin said during his inaugural dinner address in New York City in November. “I’m only stepping into the chairman’s role during the worst economic crisis and retail slowdown this country has faced in the last 80 years.”
After noting that the possibility of anemic occupancy would allow him more time to spend working on behalf of the AH&LA in 2009, Martin gave a glass half-full preview of his upcoming tenure. The proprietor of two Best Western hotels and one Hampton Inn looked back and overseas to distill his outlook. “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” he said, quoting England’s Winston Churchill. “I am an optimist because even though I see difficulty ahead, I see tremendous opportunity.”
Martin finds comfort in the solid condition of the AH&LA, now in the fourth year of a revamped governance structure guided by rolling three-year strategic plans. That the AH&LA is on sound financial footing and awash in praise for its Washington advocacy mission makes it easier for Martin to push for a trio of improvements that build on the association’s strategic plan.
Three Cs in 2009
In the spirit of keeping things simple, Martin proposes a three-pronged approach to his 2009 tenure.
“These three things involve words that are simple, yet powerful imperatives for us. And you’re in luck—they are easy to remember, because, like continuity, they also start with the letter C,” Martin told his guests at the Mandarin Oriental. “Our focus for 2009 will be to connect, communicate and collaborate.”
After undertaking a multi-year evaluation in 2002 of its nearly 100-year-old structure and mission, the AH&LA resolved to dismantle its faltering federation approach and replace it with a “dual partnership” that put the Washington headquarters and the member-state associations on equal footing. The result was a faster moving, more efficient, and importantly, more productive organization. More than just a bonus, the dual partnership brought about an un-precedented degree of harmony among AH&LA constituencies.
The first item of action was the formation of a strategic plan that had continuity top of mind: Grow membership, enhance the brand value of the AH&LA, and promote diversity management in the industry. The AH&LA now annually examines the progress made in each area of the strategic plan and adjusts accordingly. Every third year, the association can decide on whether to make more extensive overhauls in its strategic planning. The crucial benefit of such an integrated and forward-thinking approach comes in continuity. No longer could the annual changing of the guard usher in various and sometimes abrupt visions that yielded 12 months later to the next chairman. Martin likes what he has seen so far, but he nevertheless wants to push for the improvements that can be addressed by his three Cs.
“The connection part goes hand-in-hand with communications,” Martin explains. “As an industry, we haven’t done as good a job as we can in selling our industry as a career opportunity. Too many times people look at it as maybe a job for between careers or for when they are waiting on a career. That’s the first and foremost thing we need to address.
“As an association, in the area of communications, we’ve got to find ways to add more meaning to our brand—much easier said than done. Part of that comes from education—informing people. I don’t know how many times I have talked to a member or prospective member about the things the AH&LA does and the response was, ‘Gosh, I had no idea.’”
Martin sees connection in terms of membership—“the lifeblood of our association.” His concern is in not only in maintaining current member-ship levels, but also to cultivate future members by “connecting with them earlier in their careers or even before they begin their careers.”
Martin credits the newly formed committees, Under 30 Gateway and Women in Lodging, as fundamental steps in the right direction. In 2009, Martin would like to see current AH&LA members take on younger prospects in mentoring relationships. “I am here today in large part because I was fortunate to have two mentors in my life,” Martin said, referring to his father and father-in-law.
After announcing his call to the industry, 19 executives quickly stepped forward to offer their services and become mentors.
The AH&LA’s Educational Institute can also play a key role in attracting new members. By extending portions of its vaunted certification process to students in their last years of hospitality school, the industry can further stay connected with prospective members, Martin explains.
“This way, we don’t have the challenge of going in 10 years later to a general manager of Marriott somewhere and convince them of the value of the AH&LA,” he says. “If they have grown up in the industry, connected to AH&LA through education and training and programs such as the Under 30 Gateway, we don’t have to convince them.”
“Elevating the brand, again, is an education effort,” Martin said in his inaugural address. “It’s making people realize what is there. There is no better time to do this than in difficult times. When times are easy, people are much less likely to pay attention to such things as how to leverage membership benefits to make them more efficient.
“This may be a pipe dream, but my goal is for AH&LA to be as recognized by our members and stakeholders as organizations like AARP [American Association of Retired Persons] and AAA [American Automobile Association] are to their constituents,” Martin continued. “But we can only get there if we truly develop a strong brand position that delivers value to our members.”
The New Leverage
If organizations similar to the AH&LA can selectively join forces more often, then the leverage asserted in Washington will be significantly magnified, Martin explains. He sees working with organizations such as the National Restaurant Association, Asian American Hotel Owners Association and Travel Industry of America as the most obvious examples of industry collaboration.
Roots of Leadership
In the week following his inauguration, Martin took time with Lodging magazine to discuss the basis and origins of his route to the top of the AH&LA. He is adamant about one aspect of this: Becoming chairman was nothing he ever planned or even foresaw.
“I never even dreamed of that possibility by any means,” Martin says. “I’m flattered and humbled, because it certainly was never a goal.”
Martin does, however, admit to being a devoted networker. It’s a form of industry participation that goes back to the beginning of his career. He sees being involved with his state hotel association in Oklahoma as well as numerous local groups and organizations as good ways to give back to the industry that has been so good to him. Volunteering in those organizations made possible his subsequent rise to higher positions.
“As I began to represent Oklahoma on the AH&LA board of directors, I really began to meet and network with a lot of people for whom I have a great deal of respect,” Martin says. “And I have had a lot fun—and always will.”
Just being in lodging was something Martin never planned. He was born in Gainesville, Tex., on the Oklahoma border and lived there until the sixth grade. Martin’s father, an oil-field worker, took advantage of one of the Southwest’s famous oil booms and moved his family to Oklahoma in the 1960s. There, Martin says, he experienced a simple upbringing where he enjoyed and excelled in sports. “All my hobbies were sports-related,” he recalls. “I either had a ball or a bat in my hands—something sports-related.”
Martin worked his way through Oklahoma State University with the intention of becoming a coach and teacher. Working in OSU’s intramural sports department further whetted his appetite for sports, and Martin decided to pursue a master’s degree in sports administration at Louisiana State University.
Upon graduation, North Texas State University offered Martin the job of intramural sports director, which he turned down in favor of becoming a sporting goods buyer for the Zales Corporation in Dallas in the late 1970s. When the sporting goods division was acquired by a Houston-based company, Martin decided it was time to follow his entrepreneurial urges. His father-in-law owned a hotel in Oklahoma and helped set up Martin in business with his partner. In the late 1970s, Martin had become an owner-operator of a small Best Western property in Weatherford, Okla. He, his wife and baby boy (two more sons would be born to Joe and Pam) moved into the motel’s modest apartment.
“I had the great pleasure of operating the hotel 24 hours a day by ourselves with a nine-month-old—that was an experience I would not want again,” he says. “But, it certainly taught, in a real-world way, what business was all about—what kind of commitment it would take.”
Today, Martin has three properties, two of which are operated by his sons. Along the way, they have won a variety of awards, including Best Western International’s and Hampton Inn’s properties of the year. Martin says they awards are a direct result of lessons learned from his father-in-law (paying attention to operations details), hiring the best talent, and having the presence of mind to tap his family for help.
Among other things, being a family-run enterprise allows the family to stay close in the face of long working hours that would otherwise challenge more orthodox families.
Martin and his wife balance each other well in the workplace. “She and I have really learned how to play off each other’s strengths,” he says. Martin describes himself as stronger in financial matters and in the hiring process. Pam, on the other hand, excels in details and organizational ability.
While 2009 may turn out to be a deviation from his normal routine, Martin believes strongly in playing as hard as he works. He tells his sons Jay, Ross and Cole they should pursue their off-times with the same passion and dedication as their working hours. In Martin’s case, that involves golf and traveling the world. Seldom does he stay in a hotel anywhere without checking in with the manager to see what he can learn and apply to his hotels. It’s a practice that has improved his properties over the years, Martin says.
“It’s just one of the ways you can connect.” n
|The AH&LA in 2009
Joe Martin, cha |
nnn Martin, of Stillwater, Okla., is owner and operator of three hotels. He is the 2009 chairman of the AH&LA, succeeding Thomas J. Corcoran Jr. An active and long-time supporter of AH&LA, Martin has served on the association’s board of directors for the past nine years. In addition, he is a member of the Executive Committee and officer liaison for the Governmental Affairs/HotelPAC Committee, Multicultural & Diversity Advisory Council, and Women In Lodging Executive Council, among others. From 2003-04, he served on the Planning Task Force, which resulted in the restructuring of the AH&LA bylaws to transition the association from a federation to a dual-membership format. A 27-year veteran of the hospitality industry, Martin is actively involved in local and state activities. He is the past chairman of the Stillwater Convention & Visitors Bureau and treasurer of the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, he is on the advisory board for Oklahoma State University’s College of Hotel & Restaurant Administration.
David Kong |
nnn David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western International, is the 2009 vice chairman of the AH&LA. Kong will assume the role of AH&LA chairman in 2010, during the association’s 100th Anniversary year. As a long-time active member of AH&LA, Kong has held a vital role in the association’s governance restructuring task force. Kong maintains his strong voice within AH&LA through involvement on the CEO Council, and as officer liaison to the Technology &
E-Business Committee, Risk Management Committee
and Small and/or Independent Properties Advisory Council (SIPAC).
John Campbell |
nnn John Campbell is general manager of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club in La Jolla, Calif., and will serve as the association’s chairman in 2011. Campbell has served on AH&LA’s board of directors for numerous years, chaired the association’s Audit and Certification committee, and is a member of the Governmental Affairs committee and Resort committee. He was also recognized by AH&LA with the prestigious Lawson A. Odde Award for his outstanding contributions by a board member. Campbell is a past president of the California Hotel & Lodging Association and of the California Restaurant Association San Diego. He is also a past member of the board of directors of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau and former director of the San Diego Hotel & Motel Association.
Joseph A. McInerney, cha |
nnn McInerney is president and chief
executive officer of AH&LA. As the head executive of the largest trade association representing the U.S. lodging industry, McInerney implements and directs AH&LA’s services as well as provides leadership to association members. Since his appointment, McInerney has reorganized the association to streamline efficiency and strengthen its core operations, including consolidating its two affiliates to form the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation—the only educational dollar-dispensing, not-for-profit premier organization for scholarships, professional certification, and instructional material as well as funding for key industry research. Additionally, McInerney spearheaded the changing of the membership structure from a federation to a dual membership format, streamlined the board of directors, and clarified the organization’s mission. With more than 45 years of experience in the hospitality industry, McInerney is well versed in the various skills needed to operate in association, corporate and lodging environments. Prior to AH&LA, he was president and CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, Forte Hotels, Hawthorn Suites and ITT’s Sheraton franchise division.
Thomas J. Corcoran Jr. |
Immediate Past Chairman
nnn Corcoran is chairman of the board of FelCor Lodging Trust, based in Dallas, Texas. In 1991, Corcoran co-founded FelCor, Inc., one of the nation’s largest hotel real estate investment trusts and the nation’s largest owner of full service, all-suite hotels. In 1994, FelCor went public with six hotels and a market capitalization of approximately $120 million as a REIT under the name FelCor Suite Hotels, Inc. In 1996, the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange as FCH and in July 1998, changed its name to FelCor Lodging Trust Incorporated. Corcoran’s long history of management in the lodging and food service industry began with Brock Hotel Corporation in Topeka, Kan. During his 11 years with Brock, Corcoran’s roles in the company included president and CEO, and a member of the board of directors for Chuck E. Cheese Entertainment Inc.