When Eric Danziger, former president and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group, hit his millionth frequent flyer mile, he had an epiphany. Spending 200 days a year traversing the globe had taken its toll on the 40-year industry veteran, throwing his body’s internal clock into a tizzy. Realizing it was time for a change in lifestyle, Danziger stepped down from Wyndham to embark on his final project. As the new president and CEO of New York-based Hampshire Hotels Management, which includes the Dream, Night, and Time brands, Danziger can walk three blocks to the office and doesn’t have as many sleepless nights. “Every day I’m not six feet under is a good day,” he says.
Aside from the crazy travel schedule, what else prompted you to step down at Wyndham? My original deal with Wyndham was a three-year contract, and then it was extended by a year and another year. So [Wyndham Worldwide Chairman and CEO] Steve Homes and I both came to the conclusion that if I was going to have a last hurrah and build another company, redoing one year at a time at Wyndham was only going to put me behind the ability to spend the last five to 10 years doing that. And if Steve needed to have a longer-term strategy for his company, then he should not have something that’s one year to one year. So it was perfect for both of us. [New Wyndham Hotel Group President and CEO] Geoff Ballotti was in house, and he’s capable as heck of doing the job.
What will you miss most about the company? I have great affinity for what we did at Wyndham and the team we put together. You always miss that, because when you’re a leader who’s very connected by the heart to your people, it’s a heartache to separate. But on the business side, a company as large as Wyndham has immense resources. When you’re a small company like Hampshire, which I basically define as an 11-hotel start-up, you don’t have the resources and ability to get everything you need done; you’ve got to prioritize it. On the other hand, at a smaller company, you have the ability to be nimble and flexible and create change in the moment, which is not so easy in a large public company, so I like that part.
What brought you to Hampshire? I’ve known founder Sant Singh Chatwal for 20, 25 years, back when I was COO of Carlson, and then we did the Dream/Night deal with Wyndham together a few years back. We’re very complementary. He’s a real estate guy—he has always bought and sold hotels—and I’m a hotel guy. You put that together, and it bodes well for what we’re doing. Our agreement was he wasn’t really a CEO, so he stepped aside from that function. That’s my role, to run the company. He’s doing what he does, I do what I do, and from that comes beautiful music at the end of it.
What have you accomplished thus far in your new role? We’ve determined the strategy of the company, which we did in three months. If you think about building a company, there are not many companies that can do that in three months. We’re adding people, creating the culture of this like-heartedness with different minds, and then, we will execute that strategy proficiently so it achieves what the business plan says it will achieve. It’s been a busy time, but I believe because of what we’ve done, we have even busier times coming up.
What’s it like to win lifetime achievement awards? I get worried when I get all these lifetime things because most people are thinking I’m done with my life or something. I have told everybody, “Listen, I’m not made to sit at home and watch Dr. Phil.” What I do is have fun by growing companies, creating culture, and hopefully harvesting some value for everybody at the end of it. All of my awards are special to me, and I appreciate them, but what I most appreciate more than anything is the love, affection, and respect of all the people I’ve worked with in the last 42 years—that is the real legacy and testament.