If Michael Doyle had scored just a few more goals or blocked a few more pucks while playing hockey at Cornell University, hotel asset management might be missing one of its more notable practitioners and industry proponents. A die-hard hockey player, Doyle figured on following his father’s footsteps into banking after a stint in the NHL. When Cornell recruited him to its hockey program, the pieces almost came together. Instead, two factors derailed his plans. Doyle proved to be an excellent collegiate hockey player but just not NHL caliber. At the same time, came the pull from another direction in his family’s past: lodging.
Doyle’s paternal grandfather had operated a small hotel in Ontario in the early 1920s to the mid-1950s and the profession had always exerted a gentle tug on him. To this day he keeps a postcard on his desk of his father and grandfather standing in front of the property. In transferring to the hotel school at Cornell, Doyle was not looking any further up the road than a career in operations. Asset management was not yet on his radar. After all, one doesn’t simply sign up as an owner’s representative and adviser and just get on with the business. But after 22 years of operating branded and independent full-service hotels in Toronto, Houston, New York, and Boston, where he now lives and works, Doyle is now the EVP of Capital Hotel Management (CHM) and the outgoing president of the Hospitality Asset Managers Association.
And yet it wasn’t until after a five-year stint managing a collection of five-star golf resorts that Doyle was ready to reassess his career path. “I thought about going back to the hotel business as a general manager,” he recalls. “It was a comfort I had as well as a passion.” But through his interaction with CHM Co-Founder and President Chad Crandall, who was also the head of Cornell’s New England alumnae chapter, Doyle says he was presented with an opportunity to apply his skills toward learning the business through an owner’s perspective in the asset field. He joined CHM eight and a half years ago when the privately held company was four years old and still in growth mode. Today, the CHM portfolio includes 28 properties (14,463 rooms), most either urban landmark hotels, destination resorts, or convention center hotels. In 2013, CHM’s portfolio of managed assets totaled $5 billion in value, making it the largest third-party manager of assets in the country.
When Asset Managers Unite
As hotel ownership broadened beyond experienced owners in the ’80s and ’90s, when large portfolio investors with no lodging experience began to enter the field, third-party asset managers came into their own. By the time Doyle arrived at CHM, investors in the hotel industry included insurance companies, trade unions, pension funds, real estate investment trusts, and sovereign funds, which controlled billions of dollars in hotels and resorts. In 1992, the Hospitality Asset Managers Association launched to provide the field of third-party asset management with a collective voice as well as an educational vehicle to further the professionalism of its members. Doyle is the third executive from CHM to serve as president of HAMA and has just completed his term. He will remain on the board and return to his prior position in charge of international membership. “It’s a critical group, because it’s a tremendous opportunity for those of us in the profession to network and share the experiences we all commonly face, so we can better understand how to approach issues,” Doyle says.
Most issues that HAMA deals with are inherently embedded in the industry. Brands put forth standards and requirements that drive revenue to their bottom lines but not necessarily to the bottom lines of the asset owners. “That’s where the hotel companies are always striving to improve the value of their brand, and they are doing so at the cost of the current owners,” Doyle says. “So we need to ensure the level and amount of spending is appropriate for the property we are involved with, and that it will not only bring benefits to the brands but for ownership as well.”
For example, HAMA is currently working with the International Society of Hospitality Consultants and STR to update the current levels of monies recommended to be set aside for the capital improvement of hotels. “History is proving that it’s costing ownership greater amounts of money than what many of these management agreements are recommending be set aside,” Doyle says. “It’s an area where we continue to be challenged as asset managers. We’re working to be an integral part of the planning and oversight process with the brands to ensure that the monies are being spent appropriately and in a manner that brings value to the business.”
Currently, HAMA has 200 members responsible for more than 1 million rooms worldwide. It has chapters in Japan and Singapore and in 2014 will launch a Middle East and Africa chapter. “We all know the brands have expanded aggressively internationally, and it’s no surprise we’re engaging with Japan and the Asia-Pacific region,” Doyle says. “They are facing many of the same issues, and so we’re expanding our work in sharing best practices and information. The template has been found to be very adaptable internationally.”
While Doyle may have long ago left behind his hockey aspirations, he never lost his love of athletics. Today he competes in Iron Man events, an all-season undertaking he trains for in any kind of weather. And, like asset management, he studies and measures his performance. In 2013, Doyle logged more than 4,100 miles. “For 99.8 percent of the population, just finishing it is an accomplishment,” Doyle says. “Then, there is that little small percentage—myself included—that is always trying to do it faster.”
Doyle shares seven ingredients for successful asset management.
Empathy. A good asset manager must have empathy for the property operations staff, brand managers, and his or her colleagues. Empathy comes with experience, which provides credibility among all parties. It enables effective assessment of a property or a brand well before the acquisition of a property.
Experience. Without a sufficient level of experience you end up in an adversarial relationship. You will not understand the dynamics of why something may or may not work.
Collaboration. Through collaboration you earn respect through ensuring that the teams you are working with know you are there to support them. At the end of the day, you are there to make them successful.
Know the owner. Some owners will only want to hold on to an asset for one economic cycle while others prefer to hold them through multiple cycles. Knowing which allows the asset manager to better determine an approach with a new acquisition.
Know the brand. Identify strategic initiatives to align the brand to those strategic initiatives.
Know the property. Spend time with the property team in researching and understanding how the property is performing and what issues and opportunities may exist. How does the property really function and operate and what’s the personality of each hotel?
Hold the property, brand, and owner accountable. Establish objectives that not only ensure brand performance and holding the property accountable but also ensure that ownership is going to do the things under its control to support those initiatives.