The term team is widely tossed around in the world of hospitality, where employees are generally referred to as “team members.” Yet, these days, at Charlestowne Hotels, four individuals—each leading different disciplines—are redefining the term by working together at the helm of this Charleston, S.C.-based hospitality management firm that specializes in independent lifestyle hotels—with a portfolio that now includes the Thrash Group’s Origin Hotel collection. The “Charlestowne Four” are: Gavin Philipp, vice president of operations; Johnathan Capps, vice president of revenue; Michael Cady, vice president of marketing; and Kyle Hughey, COO, a CPA who is considered their “head coach.” The four discussed with LODGING their company’s growth, how the Thrash Group’s hotels are likely to impact it, and how their “quadrant” leadership actually works and is delivering results, especially in the era of COVID-19.
Team Approach in Action
Describing the roles of the four leaders and how they coalesce, Philipp says, “The four of us had already been working together before our joint leadership of the company was formalized, so there was an existing relationship of trust and confidence, which provided a solid foundation for this new approach.” He says all four meet twice weekly, with a focus on strategic initiatives, but adds, “There’s a significant amount of attention on reinvestment in our people, culture, and the resources we can provide to the hotels in our portfolio.”
Hughey says his own background in public accounting and as the former vice president of finance at Charlestowne has enabled him to understand all the disciplines involved in running a hotel management company—including revenue management, property operations, and marketing, as well as finance. He makes a point of differentiating between his operations role and that of Philipp. “My focus is more on the corporate side—that is, I oversee operations for Charlestowne Hotels as a company, while Gavin [Philipp] is more hands-on with the different properties.” On this, Philipp, who has been with Charlestowne Hotels for more than seven years, says, “The structure of my corporate operations team, which has grown from three to nine over the years, has become more strategic. Leaders are put in place, both physically and structurally, to not only operate our existing hotels but to be part of the growth and development of new acquisitions.”
“To say this has been a tumultuous year for hospitality would be an understatement. As Charlestowne approaches our 40th anniversary, we are reminded that we have navigated uncertain times before.”
— Kyle Hughey, COO, Charlestowne Hotels
Cady calls the marketing team he leads “a unique point of differentiation” in that it’s run like an in-house creative agency made up of hospitality experts. “The team is composed of branding and design, digital marketing, and strategic account management. The team creates overall efficiency for the hotels, in both cost and speed, while never losing sight of revenue-centric marketing strategies.”
Filling out the group, vice president of revenue Capps oversees the company’s internal and external revenue management strategies, working to establish new profitability enhancement methods for the company and each of its managed properties.
Hughey believes working as a team has its advantages. “Without collaboration, one could make a siloed decision that wouldn’t work for others in our group; with open communication, we all know what’s going on, and no decision is made that we can’t execute.” Hughey also mentions that in a relationship business, some owners may mesh better with one team member over another. “Our portfolio has multiple owners, requiring us to work with different personalities. With there being four of us, there’s not just one point of contact for owners.”
As Philipp notes, these relationships may also be warranted in their different disciplines and how they jive with those of owners. “A hotel going through a major repositioning, branding, or marketing exercise would likely gravitate to Michael [Cady], while they’d be more likely to form a relationship with me if facing construction and development of an asset due to my operational expertise.”
As to whether there’s extra time involved in decision-making in a four-headed company, Philipp says, it’s not a problem. “We make decisions quickly and move forward. But if we become deadlocked, Kyle [Hughey] can step in and make the final decision.”
While the addition of the Thrash Group’s business in June may beg questions about the company’s growth strategy, Cady points out that Charlestowne had been growing organically through word of mouth since it was founded 40 years ago. “Over the past 10 years, we have doubled in size twice, which has allowed us to methodically enhance our resources in preparation for this type of business,” he says, noting that it was this long-established independent hotel management expertise that attracted the Thrash Group to Charlestowne Hotels in the first place. “Now that there’s more focus on the experiential sector, our decades of independent hotel management has proven advantageous in attracting new business, including the Thrash Group.”
With 10 years of experience with Charlestowne, Capps is the longest- tenured member of the group and therefore has witnessed many changes and challenges over the years. “Having a team of senior leaders involved in the day-to-day management of our portfolio provides us the intel to make strategic decisions on future growth. We are disciplined in hotel additions to our portfolio, while never losing sight of our current owners and the success of their properties.”
The “Charlestowne Four” described the anticipated impact of adding the Thrash Group’s portfolio, which includes the emerging Origin Hotel brand, an independent collection with properties currently located in Red Rocks, Colo., Lexington, Ky., and Raleigh, N.C., as well as additional hotels in development in Austin, Texas, and Westminster, Colo.
Hughey explains, “The addition of their 10 properties—some of which are open and operable and some that are in different levels of development—is helping us in our desire to expand geographically. The Origin Hotel collection is in great secondary markets. By establishing Charlestowne in these markets, it opens up the opportunity for future growth in those areas. For example, we had a single property in New England—Stowe, Vt. We were able to show potential owners in that market how we manage and optimize performance. As a result, we have added five properties in the New England market over the past three years.” He says, with the addition of the Origin Hotel collection, Charlestowne will have a presence in over 20 states.
Philipp regards the relationship with the Thrash Group as a partnership between like-minded companies that will both grow and enhance the Charlestowne portfolio, in part by adding multiple hotels under one brand. “The Origin Hotel collection is similar in key count to the properties we already manage, but now, we’ll be able to brand an independent hotel collection nationally.”
Predictably speaking from his revenue management perspective, Capps is enthusiastic about how the Origin Hotel brand will enhance Charlestowne’s existing portfolio while bringing it into new markets. “We like the way the Thrash Group chooses properties in terms of real estate; we think they’re making a lot of really good decisions.”
Cady summarizes how the Thrash addition dovetails with their desire to grow strategically, but, more importantly, it meets Charlestowne’s criteria for selecting future properties. “We’re not willing to take just any deal to get more keys.” The boxes that need to be checked, he says, are: (1) Will the owner[s] let us do our job? (2) Are the values of the owner, property brand, and identity aligned with Charlestowne Hotels? (3) Is it in a market or sector (such as university hotels, condo hotels, and secondary markets) we like, based on Johnathan’s [Capps] analysis. Thrash, he says, met those criteria. “It’s a family-owned hotel group whose core values are aligned with ours and it offers opportunities to build in the locations we desire. They are truly building an independent brand [Origin Hotel] that focuses on its employees, community, and the unique attributes of a destination.”
Charlestowne has not lost focus on the future, even with the challenges facing the industry right now due to the COVID-19 crisis. “To say this has been a tumultuous year for hospitality would be an understatement. As Charlestowne approaches our 40th anniversary, we are reminded that we have navigated uncertain times before. Our leadership team has never been stronger, and we have been meticulous with our strategic growth plans, this partnership with Thrash included,” says Hughey.
Cady looks forward to continued growth that meets the goals of the company and its existing clients—with a strong focus on letting each property shine: “Our focus has been and will always be that the hotel is center stage. Charlestowne Hotels will continue to be behind the scenes making it happen, treating every hotel differently based on what they need.”