Achieving success in the hospitality industry is typically a long game. It takes intelligence, foresight, and a little bit of daring to make the big moves necessary for a grand payout. The hospitality game was not one that Mark Laport, president and CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based hotel development, ownership, and management company Concord Hospitality Enterprises, expected to be playing long-term when he first entered the industry more than 30 years ago. Now, Concord—which Laport founded in 1985—employs more than 4,000 associates and has about 90 hotels in its portfolio, as well as 16 under construction and 16 more in the pipeline.
One of Concord’s most recent projects to debut is the new 196-room Cambria Hotel & Suites in Times Square, following successful openings of Cambria Chelsea in New York last summer and Cambria Washington, D.C., in 2014. Major projects underway include three new Marriott hotels in greater Columbus, Ohio, which represent a combined $133 million in private investment.
The company’s chops have not escaped notice. Last November, Laport was named Industry Leader of the Year at the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University’s Celebration of Leadership. Under his direction, Concord’s portfolio generates profits in excess of $150 million and has earned more than 100 industry awards. “It was a huge honor, especially because as a smaller, independent business we’re a little more under the radar than large, public companies,” Laport says. “It was very gratifying to be noticed as someone who has been trying to make things happen in the right way for 30 years.”
Laport took a long road to get to where he is today. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in science, he got his master’s degree in business, leading him to start or buy a series of small companies, including restaurants, insurance, and insulation manufacturing. However, it wasn’t until some acquaintances asked Laport to help sell a few Holiday Inns that he found his calling. “I liked the hospitality business more than any of the other businesses I had been involved with. So I started focusing on it more and more, and eventually I was able to cobble together some investors to build a Hampton Inn,” Laport says.
In Concord’s early years, Laport admits to being a bit of a micro-manager. “There were so few people in the company at first that I wound up making all the decisions myself, which is obviously draining,” he says. “I had to learn how to empower and trust my associates to run with their own ideas, which was a big transition for me.” Laport concentrated on finding associates who, in his words, “brought a lot to the party.” “It is their expertise and their willingness to grow our business—as well as their ability to have fun—that have empowered us to grow at such a rapid pace,” he adds.
According to Laport, Concord’s accelerated growth rate is sustainable due to the company’s structure, which has been vertically integrated to include a slew of positions that a hotel management business may require. “Concord is not just hotel operators,” Laport explains. “We’re also in the development, procurement, and IT businesses, and we hire people who are able to develop those segments of the company. Additionally, all of our associates are connected directly to a great group of operators who have tremendous brand expertise. We’ve become so adept at working together at such a fast pace because that is just our day-to-day life.”
Another major reason for Concord’s rapid growth is its approach to new technology, which the company has embraced wholeheartedly. Concord has developed strong capabilities in-house that allow the company to compete directly with the likes of AT&T and IBM. “This is less expensive for us, because when we need solutions, we can reach within. But more importantly, it is a differentiator,” Laport says. “When you’re good at something, people take notice and want to use your skill set.”
With three decades of success under the company’s belt, Concord Hospitality Enterprises has become increasingly bolder, aggressively pursuing new ideas and unique business strategies, like emerging technology. This, in turn, has attracted top talent in the industry. “We’ve been around long enough to understand that lodging is an ever-changing business. And, now that we’re 4,000-strong, we’re in a position to be drivers of change and do things that are quite different than what’s been done in the past,” Laport says.