Legacy Leading: C&W President Mark Williams on Taking Care of Family Business

Mark Williams

President of Coakley & Williams (C&W) Hotel Management Company Mark Williams is at the helm of the business that has been in his family since its founding in 1961 with a handshake between his grandfather Fred Williams and his partner Neil Coakley. He described for LODGING how he and his company have developed over the years, including the formation of a strategic partnership with Hotel Equities, where his title is currently SVP business development for the Northeast.

While the original partners focused on developing warehouses and office buildings, the company eventually evolved into a developer of hotels, with their first property opening in 1971 outside Washington, D.C. Services expanded from construction to in-house hotel management, property management, and leasing.

In 1996, Mark Williams’ father, Gary, who worked closely with Coakley, assumed ownership of the hotel management division and began operating hotels up and down the East Coast.

First Encounters With Hospitality

According to Williams, early jobs at his family’s hotels didn’t inspire dreams of a hospitality career. “When I was between 10 and 12, my dad had me coming to work at our Holiday Inn in Maryland, first just picking up trash but later working at other jobs including the front desk. Starting off, I felt like this was not going to be the career path for me,” he related.


Initially turning away from a career at C&W, Williams started college in western Maryland, majoring in theater; however, a summer in the Disney College program prompted him to take a second look at hospitality, and eventually, the family business. Instead of returning to college in Maryland that fall, he continued to work at Walt Disney World in Florida, where he remained for more than four years. “Working there, especially in different hospitality segments from attractions to lodging, shifted my mindset about the possibilities with hospitality, along with things I wanted to be a part of,” he said. It was there in Central Florida that he met his wife, Stephanie, who was in the hospitality program at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, where he subsequently enrolled and completed his degree. Upon graduation, both went to work at C&W—she on the human resources side and he in operations.

Expanding the Skillset

Williams said he came to love the hotel business, where “there are many parts to appreciate, and every day is an adventure.” When his wife stepped back from her HR position to raise their children, he moved from operations into the training and development side of the business. Then, when the company’s business development director left, his father, who was then president of the company, urged him to take on that part of the business, which he found especially exciting. “I spent many years doing that. It allowed me to become involved in all facets of the company and interact with all the different people/departments that were part of our business,” he said. “What I’d say I love most about business development is working on the future opportunities, helping people solve problems, and seeing visions come to life.”

Ascension to President

In April 2017, his father handed him the reins of the company, naming him president of the overall enterprise while still retaining ownership.

The younger Williams served in that role in the years prior to and through the darkest days of the COVID pandemic, which he described “like being in a battle,” explaining, “We were fighting for the survival of our business with all hands on deck, struggling to figure out what we needed to do to reduce expenses while also maintaining the confidence of our team members and clients.”

Unable to have knowledge of—and much less total control over—what lay ahead, he said he turned to his faith, deciding not to focus on outcomes but to “trust God and not to worry about today or tomorrow.” He called this approach “my biggest takeaway from the pandemic, and my approach with whatever I’ve done ever since.”

Williams said that after the company came out of the worst of COVID in 2021, they made the decision to form a strategic partnership with Hotel Equities (HE), an alliance that has allowed C&W to stay intact while benefiting from HE’s resources, operational oversight, and national support to all hotels within the C&W portfolio. The alliance also places him in familiar territory: Although he remains president of C&W, as SVP of business development with HE, he focuses on new development and expansion in the northeastern United States—including an expanded focus on growing the midscale extended-stay segment this year.

Williams described his leadership style as “servant leadership,” explaining, “This is a journey that you can’t and shouldn’t feel the need to take alone. Leaders are only as good as the team that’s around them, the team they’re serving.” Williams included in that team not just staff from C&W and HE, but also his family and colleagues. “I’m so thankful I’ve got a great support system around me. I could never do it all by myself,” he concluded.

The ‘Servant Leadership’ Mindset: Prioritizing People, Not Just Profits

Mark Williams, president of Coakley & Williams (C&W) Hotel Management Company and SVP business development of Hotel Equities, said he subscribes to the “servant leadership” management philosophy. The goal of servant leadership, a movement founded by Robert Kiefner Greenleaf in the early 1970s, is to serve the needs of employees first, to help them develop and deliver their best performance, which, of course, benefits the organization. In line with this, Williams said, “I don’t see dollar signs in terms of what I do, but rather the people. My perspective is one of creating opportunities for people to help improve their lives and accomplish the things they want to do.”

This approach has proven successful in all types of businesses, but, as he observed, in hospitality, “serving and taking care of people is at the core of what we do. In our business, we get to be a positive influence on all stakeholders, which includes our clients and team members. We get to be an example of light and love to the people we work with and serve.”

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