Caneel Bay on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands is an idyllic place to start one’s hotel career. At 19 years old, during summer break from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Mary Beth Cutshall landed a dream internship in the resort’s front office. During one shift, she would manually check guests into the resort on the boat ride from St. Thomas to a private dock on St. John. On another shift, she would greet arrivals as they came off the boat and personally show them around the resort’s 170 acres. For her third shift, she would work at the front desk and accommodate guest requests. “It was a really great first exposure to the hotel business,” Cutshall recalls. “It hooked me.”
Cutshall felt lucky to land the internship, but it wasn’t just luck that got her there. Her family had a house in St. Thomas for many years, and she wanted to spend a summer working in a local hotel, but there wasn’t anything formally available in the Caribbean that she could identify. Cutshall had the tenacity to call and send letters to general managers, explaining what made her an ideal candidate for an internship. The GM at Caneel Bay sent a letter back saying the resort would love to have her. From this experience, Cutshall learned an important lesson: “If you want something, go for it. Figure out a way to make it happen,” she says. “And that’s how I approach my career. The sky is the limit, so why not go for it and create your own opportunity?”
The path to Cutshall’s current role as senior vice president of acquisitions and business development for HVMG, an Atlanta-based private hotel ownership and management company, was hardly a straight line. But along the way, Cutshall gained experience in various aspects of the industry, and also discovered that sometimes a step back leads to a leap forward. When her two children were young, she took a hiatus from the corporate world to become a feasibility study consultant. Once her youngest child started kindergarten, Cutshall accepted a lower-level position at Atlanta-based Hotel Equities to find her footing again. Not long after, a corporate director of business development position opened and she got the job. “That was my break in point to the transactional side of the hotel business,” Cutshall says. She spent six years with Hotel Equities, under the wing of CEO Fred Cerrone, and helped to grow the company 300 percent before joining HVMG at the vice president level. Having spent the last 12 years in the acquisition and development side of the hotel business, Cutshall feels like she has found “the right seat on the bus.”
When Cutshall joined HVMG in January 2011, the company’s portfolio revenue was about $100 million. In the five years that followed, HVMG doubled in size and brought that revenue up to more than $280 million. “We’ve been able to maintain significant growth, and through that growth I’m really proud of the strong brand partnerships and investment-grade branded and boutique hotels we have in our portfolio now,” she says.
HVMG has a growth strategy of 15 percent incremental company revenue growth, and that will continue through the pursuit of upscale full-service, premium branded, and independent boutique hotels, Cutshall says. In addition to acquiring assets and signing third-party management contracts, the company is also leveraging its development, design, and construction capabilities. “Currently we have in excess of $200 million active new construction and project management work that we’re leading,” she says.
Cutshall adds that one of the major contributors to HVMG’s financial success and healthy growth is its diverse, talented leadership. Of the 21 employees who make up the company’s senior leadership team, 11 are women. “Robert Cole is a stellar CEO and example of a leader who believes in hiring the smartest, best, and brightest regardless of gender,” she says. “His management style has always been to get the most qualified leader for a position, those who come with proven ability to perform and immediately add value. He truly values diverse perspectives, and firmly believes it leads to innovation.”
That management style has yielded a strong company culture and a well-rounded, self-driven team that goes after the right deals and closes on them. Recent accomplishments include a joint venture to acquire the Marriott Century Center in Atlanta Ga., and the Hilton Phoenix Suites in Midtown Phoenix, Ariz.; the acquisition of a Marriott and an Embassy Suites in downtown Winston Salem, N.C.; and management agreements to operate the Borrego Springs Resort & Spa in California and the Courtyard Atlanta Airport West. “The results are there—we’re excited about the year we’ve had thus far. I think it’s because we have a lot of individuals who bring a different perspective to the collective whole,” Cutshall says. “When you bring diverse intellectual talents and experiences to the decision-making process, you usually come out with a much better conclusion.”
At every stage of her career, Cutshall has valued mentors, peers, and colleagues for their counsel, encouragement, and honest feedback. “I will always be grateful for visionary leaders like Robert Cole and Fred Cerrone, who saw my potential and created a seat for me at the table,” she says. “No one gets anywhere without amazing people supporting them.” l