Erica Hageman, general counsel at Interstate Hotels & Resorts, got her start with the company as an outside litigation associate. After working with Interstate as a client for a couple of years, in 2008, she learned they were hiring for an in-house position. She jumped at the opportunity and has since climbed the ranks. Hageman now oversees all of the company’s legal and compliance functions. She spoke with LODGING about what acting as legal counsel for a major hospitality company is like.
What drew you to hospitality law?
What I discovered working with Interstate was that there’s something really special about the hospitality industry. There seems to be this common thread that runs through everyone who works in hospitality; whether it’s lawyers, business developers, or hotel associates, there’s a typical desire to serve in their blood. Ultimately, as a lawyer, that’s what makes this job so incredibly rewarding. I spent years as a litigation associate, and I’m not sure anyone thanked me for anything I did. In hospitality, the people want to help each other and they want to do the right thing.
What’s it like being in-house counsel for a company like Interstate?
Interstate always had a relatively small legal department, so I think one of the benefits to that is it provides the lawyers who work here with an opportunity to manage a wide range of legal matters. We all quickly become jacks of all trades. There are major benefits to that, including being more involved in a lot of the cross-functional aspects of the business, which in turn enables our team to be better business partners to the organization.
What do you enjoy most about working at Interstate?
It gives me the opportunity to kind of wear two hats. I’m wearing a business hat and my legal hat at the same time, so I have a unique opportunity to work on helping to structure a deal, negotiate it, and document it. As a lawyer, it’s nice to work with a chief investment officer and a CEO who also value your business input.
What hospitality issue keeps you up at night?
Cybersecurity and data privacy. This is not just in hospitality, but in all industries. It’s impossible to turn on the news or look at a computer without seeing somebody announcing a new cyber incident or watching as big businesses are brought to a halt by ransomware attacks. So, really, all you can do is try to stay ahead of the criminals and stay up to date with technology and training. I think Interstate does a really good job in that respect, but in our business, staying ahead often requires capital improvements at the hotels and constant training. What concerns me is that our industry has a relatively high turnover rate, so continuous training is really key to protecting your business.
What advice do you have for female up-and-comers in this industry?
I don’t want to limit this advice to women; it’s for all up-and-comers: Build relationships. This is a really small industry, but it’s an industry of great people who want to help you succeed. Not only should up-and-comers network, but they should also remember to be extremely professional in all of their dealings. People move around a lot in this industry and you don’t want to burn any bridges. Focus on building those relationships within the industry and you’ll do well.