Clyde Guinn, SVP of Operations at Stanford Hotels is a Certified Hotel Administrator with over thirty years experience in the business. He has a huge experience across a number of brands and Breaking Travel News took the opportunity to catch up with him and get his insights into the current state of the industry.
BTN: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your experience in the hospitality industry?
I have been in the hospitality industry for many years and have worked in a variety of functions. After graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans, I started working for Marriott at an exciting time when it was morphing from a restaurant entity to a hotel company. I enjoyed the industry and stayed with Marriott for several years working also at properties in Houston and Washington D.C. in various positions.
I helped to open the first Adam’s Mark in Houston as pre-opening director of sales and worked further to develop the brand as assistant vice president of sales and marketing. In addition, I served as general manager of the Kansas City and Charlotte, N.C. properties. In 1986, I opened the four-diamond Kansas City Marriott Plaza as general manager. I joined Radisson Hotels Worldwide in 1991 as regional vice president, and in 1997 was promoted to senior vice president, management services. In that position I oversaw all hotels owned and managed in the U.S, Caribbean, and Japan by Radisson.
Today, I am senior vice president of operations for Stanford Hotels Corp. and am responsible for day-to-day operations of the group’s 18 properties, with specific emphasis on building revenue and increasing productivity. Stanford Hotels owns and operates full-service hotels, franchising with major brands like Hilton and Marriott across six time zones. I am also a Certified Hotel Administrator and taught hospitality administration courses at local universities while in Houston and Kansas City.
BTN: Your background has clearly given you a very broad understanding of different hotels and brands. Can you identify some of the most positive things you’ve taken from these different companies?
I have experienced a wide variety of perspectives from the positions I have held - from a franchisee to the corporate side, from operations to branding. Each experience was valuable and taught me different aspects of the industry.
I worked with Marriott during a time of major expansion - from an East Coast Unites States operation to national and then global company. It was exciting being a part of a growing organization. During this time, I learned a tremendous amount from Jim Durbin, the first president of Marriott, who has since retired. I watched him position the company globally and establish the Marriott culture and brand. While working directly with Jim at the Kansas property, he taught me about successful hotel operations and the importance of being sensitive to both staff and guests.
While with Adam’s Mark, I had the unique experience of helping grow a new brand, and the pitfalls entailed with this process - learning what worked and more importantly what did not.
In my position with Radisson Hotels, I learned about the importance of consistency within the brand and how to create customer loyalty. The late Curt Carlson, founder of Carlson Companies that owns the Radisson brand, was another huge influence in my career. A very hands-on leader, I remember having long conversations with him about business growth. He taught me that growth is a good thing when it’s done right. He also instilled the importance of putting your people, not the business, first.
BTN: How did you finally come to work for Stanford Hotels and what appeals to you about their business model?
After more than 10 years with Radisson, I felt that it was time to take another step in my career. Coincidentally, I was referred to Stanford Hotels’ President Lawrence Lui by two separate people in my life. Lawrence was looking for someone to run operations from their corporate offices in San Francisco, it seemed like a great fit for both parties.
When I left Radisson I wanted to get out of franchising, and desired a smaller company with greater control - greater ownership. I also wanted to return to my roots in operations. Stanford Hotels offered the perfect combination - being a medium sized company that both owned and operated hotels. I feel that the dual role of owner/operator allows for superior communication of business objectives and management philosophies to individual properties.
Stanford also offers me the opportunity to work in hotel real estate, which I enjoy; we are constantly on the look out for strategic acquisitions for our portfolio. Ultimately, my position with Stanford Hotels is ideal because it allows me to use all pieces of my professional past - including branding, marketing, operations, purchasing and development.
BTN: What makes Stanford a special company?
I believe Stanford is a special company because of its management philosophy.
Like Curt Carlson, Lawrence Lui is an accessible leader and has always been readily available to listen to ideas or concerns. In addition, our business model of aggressive yet careful growth has yielded a portfolio of top-notch hotels with high-quality service. I am proud of all of our teams at the individual properties.
Also, Stanford believes in investing substantial capital into each property, permitting the guests a superb experience. Recently, Lawrence, and Stanford Hotels, was named Hilton’s 2004 Developer of the Year. Hilton Hotels Corporation recognized Stanford’s significant commitment to its brand, seen in the successful conversion of a Boca Raton, Florida hotel to a Hilton property as well as the extensive renovation and expansion of the Hilton Washington Dulles International Airport.
BTN: Is there a typical Stanford Hotel and what elements would define that?
Stanford’s properties are full-service and generally commercial, medium to medium-large (300 to 600 rooms) and partnered with well-known, established brands. They are typically located in, or adjacent to, major cities.
BTN: What do you feel is the most important factor in providing good overall service?
Start by hiring the right people. This is without a doubt the most important factor. There are two central characteristics to consider when hiring personnel at a property - Aptitude and Attitude. Experience isn’t always essential. One of my favorite sayings goes something like, “you can train a nice person, but you can’t train a person to be nice.” This simple concept exemplifies my philosophy on hiring.
An excellent model of this viewpoint can be found at our Doubletree Guest Suites Phoenix-Gateway property, which has been ranked, in terms of quality of service within the top 3 of the 170 properties of the Doubletree brand for the past five years. The human resources department at this hotel is phenomenal, giving as much care and detail to hiring a housekeeper as they do to management - again aptitude and attitude are key.
BTN: What are your goals for 2005? Are there any developments in the pipeline that you can comment on?
Stanford’s goals for 2005 are wide-ranging. We wanted to ensure that our existing properties continued to be market leaders and exceeded brand standards. To that end, our properties in Hawaii and Washington/Dulles Airport are completing major renovations—to be concluded by the end of the year or the start of the next. And later this year, we will start renovations on our Albuquerque, San Francisco Airport, and Sacramento hotels.
We purchased the Hilton Santa Clara property in California at the end of last year and our primary goal for this hotel in 2005 was to ensure a smooth transition. So far, this changeover has been very successful. We also recently announced the purchase of the Hilton Charlotte Centre City. Having the right people in place at these properties is most important, so we are working to that end.
We are encountering a superb time for growth as the hotel real estate market gains strength and returns to levels prior to 9/11. Accordingly, we will continue to pursue new growth opportunities for the company. It is expected that many of the majors—Hilton Hotels Corporation, Starwood and other holders of first-class hotels—will divest themselves of a portion of their real estate portfolios. We are particularly targeting major urban and upscale suburban hotels of 300 rooms and up that can be or are already branded with the Marriott, Hilton and Starwood names.
BTN: What are the longer-term goals both for Stanford and for you?
Stanford’s long-term goals are consistent with the short-term ones. The company will continue to reinvest in its hotels to ensure that they are on par with or exceed their competition. Technology, service, and food & beverage are three areas we will continue to focus on.
In terms of portfolio expansion, or contraction, we will let the market dictate the action. There is no set goal for number of properties; rather Stanford’s holdings will be based on how well the hotel market is doing, the quality of properties available for purchase, and the fit of the potential properties to our particular standards. Smart, strategic growth will remain our motto.
On a personal level, I hope to remain with Stanford Hotels as the company offers many professional challenges. Every day is different from the next. I wear many hats, combining my enthusiasm for operations with branding, development and acquisitions. I also hope to return to teaching. I strongly believe that we all have the responsibility to give back to an industry that has provided such a rich professional life.