Talk to Phil Hugh about his new job (Radisson Hotel Group named him chief development officer for the Americas at the end of July) and the overwhelming impression is excitement. Excitement about the company and where it’s headed, excitement about his new colleagues (and a few old ones) and excitement about the industry as a whole.
“Hotels are my heart and soul. I love them,” he said. “I love sitting in the lobby and waching guests come in and out, where they came from. Looking at hotels that you can see are struggling and being able to give them solutions. It’s exciting to be at Radisson and get the word out of the significant changes we’re making on the growth side of the business.”
The Path to Radisson
Hugh started off in the industry as the night auditor at an airport hotel, then worked his way up to director of sales at one of the first Crowne Plaza resorts in the world, on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
“It happened to be a great place, where I met one of the industry legends, Mike Leven. And through that, I ended up selling franchises for Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crown Plaza because he was in franchising,” Hugh said. “He started Microtel and that opened up a lot of sales positions on the Holiday Inn side. I moved out to Rapid City, S.D., and started in the franchising business. And one thing led to another.”
Hugh’s next move again was based on a high-profile leader’s interest in him.
“It's all about relationships, and because of that, I was lucky enough to be recruited away from Holiday Inn by a gentleman named Henry Silverman, who at that point was running HFS,” he said. “Over the seven years I was with them, I became a senior vice president of all new construction, hotels and branding. I was lucky enough to grow the Super 8 brand, launched the Wingate Inn brand, and the portfolio of brands that HFS, Cendant, Wyndham created.”
Hugh went on to gain hands-on experience as a hotel owner and developer, building and converting several properties before the chairman of Realogy, which owns Coldwell Banker, ERA, Century 21 and other real estate brands, asked him to come fix the company’s franchising business. But the hotel industry wasn’t done with him yet. After 3.5 years at Realogy, Westmont Hospitality came calling, and he spent seven years as a development leader at Red Roof. Hugh created a franchise division and he and his team transitioned the company to an asset-light and franchisee-focused organization.
“It was primarily a management company. They had about 200 hotels when I got there, and about 100 franchises,” he said. “My job was to recreate the company as a franchise organization, transition them out of management and into franchising. When I left, they [had gone] from 200 company stores to about 50 and we went from 100 franchisees to 650 franchises in about five and a half years. So, pretty great success story over there.”
The next call was from Jim Alderman, Hugh’s long-time friend and CEO, Americas for Radisson Hotel Group: “Jim called me up and said, ‘Hey, Phil, I'm looking to hire some people for a position.’ And I said, ‘Well, what about me, buddy? We always said we wanted to work together.’ And he said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘I think it'd be a great fit.’ So, we hammered things out for a whole 24 or 48 hours, and next thing you know, I'm being offered to come on over as a chief development officer for Radisson.”
What’s Next for Radisson
Before Alderman’s call, Hugh expected to finish his career at Red Roof.
“I was COO and CDO, reporting to the board of directors, had a lot of autonomy, and obviously things were good. We were selling a lot of franchises,” he said. “But to come to Radisson, their brands are still in a position for great growth and they're positioned in a way that they don't compete with each other. That was what was most exciting to me.
“It's just a matter of putting together a franchise machine that is focused on the customer, focused on our franchisee, understand what their wants are and their needs, and why they are attracted to a franchise company.”
All of Radisson’s brands feature tremendous upside, according to Hugh, and are primed for growth.
“I'm very confident in the positioning of our brands, and I'm very confident only being here about 60, 70 days, with what I'm hearing from franchisees and what I'm seeing in applications and flow of activity to the group,” he said. “So, news at 11, we'll see how well we do over the next six months, but I'm pretty confident.”
Hugh’s first order of business when he joined Radisson was to hire a team, and that team isn’t focused solely on selling.
“We're not selling a franchise. How are we helping this franchisee make more money? Is our brand going to help him?” he said. “I could care less about selling a franchise. It's is the brand we're putting on this hotel going to make the owner more profitable? That's what we do. And the minute you forget that, you start more worrying about ‘I don't care about the quality of it, because my job is to sell the franchise.’ Our job is to sell a high-quality brand to a high-quality franchisee that delivers a high-quality experience to the consumer.”
After 31 years in the hotel business, Hugh said he is right where he should be at this point in time.
“I've got the role I want. I think we've got great brands. I wasn't really sure I was going to do this one more time. I thought that my last role was where I would stop and just settle back down to the golf course and the warm weather,” he said. “But this opportunity with Jim, the team he's created, the team he inherited, the people that are here are extremely solid, and for me to come in and be that piece that Radisson just hasn't got. They had a good group, but they never had the accelerated growth they need to dominate in segments. And I think that's my goal, is to come in here and give them a level of expertise and some experience to help them put a little horsepower behind the development side of the business.”