Ravi Patel is the president of Iowa-based Hawkeye Hotels, but not for too much longer, if he has his way. Not because he doesn’t love the hospitality industry, but because the position he is looking for doesn’t allow moonlighting. It also is located in Washington, D.C.
Last month, the 29-year-old Patel, who is of Indian descent, announced his candidacy for the United States House of Representatives, running in Iowa’s first congressional district. If elected, it would be the first time Iowa had a minority representative in Congress.
Instead of worrying about the performance of Hawkeye’s owned-and-operated portfolio, Patel wants to concentrate on repairing the government and restoring the American Dream, something he knows too well as the son of immigrant parents.
“I’m running for Congress for many reasons,” Patel exclusively told Hotel Management, “but chief among those reasons is I believe that in order for us to solve the problems we face as a country, we need innovators in office who can bring an entirely different way of thinking to Washington. If there is any institution that can benefit from a new way of thinking, it is most certainly Congress.”
Patel undeniably has the drive and smarts to succeed in politics, but getting to the point to make a difference is the tough part. However, at such a young age, helping lead a family-run 52-hotel management portfolio, encompassing many of the big brands, his career arc is bending toward prominence.
“Working in the hotel industry is really the best education I could have received,” he said. Patel’s father and mother started the business back in 1982 with one roadside hotel in Mena, Ark., with “nothing more than their hopes and dreams,” Patel said. Today, Hawkeye Hotels owns and operates over $400 million in assets across the Midwest.
“If you talk to any employee at Hawkeye Hotels, you’ll soon realize that they speak about the company in much the same way they speak about their family,” Patel, whose brother and sister also work for the company, said. “This is because we’ve always put people first. The key ingredient for any successful hotel is how much priority is put on the guest experience. In the business of both hotels and politics, it’s simply about the people. I found success at Hawkeye Hotels because I focused on people, and any illustrious countryman we can think of will have a similar opinion about their constituents.”
Beyond hotels, Patel has an entrepreneurial streak that he often exercises in his home state of Iowa. In addition to running the family company, Patel is an angel investor and startup mentor, providing seed capital to early-stage companies working to innovate in their respective industries. Through Built by Iowa, a private equity fund he co-founded, Patel has invested in more than 20 startups seeking to transform education, healthcare, sustainability and non-profits. While one company may look to innovate in the way students study for exams, another company is developing software that provides rural communities with access to real-time medical advice.
As Patel put it, “These firms are not only an economic imperative, they are changing our world for the better.”
And while Patel may be an hotelier by birth, entrepreneurship is now his essence. “There’s no doubt that I’m an hotelier, and operating a hotel company with several hotels in the portfolio makes you a natural entrepreneur, as each individual hotel is similar to a small business,” he said. “However, entrepreneurism as of late has been something I’ve grown to be very interested in.”
Patel uses entrepreneurship as a way to explain the shift in the way America does business. “Right now in America, we are experiencing the dawn of the ‘New Economy,’ an economy that is moving away from the mechanisms that brought about the Industrial Revolution, toward one where technology is king,” he said. “In order to encourage growth and capitalize on the benefits, we need to encourage entrepreneurs to take risks and start businesses. We need those individuals with capital to make investments in people and ideas that have the potential to change this world for the better.”
WINNING IOWA OVER
Patel, a Democrat, will more than likely be running against incumbent Rod Blum, a Republican who is currently serving his first term. It will be Patel’s job to unseat him in a district that, as he said, leans five to six points democratic.
The platform he is running on is very much tied to his parents’ experience as Indian immigrants who, through hard work and determination, forged a quality life for themselves and their family.
“One of my biggest priorities will be restoring the promise of America and making sure that the people in our society who are willing to work hard can get ahead,” Patel said. “A lot of politicians are going to tell you that we either need more government or we need less government, and the reality is that we need a smarter government. We need to make new programs great and old programs better.
“There is countless data out there that show how vital entrepreneurs and small-business owners are to our economy. If elected, I intend to pursue policies that empower this very important segment, and on top of that, we need to reward those risk-takers out there who put it all on the line to start new businesses, provide jobs for those in their community and grow the economy. American ingenuity and enterprise has always been one of the greatest drivers of this country’s success and I intend to build on that legacy in Congress.”
If elected, he’ll also be taking the hotel industry’s message to Washington, championing many of the same policies as the AH&LA. “The hotel industry is here to stay, and what we need to figure out is how we can partner with this industry to make sure that it grows as a whole,” Patel said, pointing to disparities that occur from state to state as it relates to hotel taxes and regulation. “What we need to do at the federal level is standardize as much as we can to make sure we’re empowering and harnessing all that American enterprise has to offer. We don’t ever want to stand in the way of business; instead, we want to find a way to make business work for all people.”
Some specific issues he plans to face head-on are trying to pass the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act, which “promotes tourism, creates jobs and grows the economy,” he said. He will also focus on “meaningful immigration reform that will allow the United States to remain a welcoming nation to those that travel here, and [that] creates a system that provides access to workhorses to meet economic growth.”
Winning won’t be an easy proposition, but anything can happen in Iowa. Patel will try to follow in the footsteps of President Barack Obama, who in 2008 became the first African American to win the Iowa Democratic Caucus.
“Here in Iowa, while we are a fairly progressive state, we haven’t sent many women to high office, and we’ve never elected a minority. As a younger Asian American hotelier, I’ve had an opportunity to break down a lot of barriers and show the rest of the country that Iowans will not stand in the way of good ideas despite a candidate’s age or ethnicity,” Patel said.
“Our message won’t be about pitting Democrats against Republicans. My candidacy is about ideas and solutions to problems. My candidacy is about inspiring hope and restoring the American Dream. We’re going to win this thing because we’re right on the issues, and voters are looking for a candidate with a fresh perspective who has their best interests at heart.”
Spoken like a true candidate to reckon with.
AT A GLANCE
Headquarters: Burlington, Iowa
Portfolio: 52 hotels managed
Hotel Website: www.hawkeyehotels.com
Congressional Website: www.patelforiowa.com