Labor puzzle turns into career for Carver Hotel Group leader

At Carver Hotel Group, a subsidiary of the Carver Companies, Chief Development Officer Charlene "Charley" Carter helps match hospitality talent with properties, encouraging the next generation of hotel leaders up the ladder. 

"We're their hospitality agency," she said of her company's consultants. "They come to us and we find them assignments. We are the liaison between that consultant and the account—our client." 

Early Days

Carter originally planned to be a dentist, but while tending bar to put herself through university in Savannah, Ga., a customer suggested she’d be happier in a business that would let her talk with people and recommended hospitality. She switched course and got a job as a hostess at the InterContinental Hotel in Atlanta, which two weeks later became the Westin Lenox and later yet became the city’s JW Marriott. 

She worked her way up through the ranks at the hotel, eventually working 80 hours per week heading catering sales by the time her daughter was born. Wanting to spend more time with her family, she moved to the Embassy Suites Atlanta Airport, handling sales for several years, and later helping to open a Sumner Suites hotel by the airport as the property's director of sales. When she was looking to expand into sales and marketing consulting as an entrepreneur, the president of the Sumner Suites brand told her that he had a struggling hotel in Tampa, Fla., and if she could turn that property around, he would give her eight more to oversee. The gambit paid off and Carter soon was a sales and marketing consultant for a range of limited-service properties, opening an estimated 30 properties, mostly Country Inns & Suites. (Sumner Suites, meanwhile, was acquired by AmeriSuites, which itself was later incorporated into the Hyatt Place brand.) 

Moving Up

Charlene Carter
Charlene Carter
Photo credit: Carver Hotel Group

In this capacity, she was asked to help train some incoming talent—people who needed some coaching to find a job. Carter educated these aspiring workers for roles in what she calls “the heartbeat of the hotel, which are your entry-level positions.” The experience stuck with her, and even after she moved on to CSM Corp. as the corporate director of sales, she wanted to help people move up in the industry.

She met Joel Carver at CSM, and even after a reorganization meant that she had to leave the company, Carver assured her that they would work together again. Several years later, Carver contacted her to help him start a new business, and Carver Hotel Group was born with Carver himself as the CEO, Carter as VP and Susan Hart as CFO. The three of them, she said, were “the meat and potatoes of the company” and helped the business grow to more than 1,500 consultants in six years. “I oversee all the business lines of the company,” Carter said. “Joel Carver likes to say I am the revenue generator of the company.”   

After 30 years helping hoteliers run their businesses, Carter’s goal is to be a person of value—“a person who implements things, plants things,” she said. She considers the hotel industry, then, to be the “vehicle” that lets her impart some type of value to others. “You don't seek success,” she said. “You seek how can you implement or impart value into those that you lead.” 

Logic in Logistics

“If someone emails me, if I get a [message] on LinkedIn, if someone reaches out—it doesn't matter who, what, why, whatever—every email that comes to me is answered before the end of the day. Nothing goes over to the next day if I can help it. Time, to me, is one of the most important things because you don't get time back. So you have to really be very respectful of time. Time is everything.”

Clicking with Clients

“People do business with people they like … It has to do with your integrity and your honesty to them and building that relationship with that client. And at the end of the day it’s just one word, and that's trust. It’s all about gaining that trust and that rapport with the client. We hear our client and we make it happen. We’re a company that is not boxed in. Everything is a la carte when it comes to Carver. If you're outside of the parameter, it doesn't mean that we can't work with it or we can't do anything for you. I will create an a la carte menu for you and I will make it work.”