Kessler steps down as president/CEO of Ashford Hospitality Trust

The Hampton Inn & Suites Columbus-Easton Area is part of Ashford Hospitality Trust's portfolio. Photo credit: Hampton Inn & Suites Columbus-Easton Area (Hampton Inn & Suites Columbus-Easton Area)

Douglas A. Kessler is voluntarily resigning as president and CEO of Ashford Hospitality Trust to pursue other professional opportunities. The board of directors has appointed J. Robison Hays III as the company’s new president and CEO. Kessler’s resignation and Hays’ appointment will be effective May 14, 2020, the date of the company’s annual meeting of stockholders. Hays has been serving as the company’s chief strategy officer, a position he has held since May 2015. Kessler will remain with the company until May 14, 2020, to assist with the transition and be available to the company for a year on a consulting basis. 

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“I would like to thank Douglas for his invaluable leadership and contributions to Ashford Trust during his considerable tenure. He has been an extraordinary colleague and instrumental in the growth of Ashford Trust since its IPO in 2003. We wish him well in his future endeavors,” said Monty J. Bennett, Ashford Trust’s chairman of the board. “We believe Rob is the ideal candidate to execute the vision for the company going forward. Having joined Ashford Trust in 2005 and serving most recently as our chief strategy officer, Rob has been actively involved in all aspects of the company. Given Rob’s breadth of experience and demonstrated leadership capabilities, we believe the transition will be seamless.”

Kessler also is resigning as senior managing director of Ashford. Hays will resign as co-president and chief strategy officer of Ashford and assume the role of senior managing director. Hays also will resign as chief strategy officer of Braemar Hotels & Resorts and will no longer be an officer of Braemar. Hays also will no longer serve as chief strategy officer at Ashford Trust.

Hays, 42, has served as the company’s chief strategy officer since May 2015 and before that served as its senior VP—corporate finance and strategy since 2010. He has been with the company since 2005. Before joining the company, Hays worked in the corporate development office of Dresser, a Dallas-based oil field service and manufacturing company, where he focused on mergers, acquisitions and strategic initiatives. Before working at Dresser, Hays was a member of the Merrill Lynch Global Power & Energy Investment Banking Group in Texas. He received his undergraduate degree in politics from Princeton University and later studied philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

Ashford has come under scrutiny lately for receiving $126 million in funds from the Paycheck Protection Program. Many publicly traded companies, such as Ashford, have been accused of preventing smaller companies from receiving loans. According to a statement from company, it has followed all the rules and is eligible for the funds: "We plan to keep all funds received under the PPP, which were provided as a result of the application process and other specific requirements established for our industry by Congress. Rules established by the Small Business Administration require companies like ours to determine by May 7 whether we still qualify for the PPP funds. Any funds for which we are determined to be not qualified will be returned according to the requirements of the program. Our singular focus is to get back to the business of hosting guests at our hotels and helping the nearly 14,000 employees who work at our 130 hotels and related businesses return to work as the economy emerges from this terrible crisis."