Chesapeake Hospitality's Kim and Chris Sims: Always learn from outsiders

Hard work, honesty, humility and the need to do the right thing are the tenets that drive brothers Kim and Chris Sims, the leaders of Chesapeake Hospitality, a management company based in Greenbelt, Md., with 60 years of operational expertise. Having grown up in the 12-room Royal Pine Motel in College Park, Md., a property purchased by their parents, Ed and Jeanette, in November 1957, Kim and Chris have an intimate attachment to the hotel business and they still see themselves as hosts, no matter where they are.

Kim Sims is fond of saying that guests were visitors to their home back in those days, and he’s speaking literally. When guests would ring a buzzer at the front desk, it would make a sound in the family’s living quarters, and the hotel’s office was an extension of the rooms where he and the rest of his family lived. In that environment, Kim and Chris were able to take on every job associated with running a hotel, from cutting grass and stripping beds to setting rates. This has informed all of their later decisions, particularly when it comes to their relationships with employees.

“Personally, I’m driven to be the best, but my definition is a little different,” Kim said. “I want to be the best manager and the best employer that our team members can work for.”

Kim would gravitate toward the operations side of the business, leading him to his current position as principal and president of Chesapeake Hospitality.

By his own admission, Chris was more interested in sales and marketing, becoming principal and EVP, while their brother Andrew Sims was most attracted to the financial and investment side of hospitality. Today, Andrew is CEO of Sotherly Hotels.

Kim Sims said he doesn’t want his company to be the biggest management company out there—just the best.

Another Take

One of the most important lessons the brothers picked up at the Royal Pine Motel was to value different experiences and points of view. Socrates once said: “I know that I know nothing.” Kim and Chris would like to think they know a thing or two about hospitality, but their lifelong experience in the field has shown them that their dedication to Chesapeake and Chesapeake alone has strengths and drawbacks, which is why they are always looking for outside talent.  

“One negative to growing up and being with the same company for 35 years is that my experiences are all tied to this one particular company,” Chris said. “Because we know this, we’ve never been afraid to hire people with more experience than we have. Then we let them loose to go perform.”

Recruiting is always on the brothers’ minds because they know that they won’t be able to lead the company forever. Chris, in particular, stressed the need to cultivate the next generation of managers, and the difficulties inherent in the process due to low unemployment and a diminished interest in hospitality from young people. This is a long-term concern, however. Kim said the industry’s biggest problem right now is flattening revenue per available room and increasing costs associated with monitoring revenue.

“When business looks good, everybody looks good,” Kim said. “We do well historically in a down cycle, when people don’t know how to manage well. During those times, we look for opportunities where we can go in and improve operations or revenue management. A lot of companies look good now, but in a downturn we really shine.”

The Georgian Terrace hotel in Atlanta.

The Next Movement

Kim said solid hospitality fundamentals are going to be more important in the future for management companies such as Chesapeake as the lines between brands continue to blur and consumer confusion increases. This, when coupled with the rate of change in operations and technology, is going to give some operators headaches in the years to come.

“Back when I was working the front desk at the Royal Pine in the 1970s and ’80s, we would set our rates once per year,” Kim said. “Now we change them three to five times a day! That is a huge change.”

In 2010, Chesapeake went through a rebranding process to increase its third-party management contracts, something Kim said presented the biggest challenge in the company’s history. Getting Chesapeake’s name out in the industry and finding other businesses aligned with their ideals proved difficult at first, but led to an eventual payoff. The company’s goals are distinguished by three numbers: 5/50/500.

“In five years, we want to have 50 hotels in our portfolio earning $500 million,” Kim said. “We don’t want to be the biggest company out there, just the best.”

For Chris, this is a difficult goal, but not an unattainable one.

“It has been 60 years since our parents started the business, and we’ve had considerable growth since then, but never overly dramatic,” he said. “Our parents put at risk everything they had to help us grow after we left college. I see it as paying it back to them through reinvestment in their ideas.”