Randy Hassen hadn’t even graduated from the University of Georgia when, in 1991, he decided working as a part-time houseman at a Days Inn in Athens, Ga., for McKibbon Hospitality was a good idea—and probably one of the smartest moves he ever made. In fact, taking that minimum-wage job put him on a career path that brought him to where he is today: president of the hotel-management division at McKibbon Hospitality.
“It was the Days Inn [job] that led me to understand McKibbon was a growing company, had great opportunities for growth. So I never had to leave,” said the executive.
Hassen’s journey start was not atypical of many college students, working a job while going to school. But a year after graduating UG in 1994 and following a conversion of the Days Inn to a Courtyard, he was named the Courtyard by Marriott General Manager of the Year, a notable accomplishment for someone in his twenties. That year he also opened a Courtyard in Tampa, Fla., and subsequently opened other properties for McKibbon.
In 2000, he segued to a Courtyard in downtown Tampa, serving in a regional position, tasked with growing the Marriott brand for McKibbon. Seven years later, Hassen was tapped to take on some of the management company responsibilities and in 2012, was named president, succeeding current CEO Vann Herring in the post.
With headquarters in Gainesville, Ga., and Tampa, where Hassen is based, the company now has more than 80 hotels in 13 states. Hassen characterized the fourth-generation company, which specializes in development, third-party management and renovations, as one that is decidedly continuing to evolve.
Spry at 90
“We’re a 90-year-old company that’s family-owned and -operated, and we continue to evolve the initial roots of the company, which started in a family grocery store, which led to a motor lodge, which led to the poultry business, which led into early days with Holiday Inn. John McKibbon, who is our chairman, then started franchising with Marriott in the early ’90s, when I began my career with McKibbon,” he said.
With a long view on the development scene, Hassen assessed why the veteran company resonates with owners and investors.
“People come to us because we truly try to stay grounded to our roots in hospitality—serving others, providing exceptional guest service, ensuring cleanliness and maintenance of the hotels, providing the necessary upgrades that we need to be competitive when it comes to technology and in-room entertainment. Making sure the food and beverage is well elevated,” he said. “’ We’re so focused on guest experience the success of the hotels follows. As a management company, it’s all about our people and creating that culture and environment, serving and really attracting people who love to give back to the community, who want to be an active participant in their local business community as well as its charitable needs.”
The father of two young boys, Hassen practices what he preaches, serving as a board member of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Council and is a member of the AC Hotels by Marriott Franchisee Advisory Council.
A Variety of Projects
Within McKibbon’s portfolio is brand product from Marriott International, such as the 132-key AC Hotel Asheville Downtown in North Carolina, Hilton (the 110-room Hampton Inn Columbia Northeast Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., and the 100-key Hampton Inn & Suites Charlotte Arrowood Road in Charlotte, N.C.), IHG and Hyatt. Hassen noted the company is developing IHG’s 128-room Kimpton Hotel Arras, the first franchised Kimpton hotel, which is slated to open later this summer in Asheville, N.C., as well as two Hyatt House airport-proximate projects set to open in Florida in 2021, one in Orlando and one in Tampa. The company also is literally building for its own account in Tampa, adding 2,500 square feet of office space to its headquarters’ existing 10,000 square feet.
McKibbon also does third-party management for owners, including Noble Investment Group, Starwood Capital and Wheelock Street Capital. Recently, for example, McKibbon took on Wheelock’s 200-key Hyatt House Chicago/West Loop-Fulton Market, which opened June 13, and earlier in the year took on management of the Moxy Atlanta Midtown and AC Hotel Atlanta Midtown, a dual-brand property owned by Noble.
“If an ownership group is coming to us, if they’re purchasing a portfolio or coming to us with existing [assets], it’s usually if a hotel is distressed and they’re wanting us to turn it around in a short period of time. They’re putting capital into it through the property improvement plan, they want us to help oversee that, have minimal disruption to the guest, maximize the online presence, the photography, the [public relations] and then make sure the staff is trained and takes it to another level,” said Hassen. “Owners are really focused on us growing and driving share, achieving maximum [average daily rate] that we can and making sure we’re keeping up with the brand’s expectations of guest satisfaction, TripAdvisor [ratings] and that we’re positioning the hotel well within its comp set.”
As the industry mantra notes, it all comes down to the right location. “That’s one of the challenges we face. Finding the right locations for those type of projects where we can really drive the rate. We typically would partner with somebody in the market that controls the land and we would go in there and work a situation with just a true partnership. So it’s a benefit for both of us,” said Hassen.
“My biggest job is supporting our growth,” he added, passing kudos to his team, both veteran and new, who he likened to “superheroes” when doing their jobs and pulling it all together. “That helps me not to be too stressed out and I can prioritize where I need to be.”
Which, obviously, is at McKibbon Hospitality.