When you know, you know.
Michael Deitemeyer, president and CEO of hotel-management powerhouse Aimbridge Hospitality, started working the day he was old enough, but it took him awhile to figure out what direction he wanted to go in.
“I really had no clue what I wanted to do, but my mom really wanted me to go to college,” he said. “She felt that was important.”
So he commuted back and forth to Fitchburg State University in nearby Fitchburg, Mass., for a degree in accounting while working full-time in a broom factory.
“It was a very non-traditional college experience for me,” he said. “At the time, I thought I was making a lot of money but I would literally drive back and forth to college, to the factory, and then home. That was my routine. I was not a guy who got to go hang out on campus or do any of that type of thing.”
During this time, Deitemeyer had the opportunity to interview for three possible internships. The first interview was working for a grocery store chain and the second was spending the summer in the basement of a bank working on standard operating procedures. The third interview, at the brand-new Worcester (Mass.) Marriott, changed the course of Deitemeyer’s life.
“I'd never been in a hotel that was that nice,” he said. “It had a nightclub. It had a retail shop. It had a nice restaurant. The controller of the hotel was a guy who had a sports car, and I was sold. I chose to do my internship in hospitality. That's really all they wrote.”
Deitemeyer stayed on at the hotel after his internship through his senior year, then moved to Charlotte, N.C., the week he graduated to work as a hotel food-and-beverage controller.
Fun fact: About 10 years ago he got to go back to Fitchburg State to give a commencement speech: “That was a highlight,” he said. “My mom sat in the front row and cried the whole time.”
While Deitemeyer knew that the hospitality industry was where he wanted to be, it wasn’t always the passion for him that it is now.
“Even when I was in the broom factory job, I knew I wasn't always the best educated or the best at my job but I would outwork everybody else and really early on in my career I just put my head down and I worked because I didn't know what else to do, candidly,” he said. “It's an industry I'd never step away from today, but at the time, I just saw opportunity: I saw opportunity to make more money and I saw opportunity for advancement.”
He started his career as area controller with Interstate Hotels Corp., moving from Charlotte to Memphis, Tenn., to Minneapolis and back the Memphis.
“Back in the day, Interstate was growing like crazy and I was always raising my hand for the next opportunity,” he said. “I was the guy staying late getting things done. That paid off for me [along with] my willingness to move around the country.
That exposure to different ways of doing things, different regions and different places catapulted his development, he said.
“I was 24 years old and I was an area controller doing things that I never thought I could have done just because I was willing to work hard. I think it was probably in my mid-20s where I really realized, as I got to know more corporate folks, that this was something that could be a life passion and that I could continue to excel in.”
After five years with Interstate, Deitemeyer moved on to TRT Development Co. as corporate controller, which then provided his next big opportunity when the company went on to purchase Omni Hotels & Resorts in 1996. He started out as senior VP of finance, moving to COO and then a 13-year stint as president.
According to Deitemeyer, working with the owners (Bob Rowling and family) taught him discipline.
“What do we want it to be? How are we going to position it? What are we going to do? To be part of the nucleus of that and the ultimate vision for Omni in the four-star space with five-star service, for a kid that grew up in an environment where the nicest hotel I had seen early in my life was the Marriott Worcester and getting to crack that experiential vision for the place we carved out for Omni, was super cool and pretty incredible.”
It also gave him a more well-rounded experience in the hotel industry.
“When I had the opportunity at Omni, I was touching deal underwriting, return on investment capital, all those financial aspects of the business but then also, for a tiny brand, customer loyalty was incredibly important and balancing the cost of that with what really resonated with consumers and trying to find a niche for a brand that had lost its way. Going from marketing meetings to financial meetings, to cultural meetings and talking about employee culture and what the importance of that within an organization, was pretty incredible, and certainly I thought of myself just trying to be a sponge through many years of that. I'm proud of what we accomplished.”
In 2017, Interstate Hotels & Resorts came calling and the lure of Washington, D.C., after many years in Texas convinced Deitemeyer to join the company as president and CEO. In 2019, the company was acquired by Aimbridge Hospitality, landing him back in Texas. After the deal was completed, Deitemeyer filled the role of global president, and was named president and CEO in January of this year.
“We're the largest third-party operator in the world. But what people don't realize is we're also the third largest operator of hotels. We operate more hotels than most of the brands do,” he said. “It's been exciting for us and certainly when businesses like this come together you're worried about disruption, you're worried about other things but the reality is, last year during the pandemic, the first full year after the merger, we added 162 new signed [hotel management agreements]. It was a great growth year for us, which proves that we are able to demonstrate and show that we can bring incremental value and I think that's just the beginning of the opportunities that exist for us.”
Deitemeyer said that more than anything, what he wants is for Aimbridge to be the best at what it does.
“The goal is not to be the biggest, the goal is to be the best and to be the best is to be thoughtful about the different types of businesses we run and the different types of owners we support,” he said. In addition to continuing to grow the company, Deitemeyer’s job as CEO also is to give employees more opportunities for their personal growth and development, he said.
“I'm sitting in this temporary office space now, looking at our new building that's under construction. This is about investing in our people and our talent,” he said. “I want a culture where people can clear a path with us. If they have the desire to work in different geographies like I did, we can provide those opportunities. If they have a desire to start at a high-end select-service [hotel] and someday want to be a GM of a full-service Marriott. If you're in love with the hospitality space and the diversity, and products and people and geography, where else would you want to come work than Aimbridge because we can provide those opportunities.”
While Deitemeyer attributes much of his success in the hotel industry to his long track record of hard work, he is quick to point out that he hasn’t accomplished everything on his own; he’s had the help of his family and others in the industry—and opportunities like the ones he ensures his employees have.
“Our business is a team sport for sure, and I think at the end of the day what I'm most proud of is that I know and believe and value, and don't take lightly, that people invest their lives and careers with our company and I always want to be a good steward of that,” he said. “Part of what we do to give back is invest in those folks who are working to get ahead. That's the best part about this industry. We at Aimbridge will continue to do our part to provide those opportunities for folks.”