One-on-One with Choice Hotels International's Ron Burgett

The hotel industry is littered with stories of people who knew from when they were a kid or their first job that hospitality was the path for them. Ron Burgett’s story is not one of these.

Burgett, senior VP of extended-stay development at Choice Hotels International, grew up in Indiana, and being an Indiana kid through and through, he chose Indiana University for his next step after graduation.

“I started my very first year in pre-med at IU, which is a big hospital university,” he said. “I spent about a year and just said OK, I probably don’t want to do this.”

He pivoted to the business department at IU, earning a degree in public administration.

Burgett worked during his college years, bartending on the evenings and weekends at a Max & Erma’s chain restaurant.

“I was making pretty good money on the weekends and I got to know the owners pretty well,” he said. “But as soon as I was out of college, I was trying to work out what am I going to do? I started looking around for different opportunities. They immediately offered me a job to open new stores for them.”

Switching Gears

Ron Burgett
Ron Burgett (Choice Hotels International)

Burgett worked for Max & Erma’s for several years, and one of the locations he opened was across the street from a Best Inn of America. Again, Burgett got to know the owners well, and they were impressed.

“They offered me a job in Chicago to get into hotels. I really didn’t know hotels that well. I was enjoying what I was doing but I definitely realized that there’s more to a career then staying just in the restaurant business, at least for me at that time. I ended up having progressive roles with that company, being an area manager for four Best Inns of America in Chicago.”

These properties were Burgett’s introduction to reflagging a hotel and to Choice, as well.

“We took all four Best Inns of America in Chicago and flipped [three of them to Comfort Inn] and one to a Quality,” he said. “I got to know the people at Choice pretty well because that entails a lot of renovations and working with the hotel brand on their brand standards. All those hotels did much better under the Choice flag—it obviously it made a big difference going from a regional chain to an international chain.”

Continuing Burgett’s streak of “it’s about who you know,” he began working with the Choice area managers when they were doing inspections and quality assurance visits. One of the quality assurance managers told Burgett he was getting ready to retire and wanted him to fill his position. Burgett’s response? “I don’t really know much about that but I can try.”

He stayed with Choice for 12 years, moving from quality assurance to franchise support and then franchise sales, eventually becoming one of the top performers selling franchises for Choice.

“So they offered me a job to run the whole United States and the new division with direct reports,” he said. “I was able to put a team together that wasn’t there before and build something out of EconoLodge and Rodeway on a national basis with a dedicated team.”

In 2004 all brands began reporting to Burgett as national VP of franchise development.

He took a slight detour into the commercial brokerage side of the business, but franchise sales and operations drew him back—“I wanted to get back into a team. I wanted to build a team”—which led him to AmericInn.

After several years of aggressive growth there, Burgett’s next landing spot was Red Lion Hotels, overseeing operations, branding and franchise sales. Then came a call from Jack DeBoer, creator of the extended-stay segment, to sell Value Place franchises. DeBoer convinced Burgett to join the team at the end of 2011, thus introducing him to extended-stay. Coming full circle, Choice purchased Value Place (which had transformed into WoodSpring Suites) at the end of 2017.

Back to Choice

“When I really looked under the hood, saw the FDDs, understood the profitability of the extended-stay segment, I knew at least for this part of my career that I really wanted to be the expert in this space,” he said. “I learned it from the operations side; support and services reported to me when I was at WoodSpring prior to the acquisition.”

He has taken that understanding and used it to create and support innovation at Choice.

“I always look for how can we make our product better or what can we do different,” he said. “I was instrumental in one of the early initiatives to put suites in hotels. Other folks were doing it all suites but not the ‘and suites,’ so that we were really on the front end of that. I was also on the front end of coming out with the Clarion Collection.”

He also created the Everhome Suites brand along with Anna Scozzafava, Choice’s VP, extended-stay brands, strategy & operations, and their team.

“My passion was to come up with new ways to to attract guests to Choice where we didn’t really have a product for them,” he said. “I’ve always tried to be passionate and build teams and think outside the box. How can we do things differently and better with the framework that we have?”

His passion for hospitality carries over to his teams.

“I think what I’m probably the best at is building strong teams that can leverage size and scale and become a leader in that space,” he said. “I want to win; I want the team to win. I surround myself with folks that absolutely understand the business and in many cases, I’m OK if they’re the expert. I’m more like the orchestrator.”

Burgett said he’s in the right place for this stage of his career.

“When someone looks over my career, I want them to say, ‘That guy really understood and loved hospitality. He loved taking care of people and understanding what people need while they’re on the road,’” he said. “My passion is hospitality. But what drives me the most is to be a winner—to try to win in that division and try to live up to what people’s expectations are of me.