Lara Latture talks too much (in her opinion). But her friendly, outgoing personality has been an asset throughout her life and reveals her knowledge of and passion for the hotel industry.
The founder and president of Northwest X Southern Hospitality learned the value of communication and relationships early. She attended three different junior high schools and three different high schools as a result of her father’s job transfers, which forced her to take matters into her own hands.
“I firmly believe that those were the formative years where I learned immediately that I have to move very quickly to make friends, make an impact and then hopefully maintain relationships,” Latture said. “If I wasn’t going to be friendly, I was going to be lonely.”
While “friendly just happened,” it has stuck with her.
“I say this all the time: You can teach anybody anything about hospitality, because it is not the most complex industry out there, but friendly and just sincere, those are things that people really want,” she said. “Whether they're working for you or with you, or they're your clients. I think hospitality, it was a little just ingrained in me. I was going to be friendly, I was going to enjoy people, I wanted to make relationships that lasted long-term.”
These personality traits and goals led Latture to jobs that feature heavy interaction with clients, although hotels weren’t her first stop.
“I think that hospitality kind of chose me. I went from retail to an amazing job in Houston where I worked for a yachting company that had large, huge corporate petrochemical clients,” Latture said. “I learned to deal with a lot of very large clients, and to make sure that they felt really, really safe in their choices, and that I was a constant in their world. After that, I drifted over into the hotel world, and then once I got there, I loved that I had the chance to build my team. Once you told me I was in charge and to own it, that was all you had to do. I started building my team immediately, and that was with my first true general manager job in Texas.”
There were some roadblocks for Latture to overcome at the beginning of her hotel career, however, the first being that she had “no idea how to be a GM.” The response from The Hotel Group, which managed the Holiday Inn? “You'll be fine. Let's just give it a whirl.”
“I knew that to be in charge meant I had to take 100 percent ownership and responsibility,” Latture said of the GM job. “I was just trying to do it all. So, whether it was making schedules, talking to the maintenance team, revenue management … I remember staying night after night after night to teach myself that because I thought, ‘We only have one chance to make this money. You miss it, it’s gone.’”
Latture said she was “super, super hands-on” because she didn't want to fail.
“I wasn’t a person that grew up in hospitality, that grew up in hotels, I was just a person that ended up in a hotel with, at the time, a great owner who entrusted me, and he was probably crazy to do so,” she said. “I talk to him still to this day. We both laugh about it and we still get tickled about some of the things that happened, and I made every mistake. Every single mistake, I made it.”
Her success at the hotel led to greater responsibility with The Hotel Group, starting with the addition of more hotels for her to oversee to becoming VP of operations, EVP and principal to COO.
After nearly 20 years with THG, Latture decided to branch out on her own, forming Northwest X Southern in January 2018. The main office is located in Franklin, Tenn., (the Southern part of the name) and the accounting office (in Spokane, Wash.) and the properties themselves (in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington) are the Northwest portion.
“I had been thinking about it off and on, like, ‘Hey, I need a change.’ I needed to do something different for myself,” she said. “I wasn't exactly where I felt like I needed to be in my own headspace right then. I had had some opportunities that had come to me and people that had talked to me over the years about changing and doing things, but I was very loyal to THG. I grew up there, I had opportunities given to me there that were amazing, and I learned so much. I decided, ‘I don't want to go work for anyone else. I want to do this on my own.’”
The first year, according to Latture, was “unbelievable.”
“I learned everything I didn't know about creating a startup, and there was plenty. It was a whirlwind,” she said. “I was very lucky. I had very strong relationships with all the brands, I have always had go-to people in roles that are decision-makers that have always been willing to help me and have trusted me because I've delivered throughout my 23, 24 years with the brands.”
By the second year, the company had its footing, the team was very accustomed to the hotels they were managing and the various regions and states they were located in. Year three, 2020, was supposed to be the year they took the company to the next level, but then the entire playing field shifted.
“In 2020, the goal was that we would open ourselves up for additional management contracts,” Latture said. “We wanted immediately to serve our customers to make sure that we had everything lined up and that we were going to be able to deliver the products that we promised, that we were going to be able to be that management company that everybody wants.”
Like many other companies, Northwest X Southern was forced to temporarily close properties and lay off employees. But people still want to travel, according to Latture, and it’s the hotel industry’s responsibility to make them feel safe and in an environment that keeps them healthy.
“I don't think things will ever be the way they were. I think that this pandemic has changed everything,” she said. “But I think we can get back to where things feel good for most people. My goal right now is just to keep everybody afloat, keep COVID at bay as much as we can, protect employees, protect guests.”
NORTHWEST X SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY
Headquarters: Franklin, Tenn.
Structure: Management company
Portfolio: 22 hotels, about 3,000 guestrooms