American Hotel’s Jim Leahy celebrates golden anniversary

VERNON HILLS, IL—Founded in 1865 as a publisher of hotel travel directories, railroad maps and guest books, American Hotel Register Company, currently a manufacturer and supplier of OS&E and FF&E, supplies more than 50,000 items to hotels and other industries throughout the world.

Around the turn of the century, Thomas F. Leahy acquired the company and pledged to serve the needs of the hospitality industry. His son, James F. Leahy Sr., took over after his death in 1932. James Sr. expanded the company from a printing company to a hotel forms catalog company. In 1986, James Sr. passed away after 60 years of continuous service and 53 years as president.

My three sons: Tom, Jim and Patrick (left to right) with father James Leahy Sr. (seated) at the Chicago office in 1971.

His three sons, Jim Jr., Thomas and Patrick had started growing the business from a direct-marketing company to a full-distribution, service-based organization. The year before James Sr.’s death, Jim Leahy Jr. succeeded his father as president. Today, he celebrates his 50-year anniversary at American Hotel. “It’s been a lot of fun,” said Leahy. “I’ve met so many great people in the hotel industry. This is an industry of people who truly love their work.”

Leahy joined the company in 1966 after serving two years as a Navy supply officer. He was stationed for one year in Saigon, Vietnam. He graduated from Northwestern University before his service. Over the years, he has worked in many departments throughout the company including payroll, advertising, merchandising, photography and sales.

During the 1960s, only 25 people worked at American Hotel. Most of them had lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They hand-set type, ran printing presses, cut paper or worked in the bindery. The company still published Leahy’s Hotel-Motel Guide & Travel Atlas of the U.S., Canada and Mexico and printed forms. From the mid-1960s on, American Hotel continued to add items to its product line, so that by 1971, its catalog had grown to more than 400 pages, and sales broke $1 million for the first time.

“Back then, I knew we only had two options for growth,” explained Leahy. “Our greatest assets were the company’s printing skills, printing equipment and inventory. It was making good money, but there was very little national business. There was not yet a true hotel supply industry. We had to make a change as technology was changing.”

Jim and his brother, Tom, continued to take an active role managing their family’s business. In the 1980s, the company added an outside sales staff to increase customer loyalty and instituted a management training program. “Adding an outside sales staff was a huge cost, but we had to expand our presence in the U.S.,” said Leahy. “We had to make this decision to stay relevant in the hotel industry.”

Jim Leahy Jr. on his travels, circa 2000

Under the direction of these third-generation owners, American Hotel expanded its national reach in 1988 by opening its first distribution center outside Chicago in Lakewood, NJ. “At that point, my biggest fear was that sales were starting to stagnate,” said Leahy. “Freight was a big concern for customers and the increased cost was affecting their decisions to a larger extent. With competition growing around the country, we wanted to ensure that having a strategically placed distribution center would reduce freight costs to our East Coast customers. We didn’t want to be viewed as just a Midwestern company.”

Today, American Hotel has distribution centers throughout the U.S. in cities such as Seattle, Las Vegas, Dallas and Orlando, FL. The company also has an international presence with distribution centers in cities such as Dubai and Amsterdam.

Presently, Leahy serves as chairman of the company and Tom Leahy serves as vice chairman. In April 2014, Angela Korompilas was named president/CEO of American Hotel. She celebrates her 20-year anniversary with the company in 2016.

“Jim helped build this company through a 50-year legacy of service and commitment to the hotel industry,” said Korompilas. “He has set the absolute tone for the organization—one of service, commitment and humility. He’s generous, curious, entrepreneurial and loves product development and innovation. He loves our customers and speaking to housekeepers, general managers and corporate customers. His philosophy has always been to get as close to the customer as you can. It has shaped everything that we’ve done.”

Korompilas, who meets with Leahy every morning, explained that she continues to learn something new from him each day. “I learned how to take calculated risks and make measured bets,” she said. “We think very differently, so it’s helpful to get his perspective. He pays close attention to the changing landscape. He is a pioneer in the hospitality industry.”

Known as the company’s visionary, Leahy has been at the forefront of new product development and supply chain optimization. He is also the chief architect and curator of American Hotel’s people-centric, high-performance corporate culture, dedicated to providing a level of customer service and to building strong business relationships.

“American Hotel has a proud history and a strong legacy of family leadership,” said Leahy. “Our dedicated associates have been committed to delivering complete satisfaction by providing a high level of service and trusted expertise. American Hotel’s drive to meet those needs is just as strong today as it was in 1865.”

During the J. Patrick Leahy Memorial Walk in 2015, Jim Leahy walked with his wife, Linda Leahy.

The family-owned company remains focused on providing technology-driven personalized procurement programs and services. American Hotel also delivers global supply chain solutions through its ownership of Intros Hotel Supplies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and other strategic partnerships around the world.

“Over the years, we’ve endured because we love our customers,”said Leahy. “We look for new products, and we work to improve our inventory. Also, we offer sophisticated technology to give our customers control of the ordering process. To better meet the needs of the hospitality industry, we keep changing the way we do business, and we will continue to improve to earn the loyalty of those who rely on us.” 

American Hotel has been able to stay relevant in the industry by adapting to change. “The biggest thing that helped us has been talking to customers,” said Leahy. “Customers help influence our decisions.”

In 2015, the company reached a milestone with the celebration of its 150th anniversary. Looking back on his tenure at American Hotel, Leahy offered advice that echoes his grandfather’s pledge to serve the needs of the hospitality industry. “Celebrate who you are and what you do,” said Leahy. “It’s a special environment.” HB

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