Geoff Ballotti, Wyndham Hotel Group

Wyndham Hotel Group (WHG) is continuing to make headway into the new year. With its recent acquisitions, all eyes are on the hospitality giant in 2018, and its leader, who’s been focused on scaling the group and has his eyes on achieving more brand goals, in particular, in the coming year.

Of course, while most hotel brand companies are adding to their portfolio—whether through individual properties or new brands—Wyndham is taking on a complete restructuring: In August, Wyndham Worldwide announced its plans to spin off the company’s business into two separate, publicly traded companies: a pure-play hotel company and a timeshare company. The transaction is expected to help each company maintain a sharper focus on core business and growth opportunities, facilitating future capital and positioning within relevant markets. The parent company expects the transaction will be completed in the first half of 2018.

And Geoff Ballotti, current president and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group, will continue to lead the hotel company.  After all, it’s an industry he’s suited for.

“It’s been 25 years now I’ve been in [the industry],” said Ballotti. “I’ve never second guessed it; I’ve never looked back. I think the people is what drove me to this industry. I’ve just been inspired by the leaders I’ve interacted with along the way.”

Now the top exec at one of the world’s largest hospitality companies, which currently oversees 20 brands with approximately 8,300 hotels and more than 708,500 rooms in 78 countries, Ballotti, who became WHG’s president and CEO in 2014, first entered the industry in high school before becoming a banker, where he focused solely on the financing and development of hotels.

In between his years at Harvard Business School, he took advantage of an opportunity to spend time at Sheraton headquarters, which used to be based in Boston. He discovered his fascination for the hospitality industry during these years.

“I got to attend a Sheraton World Conference, where general managers and directors of sales from all around the world had been invited to a week of celebration and training,” Ballotti said. “Up until that point in my career, the only conference I had ever attended was an American Bankers Association gathering that I’d go to every year. The juxtaposition between the hotel industry and the finance industry could not have been, for me, more startling.”  

Those in attendance at the Sheraton event enjoyed themselves; they were laughing and being jolly, the exact opposite of any ABA conference he’d ever been to, Ballotti said. “Spending time that summer in the hospitality industry with people having that much fun and having such a purpose in their lives, it just confirmed to me that it was an industry that I wanted to be a part of, and I was hooked,” he said. Eventually, he made his way to Starwood, spending a tenure of 20 years in various leadership positions for both Europe and North America.

Prior to his current role, Ballotti headed major vacation exchange player RCI, part of Wyndham Exchange & Rentals, where he served as president and CEO. Years later, Wyndham Worldwide appointed him as president and CEO. As the top executive of WHG, Ballotti committed the group to moving away from legacy systems and toward technology partnerships.

Recently, though, this past summer, the hotel giant acquired the Minnesota-based AmericInn hotel brand and its management company, Three Rivers Hospitality, from Northcott Hospitality for $170 million. “It was such a great fit for us, and I think I’d also say for their owners,” Ballotti said.

But the momentum didn’t stop there.  A few months after the deal, in early November, WHG moved in on another deal: It completed a transaction with American Hotel Income Properties (AHIP), agreeing to acquire 46 hotels across the United States.

While these are just a few of his biggest accomplishments, the C-suite executive is most proud of his ability to build teams. “If you were to interview any of my other former bosses, I would hope that they would say that I’m someone with integrity, who can be trusted and who works very hard,” he said, pointing to some of  his strengths. Contrary to the executive’s strengths are his weaknesses—one he’s struggled with over the years is public speaking, a challenge he’s had to work to overcome.

“I had an abject fear of public speaking midway through my career, and overcoming it is somewhat transformational, but I realize I still have a lot more work to do,” Ballotti said.

Moving into the new year, there’s a lot going on at WHG. While its top leader is proud of the group’s success overall, there’s still more to do. There are goals waiting to be hit, especially with regard to brands.

“We still have a lot more work to do in terms of defining the positioning of each and every one of these brands, and our teams are making great success; it’s really about continuing to be focused on that,” he said. HB

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