ATLANTA—The Hunter Conference Award for Excellence and Inspiration is given each year to an industry executive with high standards in leadership, citizenship and innovation—someone who has been an inspiration to the industry.
For this year’s recipient, Thomas J. Baltimore Jr., chairman of the board/president/CEO of Park Hotels & Resorts, the award not only honors him, but all the men and women he works with at Park and the mentors and leaders he’s had in his career.
Baltimore named Bill McCarten, now chairman at DiamondRock, whom he worked with more than 25 years ago, as an early mentor, as well as Bob Johnson, whom he launched and grew RLJ with.
With the majority of past winners coming from entrepreneurial backgrounds, Baltimore is the first recipient who comes from a publicly traded company, something that aligns with his discipline and work ethic.
“Anytime you’re the CEO of a publicly traded company, the analyst side is going to grill you about why you made the decisions you made,” said Lee Hunter, conference chair/COO of Hunter Hotel Advisors. “But that’s the sign of a good leader—someone who makes the decision that’s the correct decision to be made, even though it may not be the popular decision.”
The public pressure is something that Baltimore has become used to, and has even grown to embrace.
“Certainly, there’s a different rhythm with a public company,” Baltimore said. “There’s a discipline and rhythm that occurs in the public process. I’ve warmed to it and I actually enjoy it—the rigors of the public company process—and, candidly, it’s been something that I’ve embraced. Once it’s in your blood, you get used to it and rise to the challenge.”
Hunter said that the award committee approached him, acknowledging Baltimore’s public background, but highlighted his deal-making abilities and bold nature.
“When you look back over his career in totality, that’s when you think, ‘Hey, he took risks every time, he made a move and left something that was comfortable to go to something that was particularly uncomfortable,’” Hunter said.
Noting Baltimore’s moves around the industry from brands like Marriott and Hilton to RLJ Lodging Trust, and, most recently, back to Hilton with Park Hotels & Resorts, Baltimore hasn’t shied away from risk.
Baltimore attributes his confidence to leave Hilton for the first time and start RLJ to his wife, Hillary, who stood by his side throughout the process.
“I left Hilton for the first time to start RLJ in 2000. I have a wonderful wife and partner in Hillary who believed in me and supported me as I made the pivot to leave a corporate job and launch a platform with no real assurances. Having that alignment of interest and a great partner in Bob Johnson made it worthwhile. While I enjoyed the corporate environment, the opportunity of launching my own platform, building my own team and raising capital was just something that I found very intriguing. I didn’t want to live a life of regret,” Baltimore said.
After what Baltimore referred to as a magical 17 years at RLJ, accompanied with a proven track record, another opportunity presented itself: a return to Hilton.
“When I got the call from Chris Nassetta at Hilton about rejoining Hilton to spin out its owned real estate portfolio, it was really the one opportunity that I found too compelling to pass up. It allowed me the opportunity to pivot, to build a new team and try to climb another mountain, and I haven’t looked back,” Baltimore said.
While work is a major focus for Baltimore, family and relationships remain at the forefront, a fact that Hunter recognizes.
“The most important thing to him is family,” Hunter said. “He runs all these companies but that doesn’t make him, that doesn’t define him—that’s his family.”
He also mentioned Baltimore’s kindness and all-around good nature.
“He’s a good guy—it’s not rocket science,” Hunter said. “Some leaders are hard—pushers. Tom’s not. Tom’s a good guy. He takes care of his people. He looks out for his people.”
As one of the truest testaments to this, Hunter pointed to Baltimore’s departure from RLJ, perfectly grooming Leslie Hale to assume his position.
“He puts his people first. He’s a good guy. At the end of the day, we have a saying: People want to do business with people they like, they trust and they respect. People like, trust and respect Tom. He doesn’t quit,” Hunter said.
For Baltimore, he looks forward to the next chapter and what’s ahead for Park, energized by its growth prospects and opportunities, while also reflecting on what’s gotten him to this point.
“My journey is of very humble beginnings; it’s something I’ve never lost sight of,” Baltimore said. “No one succeeds alone. I really believe you grow in times of adversity.” HB