I am with you

Editor’s note: The following is a piece that was sent to me by one of our readers, Sunny Tolani. He sent this letter to his Prince Organization team members, and I wanted to, with his permission, share it with all of you. Sometimes, as a leader, just showing empathy to your employees is what’s needed to keep spirits up and people motivated, despite the challenges.

Tough times never last but tough people do.”
—Rev. Robert H. Schuller

Sunny Tolani

Hope this message finds you healthy and safe during these trying times. It is not an easy time, as for the first time in modern history, the world is united in our shared experience of pain. We live in unprecedented times when, for the first time in more than 100 years, the country is almost shutdown. More than 200 million Americans are staying at home. Times like these test one’s spirit and fortitude, as those of us who are in the hospitality industry face challenges we have never seen before. We managed through the recession of 2008-2010, but this is unlike any economic enemy we have dealt with in the past. But then, people were not dying.

Hotels, an essential business unlike most other businesses, are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We never close. This is a very unsettling time—both physically and emotionally. We are concerned about our health and that of our family, friends and coworkers. We are uncertain of when this will end and what the future will look like. We are also uneasy because in hospitality, what we do is take care of guests—and we are virtually unable to do that now with such limited services. We do our best as we dig deep within ourselves and muster all the perseverance and grit we can. We must continue to live our values of being humble, caring and kind, and apply them to our new circumstances and to the team members. Every day you are at your hotels, you make a contribution. Continue to try to feel purposeful.

We are making the tough decisions needed to weather the storm that is wreaking havoc on our country by delaying payments to vendors, shutting down floors, electricity, ordering, etc. These decisions do not come easily, but it is our belief that by making these decisions now, it will allow us to be properly positioned for a recovery that will bring most of our team members back after the war on this enemy is won. Almost every variable is changing, and the disastrous negative impact on our business in so many ways cannot yet be fully quantified.

We are together. We find resilience and levelheadedness and kindness and cooperation precisely in the moments of greatest vulnerability. True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure—the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation. Over the last few weeks, as the pressure on all of us and everyone around the world has increased with exponential force, it occurred to me that there is another context in which that mantra can be applied: To real people under real pressure. And if you believe, as I do, that our team members’ true characters—as humans and, potentially, real-life heroes—is unveiled in direct proportion to the amount of stress we are under, then perhaps there has never been a more character-revealing moment for the American and global pandemic. The politicians, lawmakers, senators, congressmen talk about stress. They want to talk about stress? About pressure? The day-to-day realities that we all not only live with, but thrive under, are beyond measure. They want to talk about character? Your character proves in showing up, working hard each day.

Of course, none of the excellence, passion and grit in the face of the adversity brought on by the virus surprises me. That is simply our character, and the pressure we already deal with on a day-to-day basis not only reveals it; it forges it. Through the sheer power of our perseverance and with our collective character as a guiding light, that is exactly what we will continue to do.

The work is not easy or ideal. For me and so many of you, it has been, and continues to be done, with a heavy and saddened heart. Heavy because so many are suffering, scared or grieving—if not from the virus itself, then from the fear, anxiety and hardship it presents to all of us and our loved ones. Indeed, there is no denying that my heart is heavy, but at the same time, it is also full. Full because I talk to many of you and have heard your resolve, and witness not just your courage and conviction in the face of this challenge, but your kindness and care in the face of the suffering it is causing. Full because I see and believe in our GMs and managers, and in each and every one of you who are team players and assure our staffs and help with cleaning and disinfecting procedures. And finally, my heart is full because in times of unprecedented and immense pressure, our hotels’ staffs may not pop from the pages of fiction or jump off the silver screen, but your true character reveals you for what you are and have always been: heroes.

From a business perspective, this is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. I vividly remember after the tragedy of September 11. The scale and impact of this on our team members and on our business is much more vast than that. Local restrictions, combined with the nearly complete drop in business levels, requires the temporary suspension of brand standards at many of our hotels. The financial loss to continue to operate these hotels has been extremely severe as to cause even more damage to the company long-term. While there is much uncertainty remaining on how long our lives and business will be disrupted and what the recovery will look like, we do know the economic hit to the company will be significant. That is why we are taking aggressive steps to manage controllable expenses, limiting operations and managing expenses as well.

When I began the hotel business in 2007, I, too, faced unknown challenges and didn’t have a playbook with all the answers. But what I had was determination and integrity. We will see this through. One lesson from the virus is the realization of how connected we all are. While we find ourselves physically separated from each other, it is with a sense of community that we will meet these challenges and overcome them together. We will continue to care for each other, and when people start to travel again—and they will—we will do what we do best: Welcome them like family. Treat them like family.

This storm will pass, and in our hotels, people will be stronger than ever. We could not be any prouder of the character, generosity and resilience exhibited by our team members over the last three weeks. Let us pray and look forward with positivity to a day when COVID-19 is a distant memory, a day when our hotels are filled with traveling guests, a day when all our team members are back to work, and our break rooms are filled with laughter at lunch.

Team: We must rally, be strong, positive and kind. Our spirit will prevail. We all will be there with you to create our future together. History tells us that we will survive. I can feel the purpose-driven nature, the camaraderie and coming together of our company. It is really something like we have never seen before. You are playing a vital role to be open for people, a lot of traveling people, government employees, social workers and medical workers coming into town to stay with you. And they depend on your hotels. We know we still haven’t seen the bottom, and while this is not business as usual, and it’s time of great stress, it’s also a moment in time where the work we’re doing is its most critical. I’m very grateful for having work.

It has been a very torturous time, but the purpose of our company, which is to care for people, is intact. In a time of crisis, we have to transcend and come together for the greater good. Please continue to take care of yourselves and your loved ones. I am hanging in there with you all.

Sunny Tolani
CEO, Prince Organization

Let us know what you think… To comment on this opinion piece, or to voice your own opinion about pertinent industry topics, please email Editor-in-Chief Christina Trauthwein at [email protected] We’d love to hear from you and share your perspective, your point of view, in your own words.

To see content in magazine format, click here.