JHM splits into four next-gen companies

GREENVILLE, SC—After 44 years of creating one of the industry’s largest privately owned and operated lodging companies, and two years considering a succession plan, the principals at JHM Hotels have decided to split the company into four independent hotel entities that will be run by the family-business’ second-generation hoteliers.

On Nov. 1, JHM Hotels Founder Hasmukh (H.P.) Rama, along with principals Jayanti (J.P.) Rama, Raman (R.P.) Rama and Manhar (M.P.) Rama, as well as with input from the Denu (D.P.) Rama Family Trust, opted to “retire” the JHM Hotels name, and transition more than three dozen existing properties flying Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt flags in the United States into the four new hotel companies.

The groups and their leadership teams include Greenville, SC-based Auro Hotels, which will be led by former JHM Hotels President Dharmendra (D.J.) Rama with Hasmukh and Jayanti Rama serving as key executives. Also based in Greenville is Siddhi Hotel Group, led by Principal Kamal (K.D.) Rama, son of the late Denu (D.P.) Rama, with H.P. Rama serving as trustee for the Denu (D.P.) Rama Family Trust.

Two of the companies will be based in Orlando, FL. Sima Hotels LLC will have Manhar (M.P.) Rama as principal and his daughter, Sima M. Rama, as a key executive. Sarona Holdings will be led by Principal Hiren (H.R.) Rama with his father, Raman (R.P.) Rama, serving as key executive.

Family members were offered a choice of which hotels they would include in their new hotel companies based largely on location so monitoring the properties would be easier.

Several properties were kept under common ownership.

Two of the company’s Marriott-branded properties in India will not be part of the transition and will be kept as a separate business entity.

In speaking with Hotel Business, H.P. Rama noted, “It becomes very complicated from an ownership point of view” having multiple family members involved in a business as successful as JHM Hotels, particularly different generations that may have varying ideas on pursuing opportunities or how the business could advance.

As the brothers themselves advance in age, said H.P. Rama, “we think the succession plan should happen because we worked very hard to create this successful hotel business for the Rama family and its members. We want to make sure there’s a smooth transition. The priority is that each second generation member has an opportunity to pursue his or her own interests. They also will have their own priorities and areas of interests that they would like to invest in as they grow. They will be responsible for pursuing their own dreams and goals in life.”

Former JHM President D.J. Rama will head Auro Hotels.

It was in 1973 when the executive, who often refers to himself as an “accidental hotelier,” found his own opportunity, buying the 40-key Sunset Motel in Pomona, CA, after scraping together funding out of his own pockets and those of family and friends.

“At age 25, without any experience of hotels, I bought the hotel. I had no idea how to even make a bed when I bought the first property. Looking back, I say, ‘How did I do it?’ I surprised myself,” he recalled. 

As the new entities get off the ground, each will be establishing an industry profile, either buying or building, looking for development deals, or exploring new flags. For example, Auro Hotels will concentrate largely on full- and select-service properties and is expected to manage for its own account as well as for the other three groups’ hotels for at least the next 12 months or until they indicate otherwise, said H.P. Rama. He added Hiren (H.R.) Rama of Sarona Holdings already has a Holiday Inn. 

“Again, we are giving them independence to explore what is best for their own financial goals and comfort zones,” he noted.

Nonetheless, one each of the brothers is on board each of the new hotel entities, largely in an advisory role and to do any necessary “hand-holding” at the beginning, said H.P. Rama, particularly around making investment decisions. “We will help them make it,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is say we are retired and we have nothing to do with it because we don’t want the second generation to fail.”

That thought applies as well to the third generation of Ramas already starting to emerge from the wings. The executive noted D.J. Rama’s son, Keval, is in his first year at Cornell University where he is studying hospitality and business, and where he was elected president of his freshman class.

“It’s a good thing to see the second and third generation are taking leadership roles,” said H.P. Rama. “They will also be responsible for their own actions and decisions. It’s fulfilling for them and fulfilling for parents to see that they are moving forward. And they can take off very quickly because we are leaving them with a great, financially sound base. Also, they are educated here in this country and they have been exposed to the hotel business, so they are far ahead of where I started. So we see it as a win/win for the first generation and the second generation for the future.”

Looking into that future, the veteran hotelier and entrepreneur had some advice for the next generations.

“I think each member should never forget what values made the success of JHM Hotels today: hard work, honesty, integrity, dedication, selfless service to the industry and to the community in which they do business. They should think beyond themselves and their own financial success and also share their financial success with the right causes that they feel inspired by. Money should be made for divine work, not just to enjoy life. They have to have fiscal discipline with what they do in life,” he said.

Case in point: In the U.S., Rama is working on establishing an “integral life center” for corporate and special retreats on 300 acres in South Carolina in line with the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, described as an Indian philosopher, yogi, guru, poet and nationalist.

In addition to this and helping guide the new hotel ventures, Rama said he will be engaged in promoting Auro University, a private school that he founded in Surat, Gujarat, India, and has been working on and serving as president for, for some 10 years.

“So now, I’m an accidental educator in my second career,” he laughed. HB

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