Keith Barr, IHG

No matter how many cars you ever own, there’s nothing like sliding into the front seat of the dreamobile you’ve been looking to drive for the longest time. The same could be said of veteran hotel executives who, after any number of years toiling in the industry, are given the key—and the privilege—to enter a C-suite.

At IHG, that key is now in the hands of Global CEO Keith Barr. He was named chief executive in May following Richard Solomons’ decision to step down from the post June 30 and retire from the company August 30. Most recently chief commercial officer, Barr is a 17-year veteran at IHG and a member of its Executive Committee. He has held senior executive positions across IHG’s Americas, Asia, Middle East, Africa and Greater China regions, serving for four years as the latter’s CEO.

With Barr now at the helm, IHG has been rallying around any number of initiatives, not the least of which has been the introduction of its latest brand, Avid Hotels, a midscale, new-construction franchise entry designed to fulfill “unmet consumer need,” and whose growth is a top priority on the CEO’s agenda.

Another push has been to integrate the loyalty program of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, which IHG acquired in January 2015 for $430 million. The chain, Barr acknowledged, has been “feeling our way…understanding such a unique brand and a way of working” regarding the seminal boutique brand.

Early next year, however, IHG plans to meld the Kimpton Karma Rewards program into its IHG Rewards Club, creating one loyalty program with a single rewards point system.

The overall program expands the rewards reach for Karma members, who will now have access to IHG’s more than 5,200 hotels and 11 brands. In addition, they will have, among other benefits, the ability to redeem rewards points with IHG Rewards Club partners, including airlines and retailers, as well as “experiences” via its Concierge platform.

IHG has been taking a slow but steady approach around integration aspects with Kimpton as it also wrangles the deployment of its GRS.

“We delayed it a little bit because of GRS. We wanted to move it onto the new platform, not onto our legacy platform,” said the CEO.

The GRS initiative, currently in test phase but live at more than 100 hotels worldwide, is touted as the industry’s first cloud-based reservations system.

Partnering with tech giant Amadeus, full deployment of the GRS is slated by early 2019, after which additional functionality will continue to be added as determined.

“We’ve developed a sophisticated system that will give IHG a significant competitive advantage… Hotels will have access to all their information in one place, allowing them to spend more time serving our guests,” said Barr. “It will be truly transformational in a number of different ways. It will not only provide an enhanced, more-personalized guest journey, but also more flexibility for our owners.”

The GRS also will interact with the company’s advanced, proprietary systems, allowing it to “plug-and-play” new technologies.

With the mega-chain’s global headquarters in Denham, England, IHG has typically been led by British execs. Barr, an American, was asked if there’s going to be a change in attitude and pace in how business is conducted.

“Every leader is a little bit different. I’ve been out of the U.S. for 13 years now, so I consider myself global. But there is an appreciation for the change in pace of business, and it’s accelerating. Technology is accelerating and companies are thinking about how they’re growing and competing. I think I am bringing a bit of that energy into the role and also challenging us to think a little bit differently about some things. In the past, we may have said, ‘That may be a little bit on the edge.’ I’m saying: ‘Let’s give it a shot. Let’s try it. Let’s test and learn a little bit more. Let’s go out there and maybe not be completely buttoned up on everything, because we tend to be a bit conservative,’” said Barr. “You can spend a lot of time trying to make a perfect decision but in the end you might lose competitive advantage. So, it’s how do you balance the two: speed and really positive outcome.”

During the recent spate of M&As, IHG’s name was bandied about, both as buyer and seller, but at press time, the global chain in not on either road as it moves into 2018.

“Any public company is for sale for the right price. That’s a fundamental truism. My focus is growing this business to create value for our shareholders; the stronger the company performs, the less likely it is somebody finds us to be an appetizing target, because we’re too expensive,” said Barr. “The valuation of this company has continued to grow. The multiple has continued to grow over the past few years, so we’re really healthy and well positioned today.” HB

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