NEW YORK—It’s not every hotel company that, when asked for images that help define its 40 years in business, includes the president/CEO’s wedding picture. But in the case of Meyer Jabara Hotels, perhaps it was not so unusual.
William A. Meyer—known as Bill—and Richard Jabara have been working together in the lodging industry for four decades, longer than many marriages survive, creating the company that bears their names.
“We acquired our first hotel together, the Holiday Inn in Danbury, CT, in 1977. It was in bankruptcy and our fathers suggested that Bill handle the legal issues of getting the hotel out of bankruptcy,” said Jabara, the company’s president/CEO.
“And Richard would leave New York City and take over operations,” said Meyer, the firm’s chairman, who noted each of the roles the executives would play were defined early on.
Meyer, a real estate attorney who graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, The London School of Economics and Georgetown University Law, took on acquisitions, finance and development, and Jabara, who had grown up working in the food and beverage departments of a New York City hotel, took on the day-to-day operations.
The duo, which acquired the 114-key Holiday Inn as Motel Hotel Associates, turned the property successfully, creating some long-standing company signatures, including Teddy’s Restaurant & Lounge (named after Jabara’s father, hotelier Theodore Jabara Sr.), which was later duplicated at 10 other MJ Hotels. Similarly, the hotel’s restaurant was named Arthur’s after Meyer’s father.
The hotel served as the launchpad for what is now known as Meyer Jabara Hotels (MJH).
While that particular property may no longer be part of the portfolio, the company today has 27 hotels (four are third-party managed) and continues to grow.
Thus far in 2017, MJH has acquired four select-service hotels in North Carolina, a Fairfield Inn in Myrtle Beach, SC, and has inked three new management contracts for hotels to be built in Boston, New York and Morristown, NJ. MJH also is in active negotiations for three other management contracts in the Eastern United States.
“Our new acquisitions at this late stage in the business cycle are all based on cash-on-cash returns,” said Meyer. “They include full-service and select-service hotels where our management can add cash flow to the bottom line to provide at least 15% leveraged returns on equity. Interest rates are still low and numerous lenders are still in the hotel space.”
The company does sell hotels from time to time when it believes their value has maximized and expects over the next 12 months, one or two hotels will be made available for sale.
Some might wonder what it takes to keep it all going year after year. While the executives don’t have a definitive strategy they can point to, distance might have something to do with it.
Jabara is based in Danbury, CT, and Meyer in West Palm Beach, FL, and in their 40 years as partners, they have never shared an office.
“Because we are separated by 1,000 miles (1,279.1 to be exact), we are not a bureaucratic organization. We keep meetings to a minimum. This enables us to avoid the duplication of efforts shared by many executive teams,” explained Meyer.
Telephone calls and emails are the preferred method of daily communication, with in-person meetings at least once a month.
According to Jabara, “Lessons learned over the years are not to forget the recessions we have witnessed in every decade since the ’70s. Each of these has been difficult for the hotel industry, with 2008 and 2009 the hardest of all. We have seen nothing but growth since then, but the expansion of the hospitality industry will not go on indefinitely without some adjustment. We are cautious about personal guarantees and recognize that our longevity is based upon our prudent fiscal management.”
Jabara is passing such lessons on to his sons who have joined the MJH team: Justin is based in New York City and is responsible for development, management contracts and franchisor relations, and Ted is head of operations for the company’s three boutique hotels in Baltimore.
The trio of Maryland hotels are considered among the milestone acquisitions made by MJH.
The independent boutique hotels include the Pier 5 (now a Curio by Hilton), acquired in 1999; the Admiral Fell Inn, acquired in 2002; and the Inn at Henderson’s Wharf, acquired in 2011. The hotels, which do business under the name “Harbor Magic,” helped establish MJH’s credentials in operating independent and boutique properties, according to Meyer.
Other milestones include MJH’s first Marriott acquisition in 1994, the Stamford, CT, Marriott Hotel and Spa; first Hilton acquisition in 1995, the Ocala Hilton, in Florida; first Hyatt Place in 2009, in Bethlehem, PA; and first Cambria Suites in 2015 in White Plains, NY.
On a more organic milestone level, MJH in 1997 affiliated with Dr. James Belasco. As a business and company coach, he helped create a corporate culture of learning, performance agreements, action plans and employee engagement that the company refers to as the “Journey.” Classes are held regularly for all associates and attendance is required regardless of hotel brand or location, and has really resonated with staff, Meyer indicated.
And it has been a journey of some distance for the two executives and their team. But even with everything that’s in the rear-view mirror as the company continues down its road, neither executive ever loses sight of what the company is all about and what’s important. It was bannered there for all to see at the recent celebration of the company’s longevity: Meyer Jabara Hotels—Celebrating 40 Years: “We are a family on a Journey.” HB