Committed to its franchising and corporate development goals, RLH Corporation at the end of the summer hired Paul Sacco to oversee franchising efforts and corporate growth of the company’s upscale brands. A hospitality veteran, Sacco is known throughout the industry for his development experience at prominent hospitality companies. As RLH Corp.’s asset-light strategy moves forward, the newly appointed executive faces internal goals and external challenges.
Growing up in hospitality—his father, who now serves as the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Lodging Association and previously served in executive roles at Belvedere Hotels Ltd., Omni Hotels & Resorts and elsewhere—Sacco lived in hotels when he was young, worked in hotels as he aged and “ended up just loving the business,” he said.
Sacco, who’s currently RLH Corp.’s chief development officer of upscale brands and corporate development, recalled, “When I graduated college, it was just a natural course for me. I knew I wanted to be in the growth and development side of the business, so that’s where I found myself focusing the most.”
He eventually ended up at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., where he stayed for more than nine years before moving on to Pyramid Hotel Group, a full-service hotel and resort company, located in Boston, for more than a year. He then immediately joined TPG Hotels & Resorts, a Boston-based operator, in August 2013, where he led the company as president and chief development officer until he joined the RLH Corp. team.
“My definition of success in the brand-growth model is really the ability to balance growth with service levels and expectations we’ve set for owners and guests…aggressive but smart growth that allows the organization to build the footprint and, at the same time, serve owners and guests appropriately,” Sacco said. “Smart growth is really the root to success, and I’ve focused on that in my career.”
What drove him to RLH Corp. was the “notable growth opportunity,” he said. “Now [RLH Corp. is] an increasingly dynamic company with a portfolio of nine brands, from economy to the upscale boutique segments, that’s growing on a national basis,” he said. His new role enables him to bring his owner/operator experience back to the brand side of the business, handling franchise growth, while also allowing him to stay involved in corporate development.
“I’ve always been owner focused,” he said. “Now I have an even deeper, more granular understanding of what owners and operators face on a daily basis—the very detailed and complex nature of running hotels, which is one of the more multifaceted operating models in the real estate business.
“I expected to be able to join and help influence growth and future strategic direction, and that’s what I’m involved with and what we’re working on,” Sacco continued. “I knew that Greg [Mount, the company’s president/CEO] had put together a terrific team of executives and upon joining, that’s what I found.”
With more than 1,100 properties, RLH Corp. has been continuing its commitment to its asset-light strategy. The company’s board of directors in October approved the listing for sale of 11 of RLH Corp.’s remaining 18 owned hotels, allowing the hospitality company to focus on franchise growth.
While hospitality groups have successfully adapted to ever-changing consumer needs and wants over the years, the process itself is ongoing—one difficult to keep up with, let alone maintain. “I think the challenge for the industry will be to continue to come up with renovations at hotels that satisfy different groups of travelers,” he said. Hospitality groups have attempted to tackle these complexities by launching more brands—and this, at least from both the development and operating sides of the business, has been one of the top challenges he’s faced in his career.
Fortunately, when challenges arise, so do opportunities. “Success is about constantly challenging yourself and the organization to learn and improve, and being able to recognize that the talented people that you work with are a huge part of any organization’s success,” Sacco said. Overcoming industry obstacles can be accomplished by strategic leadership—and that’s how Sacco believes he’ll lead his team during the course of his tenure.
“It’s about working collaboratively with your colleagues and understanding what their goals are, and all working together to help each other achieve individual goals and then collective goals. It’s also about being out ahead of things, but also reacting to items that come up on a daily basis in a thoughtful manner,” he said.
With RLH Corp. expected to continue its focus on franchise growth in the coming year, Sacco’s schedule is already packed; despite this, he’s dedicated to finding the right work-life balance in his role, as he also plans to watch his “kids grow and flourish,” he said. “Because that tends to happen quickly.” HB