Q&A: with Ben Campbell – Hospitality America

Ben Campbell, the recently appointed president/CEO of management company Hospitality America, did not originally plan for a career in the hotel industry. Hotel Business spoke to him about his entry into the industry, why he loves it and his plans as the new head of the company.
—Gregg Wallis

Why did you decide on a career in hospitality?
Choosing a career in hospitality was by happenstance. Through college, I worked as a game-day intern with Stadium Food and Beverage, the provider for the Carolina Panther Stadium. I loved delivering memorable experiences for our patrons and interacting with people. The long-time mission of the Carolina Panthers ownership was to make the experience at the stadium better than any other in the NFL. Everyone in the organization understood this and worked together to deliver an unforgettable patron experience. I loved how the stadium turned into a small city during game days and all the moving parts working together to deliver on the promise of the Panthers’ owners. The effort the team collectively placed in the details and the desire to go above and beyond made all the difference for our game-day patrons. I loved the process, the hard work and the business strategy behind hospitality. From then on, I knew a career in hospitality would be fulfilling and rewarding.

What was your first job in the industry? What did it teach you?
I worked in volume food service for a few years before moving to Los Angeles. That is when I first started working in the hotel industry. My first job was as a night auditor at a small boutique hotel in West Hollywood, CA. I never expected to work in a hotel, but I found that—just like in the food and beverage industry—the hotel industry was about delivering an exceptional guest experience. I planned to finish my MBA, attend classes in the evening and work the overnight shift while I searched for management positions in volume F&B. I never thought I would fall in love with the hotel business the way I did.

As the night auditor, I quickly learned how to multitask, anticipate guest issues before they happened and be a team player even though I worked my shift alone. In this role, you see how the whole day comes together from checking out guests to checking in new guests, to finalizing folios and processing food and beverage tickets, to troubleshooting housekeeping issues. It gave me a unique perspective on the business. You see it all, you handle it all and you must think critically to ensure a successful business.

At 36, you have risen in the ranks of hospitality rather quickly. What do you attribute that to?
I credit my rise through the hospitality ranks to my passion for our industry. I tell our teams almost every day that to be successful in our business, you must have a passion for people and a commitment to serve others. We are in the people business, and it all starts with my enthusiasm for serving, leading and mentoring people. I have an immense desire to be the best I can be and constantly improve. This desire pushes me to think differently when faced with challenges, and I find myself continually asking, “How can I/we be better?” I never set the goal to be a CEO. Instead, I set a goal to get better each day and to make an impact on the people I serve and the businesses I run.

Lastly, I attribute my mindset to my parents. They taught me two main principles, “Whatever you do, treat it like it’s yours,” and “Leave it better than you found it.” These two principles have been pillars in my career. As a night auditor, I took ownership of the guest experience; as a revenue manager, I treated our revenues as if they were mine; and as a general manager, I treated my hotel as if I were the owner. Today, as CEO, I remain diligent in this mindset. I consistently tell our partners and owners that Hospitality America will operate their hotels as if we own them. My promise is to treat their investments like our own and to continually improve their revenues, operations and bottom lines.

What are your plans for Hospitality America now that you have taken over the president/CEO role?
During my tenure as Hospitality America’s COO, the leadership team and I focused on answering the question, “How can our company be better?” I believe we were able to answer that question and set ambitious goals for growth. Now, as CEO, I am deploying our strategies to achieve those goals. We operate 18 hotels today and are on target to open another seven in the next 36 months. Our long-term target is to have 40 hotels under management by 2030.

Our company size is very attractive to our clients because their hotels receive the benefits of a larger company but the individualized attention of a small company. Under my leadership, we will enhance these benefits to our owners while remaining nimble in our approach. I also have plans to increase our investment in new technologies. We’ve achieved great results in challenging market conditions because we have remained committed to giving our leaders the tools they need to succeed.

We continue investing in new technologies, which will help us make decisions faster and more accurately than ever. It’s not a secret that capital costs have increased and may remain high in the mid-term. These higher costs are having an impact on our hotel’s bottom lines and owner return on investments. Our job as operators is to increase asset value and reduce market risk for our owners. Our investments in dynamic technologies will give our leaders the efficiency they need in their daily decision-making to ensure our hotel revenues are efficiently brought to the bottom.

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