What does it take to be a good leader? When Richard Stockton, the newly appointed CEO of Ashford Hospitality Prime, Inc., was working his way up the ladder, he worked on a deal for business magnate Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. “We were asked to value the George V in Paris, and I had written a memo that had put forward our valuation, which, frankly, I thought was very favorable in terms of the value ascribed to the hotel because it was one-of-a-kind,” explained Stockton, reminiscing that the prince’s take was a bit different. “His view was that, of course, the value was much higher. He sits us all down, looks at the memo and then looks up and he’s glaring at us. ‘Who wrote this memo?’ I was the junior guy on the team and I said sheepishly, ‘I wrote the memo.’ Before he could say anything, my boss, the global head of real estate, stepped in and said, ‘We all wrote this memo.’
“I thought that was a really important leadership lesson. As a leader, you have to take accountability for everything your people do,” said Stockton.
No longer a junior executive, Stockton took over the reins as CEO of Ashford Prime last month. While he didn’t have a lot of exposure to Ashford prior to the search process, Stockton said everything he’s learned about the company made it an attractive professional opportunity. “They have a very long track record of impressive performance for shareholders. Not necessarily with Ashford Prime, only because it’s a newer listed company, but certainly through Ashford Trust, they’ve demonstrated an ability to add value through the entire lifecycle of an asset—acquisition, repositioning, operations management, financing, etc.,” said Stockton, calling Ashford Prime an entrepreneurial opportunity. “It’s a solid base from which to really add a lot of value and grow. I’m intrigued by the growth aspect and by my ability to have a real impact on a high-profile company; everything checked the different boxes for me and I’m excited to be on board,” he said.
Prior to this role, Stockton spent more than 15 years at Morgan Stanley in real estate investment banking, rising from associate to managing director and regional group head. “Although I started my career in New York, I spent 10 years in London. My responsibilities were for all of Europe, Middle East and Africa, managing a team of more than 50 people in seven different offices there,” he said. As co-head of the Asia Pacific Real Estate Banking Group from 2010-2012, Stockton was responsible for a team of more than 20 real estate investment bankers in Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney and Mumbai. More recent roles include president and CEO-Americas for OUE Limited, a publicly listed Singaporean property company with more than $5 billion in assets, and global COO, real estate at Carval Investors, a subsidiary of Cargill.
“I’ve worked in various capacities in places around world,” said Stockton. “I got to see a lot of different ways business is done, many different approaches to problem-solving, understanding how different business cultures interact and how to manage those people. That is good training for solving complex problems because you’re able to look at things from all different perspectives. If you’re going to be a good leader, you have to gain the respect of the people you’re managing. You have to convince them the strategy you’re following is the best one and the way to do that is… through experience.”
In the short term, Stockton said, his goal is to really know and understand the company. “Longer term, it’s growing the platform—my objective is to increase our assets and equity market cap so we can have broader float and more appeal to a wider class of investor,” he said. Noting that prior to his hiring, the company ran a strategic review process as well as one to solicit interest in buying the company, Stockton said, “Through that process, a bona fide buyer did not surface but it may again in the future, and to the extent it does, we’ll always be open to a discussion that maximizes value to shareholders. For now, we’re really focused on executing on our growth plans, and that starts with my appointment. The company already has a very well-thought-out growth strategy in place so my job is to focus on that and ensure it’s delivered.”
Looking at areas for potential improvement, Stockton said, “It’s very clear that Ashford Prime is subscale. We’ve got to grow it in order for it to stay at the forefront of the minds of investors. We have to do that by adding asset value and expanding our equity market cap over time. We’ll continue to focus on acquiring assets that are upper-upscale and luxury in commercial business districts and resort locations, and financing those over time in a way that investors will see is very accretive.”
But, Stockton said, while greater scale is needed, the company has good bones. “Ashford Prime is a top-quality portfolio. The RevPAR is more than two times the industry average. Through our affiliated companies at Ashford and our property manager Remington, we do have a continuous stream of unique investment opportunities. We can really punch above our weight versus our size in terms of the opportunities we see, but also in terms of the management expertise that we can bring to bear on any situation,” he said.
And, he noted, the economic outlook for the industry is looking up. “Coming into the election, people were a little uncertain about the future, and rightly so—you had two different candidates who would deliver very different policy objectives,” he said, adding, “We now have a positive yield curve; we have inflation, which is very good for the hospitality industry; we’re still seeing attractive acquisition opportunities—I do have an overall optimistic view going forward… We’re going to do what we can to make the best of that growth and selectively add to our portfolio.” HB