Rising stars in the hotel industry

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an up & comer as one who is gaining prominence and is likely to advance or succeed. All five of Hotel Business’ Up & Comers fit that description to a T. Some have hospitality in their blood, while others found the industry by chance. From the first woman on the path to becoming chair of the world’s largest hotel owners organization to the 21-year-old founder of a robotics company that aims to revolutionize the way rooms get cleaned, this is a quintet to keep an eye on in the future.

Additionally, we want to hear from you. Who, within your organization—or the industry at large—do you feel is on a path to hospitality success? Send us an email with a brief description outlining why you feel your candidate is worthy of review. Email Christina Trauthwein at [email protected] HB

Micah Green, Founder, President & CEO, Maidbot

Rosie the Robot. Ask most millennials who or what that is and they may come up with a DJ, a character in the new Blade Runner movie or even the next dance craze. For Micah Green, the 21-year-old founder, president and CEO of Maidbot, Rosie refers to the robot in the cartoon The Jetsons, and it was his choice for the name of the robot that soon will be cleaning up hotel rooms and public spaces throughout the world.

“Right now in the hospitality industry, I think the biggest uses for robots are areas where there is a labor shortage,” said Green, who recently made Forbes’ “30 under 30” list for 2018. “I was talking to somebody recently who said it’s not a labor shortage anymore, it’s a labor crisis—and that’s all around the world. Because of that, it makes a lot of sense to tackle hospitality first. A big part of it is the injuries and the fact that because people are getting injured, they start shifting into food service and other areas outside of the hotel space. One big thing about robotics is instead of looking at it from the replacement perspective, it’s filling in gaps.”

For now, Rosie is capable of cleaning floors in rooms and public spaces, but Green expects that “folding laundry and making beds are not way out there.”

The idea of a cleaning robot came to Green while he was a student at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration; he dropped out after a year in an accelerated program. He was taking a class in hotel operations, and was assigned to work a shift as a room attendant in one of the properties on campus.

“It opened my eyes big time to how things were done,” he said. “It was the same, super-stagnant for decades, and that was just kind of crazy to me. Although it was supposed to be an eight-hour shift, I kept working as a room attendant for a few months. I started literally taking notes with a notepad, interviewing room attendants and management, and just observing. Because of that, I was exposed to some of the key issues.”

For Green, Maidbot is the first step of his vision of an ecosystem of robots. “We also incorporated a company called Xbot,” he noted. “X is the variable, and Maid is the first variable within Xbot. There are a lot of opportunities outside of cleaning, such as food service.”

Brenna Halliday, VP, Strategic Insight, Host Hotels & Resorts Inc.

Brenna Halliday, VP, strategic insight for lodging REIT Host Hotels & Resorts Inc., knew she wanted to have a career in the hospitality industry after a family trip to Southeast Asia.

“When I was 17, we visited Malaysia. Seeing the incredible mix of cultures there, tasting the unfamiliar foods and interacting with staff at our rainforest resort left a vivid and lasting impression,” she said. “Hospitality creates this opportunity to experience new things and, most importantly, to share and understand others; I wanted to be a part of that.”

The graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration originally sought a career in hotel operations, but “quickly became fascinated with the real estate side of the industry. After nearly 15 years on this side, my role has evolved from detailed transaction analysis on individual properties, to big-picture market forecasting and strategic portfolio-level insight.”

Following two years at Hilton as senior analyst, feasibility and investment analysis, Halliday came to Host Hotels in 2005 as senior director, portfolio strategy and feasibility. She was elevated to her current position in June 2012.

“My job is to understand the big picture,” said Halliday, who last year earned  her master’s degree at Georgetown University. “Timely and succinct insight on macroeconomic and industry fundamentals is a critical tool for senior management. I evaluate trends in consumer preferences, market supply and demand, and the global economy in order to identify the destinations and property types that are likely to outperform. These insights improve our decision-making capabilities so that we can prioritize investments and take advantage of market opportunities.”

She has created a proprietary forecasting tool that predicts which markets will outperform in the future. “This enables us to make smart acquisition, disposition and reinvestment decisions,” she said.

Halliday believes that there will be massive change in the industry based on expanding capabilities in data analytics, in particular in leveraging artificial intelligence (AI). “This will impact not just operations and consumer insight, where there is still tremendous opportunity in our industry, but also how we invest successfully,” she said. “I see myself at the forefront of that shift.”

Jagruti Panwala, Treasurer, AAHOA

Last year, Jagruti Panwala became the Asian American Hotel Owners Association’s (AAHOA) first female secretary. As is the association’s custom, she has moved up the ladder to treasurer, and next year, she will become vice chairwoman. It all leads to 2019, the group’s 30th anniversary year, when she’ll become chairwoman of the largest hotel owners association in the world.

Panwala is also president and CEO of asset protection company Wealth Protection Strategies; an owner of a group of hotels with her husband; and a mother of two children. Despite a full plate, she felt it was time for a change at AAHOA.

“When I considered running for office and what it would mean to become the first chairwoman of the association, I thought long and hard about whether the industry was ready. I decided to take the leap and go for it, and I’m glad I did,” she said.

Panwala was born in Surat, India, and came to the U.S. when she was 15. Joining the family business—hospitality—was natural. “I bought my first independent hotel with my dad as a young adult,” she said. “I had a strong support system, and there was a comfort level for us. As a young entrepreneur and an individual who wanted to earn a living owning my own business, I saw it as a good opportunity and a good fit.”

Panwala noted that one of her biggest priorities at AAHOA is advocacy. “Any opportunity I get—whether it’s at the local, state or federal level—I make sure I attend and represent AAHOA,” said Panwala. “Fifteen years ago, hoteliers didn’t worry as much about laws and regulations. We were more concerned with how to fill up rooms, increasing our ROI, getting our ADR up. By meeting with decision-makers regularly, we’re able to share our real-world experiences and provide insight on how we’re affected by certain issues.”

Soon, she will take on the highest role in the organization, and she is excited for the opportunity. “I am looking forward to the responsibility, which is huge,” she said. “Leading 17,000-plus hotel owners is not a small task. But, I am confident that I, my fellow officers and our board will work together to ensure that our association and our collective industry goals and positions are met at all levels.”

Becky Roseberry , VP, Finance, La Quinta Holdings Inc.

Becky Roseberry wasn’t necessarily looking for a job in hospitality at the beginning of 2014 when she interviewed for the financial reporting manager position at La Quinta Holdings Inc., but it seems to be the right industry for her as she has climbed up the ranks to the role of VP, finance.

“I started my career in public accounting as an auditor, gaining exposure to several industries,” she said. “When I interviewed for the position at La Quinta, I found a team of professionals who lived to the standards of what I now know to be prevalent in hospitality: It is a willingness to do whatever it takes to help and to be part of a team. At La Quinta, our term for this is being ‘Here For You,’ and that not only means being here for our hotel guests and franchise partners, but also to be here for all employees.”

A graduate of Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business, Roseberry learned a lot from her previous positions. “Public accounting is an excellent starting point for anyone looking for a career in finance,” she said. “Beyond the exposure to the technical aspect of accounting, the structure of public accounting provides leadership opportunities at the early stages of your career. As a second-year staff, you are already expected to teach the new staff.  That structure engrains the concept of teamwork, which I think is vital for any growing and dynamic organization.”

Her current role has her partnering “with the financial planning and analysis; financial reporting; and investor relations leadership teams to bring a cohesive view and strategic analysis to the finance function as a whole,” she noted.

It’s a position for which there is no typical day, she added. “It’s one of the things I like the most about my role. During earnings season, we are focused on gathering information, analyzing the results and determining the most efficient and clear ways to communicate with our board of directors and investors,” she said. “Between earnings, we are analyzing and enacting different strategic options that are designed to provide long-term value to our stakeholders.”

Moving forward, she said, “I am hopeful that I will still be working with people who I enjoy and having opportunities to meaningfully contribute to the success of a business that is focused on doing the right thing for its customers and stakeholders.”

Sam Schwartz, Chief of Staff, Office of the Chairman, First Hospitality Group Inc.

It’s never easy being the boss’ son, but Sam Schwartz, chief of staff, office of the chairman for First Hospitality Group Inc. (FHG), an owner and operator of 40 hotels in the Midwest, feels it was “one of the best decisions” he has made so far.

“At first, it took some getting used to. There’s no doubt that I’m being watched as people decide what type of leader I might be,” said Schwartz, the son of FHG founder and Chairman Stephen Schwartz. “I have a lot to live up to, so I try hard to soak up knowledge from my dad and our talented team. I also often find myself taking on more responsibility compared to my experience, and, as a result, I’ve grown comfortable being the youngest person in the room by several decades. Spending time around smart, experienced professionals is a great way to stay humble.”

Schwartz, who graduated from Northwestern University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering and product development, respectively, was turned on to the hospitality industry thanks to a summer job—what he described as a rotational internship.

“As the family business, hospitality had always been on my radar growing up, though my father had encouraged me to follow my interests, which had previously ranged from medicine to product development. But, I went to work for FHG with an open mind and got absolutely hooked,” he said.

He returned to FHG in July 2015 as a development associate, then was elevated to development director, a position he held up until a few months ago when he took on his current role, “where I work directly with our chairman on executing his agenda.”

He continued, “It covers just about every aspect of our business, so my days are widely varied. Right now, I’m most excited about the work I’m doing to help drive our strategic planning process. It’s been energizing to come together with our team to dig into how we see the industry evolving over the coming years, and to chart a path forward that will leverage all of the successes we have going on as a company today.”

Moving forward, he’d like to see FHG become “a truly innovative company, one that regularly challenges status quo and can point to original offerings that have changed industry dynamics. As I gain experience, I plan to work my way up within FHG and help lead us in that direction.”

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