Swift Hospitality Group: Family culture drives growth

FREEPORT, IL—“Every guest deserves the same extraordinary experience.” That’s the mentality that has guided David Swift, chairman and CEO of Swift Hospitality Group Inc. (SHG), and the culture that has come to embody the Illinois-based group.

The phrase comes with a backstory, a story that began at SHG’s very first property. “I was visiting our property in Freeport, IL, and noticed that the pool towels were disheveled. I asked the desk clerk why they were in disarray and he explained that the hotel had a youth sports team staying at the hotel and if he cleaned them, they would just mess them up again,” Swift said.

And just like that, the company mantra came to be.

“I explained to him that every guest deserves the same extraordinary experience, whether they’re a CEO of a multimillion-dollar company or a 12-year-old playing soccer,” he said.

Swift began the group with his wife, Jan, along with a few friends who invested in the Freeport property in 1995. After its success, Swift built a second hotel in Sycamore, IL, in 2000. Shortly after, Swift’s son, Brice, (now SHG’s executive director and VP of development) joined the company, truly solidifying SHG as a homegrown business.

Beginning in the automobile industry, Swift developed this family-style mentality early on, learning the values of trust and fostering local relationships.

“The car business allowed me to forge a lot of the relationships we have with the Freeport community today,” Swift said. “You don’t often think of used car sales as a way to make a name for yourself, but we were the dealership families trusted and we grew as a strong part of the community.”

SHG has built, acquired, or managed 28 projects and properties thus far, and has four more in the works. With properties currently in Illinois, Wisconsin, South Dakota and soon, Iowa, the focus has been on the Midwest, including Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota.

Recent additions include a new 79-room Glo Hotel by Best Western in Rapid City, SD; a 74-room Holiday Inn Express in Rantoul, IL; and two additional properties under contract in Iowa, both upscale, Marriott-branded hotels.

“We already have experience in the upscale segment with Cambria Hotels and Radisson properties; what’s really exciting is that Marriott’s culture aligns so well with our own. They’re a family company—that’s how they started out and it’s how they succeed today. We both care about our employees, our guests and our communities,” Swift said.

For SHG, proximity is what’s important when determining which markets to grow in, as its team takes a hands-on approach.

“Our operations team is in our hotels constantly. I don’t know that a month has gone by where every hotel hasn’t been visited. Growth is important, but if you lose your core values and company culture in the process, it isn’t worth it,” Swift said. “As we grow our portfolio and add team members, the plan is to position them strategically to expand our geographic capacity.” The company currently has 10 corporate employees and 370 property-level employees with a portfolio value of $113 million.

This growing team has been on SHG’s agenda as well. Starting in a home office with just a few employees,

David Swift, Swift Hospitality Group Inc., understands the importance of culture.

SHG continues to expand its team with valuable additions.

“The transition from being a two- or three-person shop to being the company we are today has been easier because we’ve always had quality people working with us to build and support the core of the company,” Swift said. “We’ve had several employees take jobs with bigger management companies and when they return to Swift, it makes me even more confident we’re doing it right. It really shows you the value of hiring smart, talented and dedicated people, investing in training them and treating them well.”

According to Swift, hotel teams have the ability to create extraordinary experiences for guests in a way that no other facet of the hospitality industry can.

“It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of. From an owner/operator perspective, the work is highly interesting. Finding the right project for the right city and employing the right people to help it reach its potential is challenging work, but very rewarding work,” Swift said.

Swift said that the company’s new president, Matt Jacobs, has helped to power the company’s recent expansion efforts. “Matt’s vision for the company’s future includes relationships with strong brand partners,” he said. “We’ve worked with Holiday Inn in the past and it’s a great product—we are happy to have IHG back in the portfolio. And, we’re excited about our new relationship with Marriott International. We have a lot of respect for Marriott and how dedicated it is to its brand standards. We are confident it will be a great fit with our own company ethos.”

In addition to Jacobs, SHG has recently expanded its revenue management team and has put a strong focus on SEO and digital marketing, along with looking to expand its third-party management.

“We’ve had great success with our current third-party management contracts and are focused on growing that service. We very much look forward to working with new hotels and helping them achieve greater revenues, better NOI and stronger service scores,” Swift said.

As SHG’s portfolio and team continue to grow, the company is also relocating its home base. After 10 years at its Forest Rd. location in Illinois (occupied with other companies), SHG has a new corporate headquarters here. Construction is expected to begin in the fall of this year.

“As real estate developers, it makes more sense to develop and own our own facility. Our new offices will reflect more of our company identity and personality, and, of course, we will have plenty of room to grow as well,” Swift said.

This company identity for SHG was founded on family and strong relationships, using that as a guide for giving guests an at-home feel with uncompromised experiences at its hotels.

“Even team members who don’t have ‘Swift’ in their names feel like they do. Our executive team isn’t afraid to disagree with one another,” Swift said. That level of comfort, Swift acknowledged, and feeling like part of the family has initiated some of SHG’s most successful policies and initiatives.

“When I think about some of the multibillion-dollar companies that are family businesses, like In-N-Out or Marriott International, there’s always one thing they have distinctly in common—pride in the product. I think that comes from having a business with your name associated with it. It means more to you when it’s a part of your family,” Swift said. “There are very few things I’m prouder of than what we do at Swift, and I’m so excited that my kids felt passionate enough about it to join me and help grow the business.” HB

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