No stranger to building up management companies, Spire Hospitality’s new CEO Chris Russell continues to put his stamp on the company while positioning it for the next phase of growth.
Russell—who took the reins this past May—recently bolstered the Chicago-based company’s leadership team with the addition of Dawna Comeaux as SVP. Russell worked with Comeaux at Archon Hospitality, as well as Pillar Hotels & Resorts, where he was CEO prior to joining Spire.
Russell shared some thoughts on his brief tenure thus far and his strategy moving forward. “My charge over the last couple of months is to get my arms around the company and see what the opportunities are. There’s a lot of great people. What I’m trying to do is look to the current people and see where we could complement maybe some of the areas of opportunity,” he said.
The third-party management company operates some 20 properties, the vast majority of which are owned by AWH Partners, a real estate investment firm which also owns Spire. Russell pointed out that the company is “primarily in place to support AWH Partners,” which frequently works with capital partners on acquiring properties.
However, Russell emphasized another area of opportunity. “Secondarily, what we’re going to be looking to do is expanding to include some third-party management. That’s something that historically Spire hasn’t focused on.”
The CEO further added the company would be strategic about potential third-party management opportunities focusing on forging relationships with “quality institutional investors.”
Russell further touted the addition of Comeaux, who was most recently executive vp, operations and sales for Pillar Hotels & Resorts. She is expected to play a key leadership role in maximizing value through improved operations, sales, service and overall company objectives, according to the company.
Russell acknowledged bringing Comeaux on board was a top priority. “When I come over here she was the first call that I made because we had been there together and done that before…We each have different skill sets and we work very well together. I’m very happy she was able to willing to join me here,” he said.
In addition, Russell brought another former Pillar colleague aboard when Hadrian Fishel joined the company as vp, revenue management. Fishel’s experience also includes a tenure with First Hospitality Group. Russell further noted the company has added some regional directors and is in the process of evaluating other potential additions.
Despite drawing greatly on his experience from Pillar Hotels & Resorts—which has seen its portfolio grow to as many as 250 properties—Russell pointed to some of the inherent advantages of operating a company such as Spire.
“When you think about the consolidation in the industry and so many companies being very large, I think we can be one of the go-to options for some of the owners who don’t want the larger company. I’m going to continue to answer my phone, I’m going to continue to give that personal attention to not only our owners, but also our employees,” he said.
Spire’s portfolio is made up of primarily full-service, major branded properties. Russell noted the portfolio has continued to see moderate growth despite a relatively flat overall U.S. hotel market and attributed that at least in part to CapEx spending. “Spire has done a good job for the last three years of renovating and putting some money back into the hotels,” he said, also giving a nod to the ownership of the properties.
Russell addressed the company’s operational strategy going forward. “We’re going to have a much heavier focus on productivity and cost control and really a good balanced scorecard approach. I’m going to sound cliché when I talk about the service, revenue and cost containment, but the fact is Spire does a very good job in all three areas. What we’re looking to do is when you speak about cost be a little more focused on the forecasting piece,” he said.
Russell also noted that he’s looking to further forge Spire’s identity following the change from a family run business, which was known as Lane Hospitality, to an institutionally owned business in 2014 when the company was acquired by AWH in 2014. Bill DeForrest, who has transitioned into the role of vice chairman, led the company as CEO as part of his more than two decades with the company.
“We’re trying to get out there a little bit more with our name. I think Bill, in particular, has a great reputation in the business. I think for Spire it was a little hard to really become that name just because it’s fairly new still,” he said.
Russell stated his straight-forward, long-term vision for the company. “I really do want to be a best-in-class operator. I do want to be synonymous with some of the really good operators out there. I don’t think there’s a desire to be the biggest, but there’s definitely a desire to be the best,” he said.