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Leadership Lessons

Wyndham CEO Ballotti Offers Key Insights During Hotel Experience Panel

Friday, November 15, 2019
Dennis Nessler
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One could argue that few in the hospitality industry are more qualified to talk about leadership than Geoff Ballotti--who in addition to his current role as president and CEO of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has taken an active role in related industry associations--and he did just that during The Hotel Experience earlier this week.

The current Chairman of the Board for the AH&LA, who previously served as Chairman of the U.S. Travel Association, was interviewed by AAHOA Chairwoman Jagruti Panwala during The Leadership Q&A. (The following account represents a portion of their discussion.)

JP: Can you talk about the importance of engagement within the lodging industry?

GB: Legislators, congressman, and your local elected officials need to hear your voice if you’re in this industry in terms of what it is out there that troubles you and what it is out there that concerns you. Being engaged in our industry is critical. You can be engaged financially and you can certainly be engaged with any of the local, state and industry associations like AAHOA and AH&LA.

JP: You’re known to have a strong relationship with your franchisees, how do you maintain those relationships?

GB: I think accessibility is the most important thing. I see so many senior leaders in our industry, and in the world, run from accessibility and not want to give out their cell phone numbers. I think that’s the easiest thing that any of us can do is give out our email and cell phone number and tell any of our constituents if you have a problem give me a call. And be willing to apologize because none of us are perfect. To the extent that we can realize that and say we’re sorry when our organization lets a franchisee down or when I personally let a franchisee down by not calling that franchisee back right away to try to help or fix that problem. It’s remarkable the power of an apology. Most important, just always be positive and always try to help.

JP: How do you cultivate future leaders on your team and what are some of the indicators that help you identify them?

GB: It is so tough [with my travel] because you’re not in front of them all the time. So I’m always asking people I respect and trust to tell me who those young leaders are. It’s amazing the power of a third-party recommendation when you get your team talking up a young leader on the team who is excelling. It’s about being able to recognize them, being able to celebrate them, and being able to give them more opportunities...Every five to seven years we all need to be challenged, we all need to be stretched, and we all need something new.

JP: What are some of the ways you would guide young professionals when it comes to community engagement and giving back?

GB: I think the easiest thing is to volunteer. I have four daughters and I’m saying to all of them all the time you need to volunteer more. I was raised at a very young age to do so by going to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. It’s always been in the back of my mind no matter what we’re doing professionally there is a higher calling. I’m always amazed and inspired by so many stories that we celebrate at our global conference of franchisees not only owning and operator a hotel, but going above and beyond and doing something great within their community. At the end of our lives the most important thing is not how much we have in the bank, it is much more important in terms of what we’ve done on the volunteer front.

JP: Where do you see Wyndham Hotels & Resorts going in 2020?

GB: We’re one of the world’s largest hotel franchise companies. We operate in 80 countries, we have 20 brands and we need to continue to grow. I really believe size matters. The larger we get the more powerful we get for our franchisees in terms of providing them with a lower cost of distribution. So growth is important and building a great team is important.

JP: Do you have a mentor or someone you look to for inspiration?

GB: I obviously think of my dad a lot; he had a tremendous impact. My wife is amazing and my oldest daughter. They put disabled children on horseback every week. They run a therapeutic riding camp called Cranberry Sunset Farm [in Cape Cod, MA]. Whenever I think I’m having a bad day I visit this magical place and I realize how absolutely, positively insignificant my issues are watching the face of a parent whose child has cerebral palsy or autism mount a horse.

JP: What is the one thing you love about what you do on a daily basis?

GB: I thrive at the social side of our business and, most importantly, franchisee engagement. Unfortunately with the role I’m in now I get less and less of that. I have more difficulty spending as much time as I’d like to on the social side.

JP: What is AH&LA doing to promote Brand USA?

GB: Brand USA is critical, it is the wherewithal that our country has to advertise overseas. The issue for us as a country is while international travel is growing, and it’s growing remarkably, we’re losing market share. It keeps falling, which means other countries are capturing international arrivals and they’re stealing share.

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Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
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