Q&A with Taran Patel
Managing principal, A-1 Hospitality Group
Number of employees you oversee: We have over 300 employees across our portfolio of nine hotels.
Brief background of your business:
A-1 Hospitality is a hotel development and management company headquartered in Kennewick. The company was founded my parents Vijay and Mita Patel in 1997, three years after immigrating to the U.S.
The company started off with one small roadside motel in Pendleton, Oregon, and has since grown to currently holding nine hotels in our portfolio. We operate under franchise agreements with Marriott, IHG, Hilton, Wyndham Hotels, G6 Hospitality, RL Hotels and one independent property, Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Oregon.
How did you land your current role? How long have you been in it?
I joined (full time) the family business after earning my MBA from the University of Portland in 2015.
Why should the Tri-Cities care about the hospitality industry?
The hospitality industry is important to all societies but also to economies, customers and employees. Our industry generates a significant amount of tax revenue through lodging, occupancy and sales tax dollars.
The dollars are often put right back into our local economies, providing funding for infrastructure, schools, etc. The industry also provides a rewarding career track. Currently the industry accounts for over 10% of total U.S. employment.
Hospitality has been uniquely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and A-1 had just opened a new hotel. How is this affecting your company? What are you doing to survive? What is your message to the community, to employees, to visitors?
Covid without a doubt has brought upon many unprecedented challenges that we have had to navigate through. For our company, we added in four hotels to our management portfolio in the past 12 months. At the peak, we had a 80% drop in occupancy levels across the portfolio. I can confidently say that even the most conservative companies do not stress tests for such a drastic drop.
Fortunately, with funding available from the CARES Act and relief from most of our lenders, we have been able to navigate through the worst part and feel that we have weathered the worst of the storm. We still have had to make adjustments to our operating model and plan on a full recovery still two years out.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Empathy. Regardless of leadership style, when a leader possesses an empathetic characteristic, it allows their leadership to be effective.
What is the biggest challenge facing business owners/managers today?
When visiting our properties, the most common question I get is, “When will we return to normal?” The biggest challenge is keeping our teams motivated without being able to give them a definite timeline on when we will be back to “normal” or the “new normal.”
If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your industry/field?
There is often a misconception on the franchisee-franchisor relationship in our industry. Oftentimes consumers, and, at times, even lawmakers, see a big box name such as a Holiday Inn or a Marriott and automatically assume the business is owned by a large corporation. Reality is in most cases these hotels operate under a franchise model and are often owned by local small family-owned business owners.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Be ready to tell your story. Let your team know how you got to your current position and what you are going to do for them to help them achieve their professional goals.
Who are your role models or mentors?
My parents. Both of them have been my role models and mentors for as long as I can remember. My sister and I have been blessed to have had a front row seat to all the blood sweat and tears our parents put into establishing our company.
How do you keep your team members motivated?
Purpose. We put an emphasis on ensuring each team member knows that they have a specific valuable purpose to our organization. We think of all of our team members as family, rather than employees.
This has always been the core of our philosophy and the key to our success. It’s quite simple: If we take care of our team members, they will take care of our guests, and if our guests are taken care of, they will come back and stay with us.
How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in today?
I have grown up around this industry. My sister and I both grew up in an apartment attached to the front desk of a small hotel from 1994-2005. From a young age we were exposed to the behind-the-scenes aspects of our industry, whether it be folding towels, vacuuming rooms or filling up vending machines.
We gained a unique perspective and appreciation for the industry. I couldn’t imagine myself in any other field.
What do you consider your leadership style to be?
My leadership style would be a strategic leadership, I always try and focus on our long-term success and vision without getting too caught up on the short-term hurdles and obstacles.
How do you balance work and family life?
Being a family-owned small business, this has always been an interesting one for us. Over the years we have gotten better at setting aside time where we try not to talk about business outside of typical work hours.
Obviously, this gets challenging at times when we are operating businesses, which do run 24/7.
What do you like to do when you are not at work?
I enjoy spending time with family, friends and staying physically active.
What’s your best time management strategy?
Checklists have become my best friend. When I am wrapping up the day, I take some time to jot down some to-do items for the next day, allowing me to efficiently knock out pending tasks.
Best tip to relieve stress?
For me it’s going to the gym or on a run with my headphones, just being in a zone where you can just shut out the outside world for a bit.
“Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins
Do you have a personal mantra, phrase or quote you like to use?
The signature line of my emails reads:
CFO asks CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”
CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”