|By Suzanne Marta, The Dallas Morning News
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 18, 2005 - Fred Kleisner's desk is looking spare these days, as the chairman and chief executive of Dallas-based Wyndham International Inc. passes the reins over to its new owner, Blackstone Group.
A paperweight made out of a 1930s central vacuum port from the Waldorf-Astoria -- a keepsake from his tenure at the iconic hotel -- is still holding a stack of papers, but most other items have been moved to a homeoffice.
Blackstone, which bought Extended Stay America and Florida's luxury Boca Resorts chain last year, acquired the upscale hotel and resort operator last month for $3.24 billion.
The deal's value -- more than 16 times 2004's earnings -- reflected how far Wyndham had come as it turned its fortunes around over the last six years.
When Mr. Kleisner took over in 1999, the company was being crushed by nearly $4 billion in debt, multiple brands and high overhead costs.
By the end of the second quarter this year, debt had been slashed to $1.8 billion as the company sold most of its properties and signed management agreements. Existing debt was refinanced through 2011, giving Wyndham ample breathing room.
The company's improved financial condition was helped by strengthened lodging demand throughout major U.S. markets.
"It's the leading edge of an upturn," Mr. Kleisner said, adding that the timing helped bring a better price for shareholders.
Mr. Kleisner, 61, is tying up loose ends before moving on. He said several financial groups have already tapped him to find and recommend lodging deals.
"There's an awful amount of money chasing deals these days," he said, adding that he is targeting deals that would also allow him to lead a management team and put a new plan into place.
Mr. Kleisner moved frequently for his career, which included roles such as president and chief operating officer for both Starwood Hotels & Resorts and its Westin brand. But he plans to keep his home in Dallas and live here most of the year. He recently renovated his retreat on Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from Seattle, to include a home office that he could use during the worst of the summer heat.
But Mr. Kleisner doesn't plan to fill his schedule with work alone. An avid cyclist, he recently rode in the Hotter 'n Hell Hundred race in Wichita Falls. And he wants to learn to play his handmade guitar and ukulele, both mementos from his postings at hotels around the country.
He's also considering working toward an MBA -- something he's started twice but never had time to complete.
"Right now, I'm looking at quality of life first, and then I'll see how other opportunities fit into that," he said.
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