|By Bill Wilson, The Wichita Eagle,
Kan.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 4, 2008 - --Jack DeBoer downplays the idea of a lifetime achievement award from the Kansas CCIM Chapter.
"I'm very surprised, because really I'm not a real estate broker per se," the 77-year-old entrepreneur said, smiling broadly.
"I think it means that I'm old."
Nonetheless, the pioneer of extended-stay hotel brands across the United States will be honored Friday as part of the CCIM group's annual luncheon at Crestview Country Club.
DeBoer joins a list of other lifetime achievement award recipients that include George Ablah, the late Jack Hunt and Colby Sandlian.
So, he said with a chuckle, he's "willing to work for his lunch" by speaking to the group.
His message to the commercial brokers: Get back to work.
"You can go out and talk to people today and tell them how tough things are, how it's tougher now and how much tougher it's going to get," he said.
"Or you can go out and figure out what to do in this environment."
With land values falling and capital drying up, the challenge for brokers is to work the deals that can be completed, DeBoer said. Don't waste time on long shots.
It's an efficiency-based philosophy molded by his own financial collapse 25 years ago, DeBoer said.
"Just keep working. Pick yourself up and start all over again.... ," he said.
"Not only do you have to work harder, you have to work smarter.... What has been selling? Why did it sell? Spend half your time figuring out what's happening around you, and the other half figuring out how you can take advantage of it."
DeBoer is an icon in the hotel industry, said Joe McInerney, chief executive of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
"Jack was a visionary long before anyone thought of having an extended-stay facility," McInerney said.
"He took a problem that was out there, empty apartments, and converted them into a business recognized around the world."
The DeBoer career
DeBoer is best known as the creator of four hotel brands, pioneering the all-suite hotel concept and the extended-stay apartment model.
Along the way, he invented staples of the hotel industry such as the free breakfast and the cupboard.
All from the numbers on the yellow legal pad he uses to sketch out deals.
He designed and built the first Residence Inn all-suite hotel in downtown Wichita in 1975. He built or franchised 100 hotels before selling the company to Marriott in 1987.
In 1988, DeBoer co-founded Summerfield Hotel Corp., another upscale all-suite chain that has been sold to Hyatt.
And In 1995, DeBoer founded Candlewood Hotel Co., a public company sold to InterContinental Hotels Group in December 2003.
Along the way, he began the search for the most efficient hotel business model, that led him to Value Place.
"The Candlewood brand, we were spending $14 (million) or $15 million a year putting heads into beds," DeBoer said.
"It occurred to me that if we could figure out a way not to spend that kind of money and still keep the heads in the beds, then we could be a competitive extended-stay operation from a price standpoint."
So DeBoer sketched out the numbers with one idea in mind.
"I wanted a product that I didn't have to pay a director of sales between $60,000 and $90,000 a year," he said, chuckling.
"Or a general manager I had to pay $90,000 a year. That was the beginning."
It was an idea that took hold with investors immediately.
"We were the first Value Place franchisee, kind of a risky position," said Storm Nolan of Arkansas-based CSK Hotels, which operates four of the extended-stay hotels.
"But Jack's got such a great track record, and he surrounds himself with knowledgeable people. So far, so good."
The Value Place idea had its beginning in the mid-1980s, when DeBoer's financial world crashed around him.
"You come to a realization when you think about what the assets are that you really have in life," he said.
"Money is one thing you can lose and get back. Name another one."
DeBoer doesn't talk a lot of specifics about the crash beyond his determination to pay creditors back, but he absorbs all of the blame for it.
"I had my head handed to me for getting out of control with my ego," he said.
"I wasn't working for money. I was working for glory, fame and my name in the paper, and then I lost it."
DeBoer said he knew no other solution but to go back to work crafting new niches in the hospitality industry.
"I didn't give up my family, my ability to tell the truth and those things held me in good stead," he said. "But I didn't have any money. That went away.
"At the time, I thought, 'Well, the only thing I didn't get back was the money.' So, I went to work and got the money back."
That made an impression on a couple of DeBoer's local colleagues.
"Many, many people who become successful in this industry struggle with the ego issue at the point of their success," said Marlin Penner, president of NAI John T. Arnold Associates in Wichita.
"But very few people recognize what that is, how it looks and are honest enough to face it and deal with it."
Wichita real estate developer Dave Burk, who came to the city in 1971 to work for DeBoer, points to his mentor's "can-do" attitude.
"To me, what that means is persistence and knowing you can get out and get it done," Burk said. "That's Jack.
"You don't let the difficulty of a project dissuade you. That's really a pretty amazing trait."
"I've got a huge respect for him," Penner said. "If you look at the successful business owners in this town in real-estate-related industries, many of those people are traced back to Jack. He made a lot of people in this town successful."
With that success on his resume, DeBoer might be inching to retirement. But don't mention that in his presence.
"I told Margaret Potter, who's the best secretary in Wichita, 'You've been here a lot of years. When you decide one of these days to go back to your farm, you've got to give me at least six months' notice, because if you decide to quit, I can't work,'" DeBoer said, chuckling.
"And of course, if I can't work, I'll die. So don't feel any pressure."
Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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