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By John Hogan, CHA CHMS CHE CHO and Eight Others Who Knew Him Well

"We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations."   

David Brower

Legacy

This is a short six letter word, but its definition has meaning to many of us. We all hope and want to make a difference in the lives of those we interact with.   We work to positively impact others in our time.

I have written several hundred columns and articles in my career, yet I must share this one was not easy to write because it marked the passing of a hospitality professional who truly inspired me in my career.

It saddened me to receive a phone call on the passing of Jack Vaughn last November when I was facilitating a week long certification program for hotel owners in Virginia.  That call came from Emily Ellis, a long time associate and friend of mine who worked with Jack for more than 10 years at the Opryland Hotel, and she stayed with Gaylord another fifteen years.   She was making this call to a handful of people and had a hard time with the message.   She was to the point, suggested I look at the obituary [1] and that we reconnect later, after the news had sunk in. 

Jack Vaughn (1937-2014) certainly left his mark and a legacy in truly dramatic ways.  One of the best tributes that could be offered about Jack would be to recognize the fact that he built his reputation and influenced others in ways that were seldom self serving.

Jack was a private person and that was evident by his quietly blending into the background in the 15 years since he left Opryland.  

A personal friend and professional associate, David Brudney of California, wrote a wonderful recollection of the personal side of Jack[2] that he knew in their Westin days. I enjoyed learning some things I did not know about his background prior to the 18 years Jack and I overlapped in Tennessee.  

A primary observation for me was that Jack was an exceptional hotelier and caring individual. He inspired an army of other professionals through his commitment to continuous learning and certification. 

I first met Jack in 1981, when he was the General Manager of the then 600 room Opryland Hotel that had been open almost 5 years.   I noticed immediately the commitment Jack had to local business and by his ongoing participation in the Nashville and Tennessee Hotel & Motel Associations, well after his terms as elected President ended.  The Opryland Hotel was the best in market already in Tennessee, but Jack and the team never rubbed in the fact that they could have any piece of business they wanted in Nashville. He recognized that we were all in this together, and a successful Nashville hotel market would help them as well, long term.

While I was not on the Opryland staff, I served for more than 12 years as a fellow hotelier with Jack on many industry commissions and councils with city, state and national hotel associations and bureaus. He was open to suggestions and always looking for the best solutions to problems, regardless of who thought of it. In fact, he usually went out of his way to credit others. 

He frequently led by example, by his manner and by his commitment to quality in himself and the team. I still use illustrations of Jack interacting with other staff members in our training, as he was clearly one of a kind. These anecdotes continue to make people smile, because they are so real. He was elegant and cultured, and yet valued the down-home charm of the country aspect of Nashville and worked to share that charm with visitors, guests and those of us who interacted with him.

I decided that reflecting on the impact that one person can make on others was a message worth sharing. I reached out to a handful of other hoteliers and hospitality industry professionals to help with that message.

Following, in no particular order, are some reflections from others on the legacy that Jack left.

From a former Director of Training at Opryland Hotel who was there when Opryland began its incredible commitment to continuous learning and training of all staff at all levels

Lasting Encounter…

When I hear such words as insightful, perceptive, intuitive, charisma, commitment, integrity, trusting, charm, and vision, Mr. Vaughn comes to mind.  My whole understanding of what it meant to be a professional in the hospitality industry changed the day I encountered Jack Vaughn. He possessed an allure and magnetism that captured both your mind and your heart.

  • During my interview for the position of Director of Training at Opryland Hotel and spending close to two hours with Mr. Vaughn in his personal office, he asked me if I had any questions for him, prior to ending our discussion. 

  • I said, "Mr. Vaughn, Opryland Hotel is quite remarkable, well managed and highly service oriented. If I should be given the opportunity to fill the position of Director of Training, where is it that you would like for me to begin my efforts?" He reached into his top desk drawer, took out a blank pad of paper and pen and placed it before me and said, "We will start here!"  A training director's dream.
  • There was just something about Mr. Vaughn that made others willing to follow his lead and to stretch their own capabilities. 
  • I traveled with him on several business occasions and it was remarkable the number of people who knew him or knew of him, and went out of their way to shake his hand and to make conversation. Why?  because he made you feel important, that you were of value, that he was truly delighted to see you, and that you mattered. 
  • He held his staff accountable to a high set of moral and ethical standards, while holding himself to the same level of excellence. He believed in a team effort, while supporting individualized creative and innovative thinking. 

Mr. Vaughn led with consistency, believed in harmony and understood relationship building before it became popular.  I feel fortunate that his shadow passed over me early in my career.

Dr. Marc Clark, CHA, CHRE, CHE, CHO   President SmartBizzOnline, Franklin, KY

From a Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive who was there when Vaughn first came to Tennessee in the mid 1970s

  • Opryland Hotel opened in 1978  and Jack Vaughn and Mike "Shiny" Dimond would spend a long time convincing meeting planners that Nashville was a destination.  It would take the prodigious sales skills of both men to convince reluctant meeting executives their needs would be met at a hotel named for the Grand Ole Opry.

  • In 1984, the prestigious American Society of Association Executives brought their meeting to the hotel. Word went out that this was the most important group that had ever been here and no detail was too small.
  • As proof, Jack's office became the war room for the ASAE meeting. Every surface of his spacious office was covered with blueprints of the hotel.
  • The consummate hotelier was personally placing each meeting planner in specific rooms based on his knowledge of the individual. 
  • The meeting was stellar, like everything Jack did.

Terry Clements / Vice President, Government & Community Relations, Music City CVB

From a former Tennessee Assistant Commissioner of Tourism, who became Tennessee State Hospitality Association Director and then Chief Operating Officer of American Hotel & Lodging Association

I have two stories that I believe show that even with Jack's stature in the industry, he remembered the core and that is the people.    

I was privileged enough to have breakfast with Jack at Opryland Hotel at a time when I needed his advice on next steps in my career.  

  • What I remembered most was not so much what he said, but what he did.  

  • As we walked from his office to the restaurant, he spoke to every employee by name and he saw a string on the carpet and bent down to pick it up.  At the time, I thought it odd that he noticed something so small in such a large hotel.  But it just shows that he paid attention to every detail.  
  • He told me that whatever I decided to do, I should do it the best I can and the rest would follow.  It was good advice.  
  • Several years later, I heard him speak at an AH&LA convention and he wanted to make sure that everyone in the audience knew that the toughest job he ever had was when he had to clean a room.  He was very graphic with what one might find when cleaning a hotel room.  His message was to always tip the housekeeping staff and I have never forgotten that message. 
  • Since that day when Joe Henry called to tell me about Jack, I have told several people that Jack was always a man in control and he was in control of his own life, even in death and I respect him for that.  

Pam Inman, IOM, CAE, CMHS   President, National Tour Association, Lexington, KY

From an Opryland Manager who was part of the team for 8 years, left  Nashville, and 4 years later was selected to lead the company hotel at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado

….Jack's passing leaves a void in my life.  You see, any measure of accomplishment I had was knowing Jack was proud of the job I was doing.  Whenever we announced a new development or had a great year or there was an article on The Broadmoor in the paper or a magazine, I always sent one copy to my mom and one to Jack.  I will miss being able to share those things with him.  

  • At this time, I can't help but reflect on my own life and wonder what it would have been like had Jack Vaughn not been part of it.  He hired me in 1980 as Director of Convention Services.  I was one of six candidates - the least experienced of all and I had never been a Department Head.  He saw something in me and gave me the opportunity. 

  • For the next nearly eight years I watched and learned from him as he ran that hotel like a Swiss watch.  I learned what leadership really meant.  I learned about vision and courage to grow and evolve your business, always moving forward and looking to the future.  
  • Over the course of those year, s I probably gave him reason to fire me at least three times.  He would call me and dress me down - nobody dressed you down like Jack Vaughn - but when he would do that, I would notice occasionally a twinkle in his eye.  I think the dumb stuff I did when I was young reminded him of some of the dumb stuff he did when he was young.  He told me a few of those stories over the years. 
  • In 1985, he made me Resident Manager, once again, unproven and untested but he saw something in me.  In August 1987, I left to rejoin the Greenbrier in the number two position.  The following January I received an envelope in the mail from Opryland Hotel.  In it was a handwritten note from Jack , along with a bonus check, that said "you were as much a part of our success this year as anyone"….   In my forty years in the business, I have never met anyone who would do something like that other than Jack.  
  • In May 1991, he called me and offered me the job as President of The Broadmoor.  He did this knowing that there were dozens of exceptional hoteliers with records of accomplishment that would give their eyeteeth for that job, but he saw something in me.  

Jack lives on in the people like me who he taught and mentored and those whose lives he touched.  For nearly twenty-four years as I address our new employee orientations, I talk about the great Jack Vaughn and the things he taught me.  

If they have hotels in heaven, Jack will build one, likely with a lot of meeting and convention space, and he will have Mike to keep it full.  

Stephen Bartolin, President and CEO at The Broadmoor Hotel

From a former Director of Quality Assurance who was there at the beginning of Opryland's unprecedented commitment to performance and service  

Jack was, and continues to be, an inspiration to me.  I worked with him at Opryland Hotel from 1977 to 1988, serving first as the Employee Relations Manager and then the Quality Manager.   I learned so much from him about our industry and life in general.  Here are a few of my favorite memories:

  • Jack came to every new employee orientation when he was in town.  He made this comment to stress the importance of the guest:"The man, woman, and child who comes through our doors is what it's all about.  Please recognize they really pay you…the company just passes the money along.  Never forget how important they are to you and all of us!" 

  • Jack taught me how to "see".  He took me on a tour of the hotel and asked me a lot of questions.  We walked in to a ballroom and he paused and said, "Ms. Judy, what do you see?  Start with the ceiling and look down, then scan side to side.  How many light bulbs are burned out?  What looks out of place? Are there any cobwebs?"  
  • I saved some of the hand written notes that Jack had delivered to my office.  On his notepad that had "From the desk of Jack Vaughn" at the top, he would write a sentence or two in that scrawl of his, commending some behavior.  In my case, one was for an employee talent show that went over well.  It simply said, "Ms. Judy, you put on a good show.  Everyone had a fine time."  I am sure it took him only seconds to write, yet the impact was huge. 
  • Just like when Jack called me in the hospital when my babies were born…all three of them!  The conversation went something like this:  "Ms. Judy, I understand you have a beautiful baby boy and you and he are doing well.  You will be missed while you're gone.  Enjoy the time with that little one!  Good-bye."  Those calls lasted less than 15 seconds, but they meant the world to me…to think a man as busy as he was would take the time to call me personally before I even made it home was more than impressive.
  • You may not believe this one, however it was definitely the case from my perspective.  You could sense Jack Vaughn in the hallway before you saw him.  He had an amazing presence…daunting and captivating all at the same time.  There was never a question of his dedication to excellence and to an environment in which all of us could realize our potential. 
  • I remember one time when I was serving as the Employee Relations Manager that I needed to brief him on an employee incident.  He listened intently, leaned back in his tall, executive chair, pinched the bridge of his nose and said, "You know, sometimes I think we are successful in spite of ourselves."  After a short period of silence, he told me how he wanted the situation handled and I gladly followed his direction, which was always spot on.  
  • Jack had been a sharp shooter in the Marines and that disciplined training and skill were evident in how he conducted himself and led the team at Opryland Hotel. 
  • He had a great sense of humor and an appreciation for the warmth in Southern culture.  He found a home in Nashville, initiated the dream of Opryland Hotel, made it reality when given the chance, and provided life changing experiences for so very many of us who were privileged to work with him.   I know I am a better person and professional because of Jack Vaughn and I am eternally grateful to him!

Judy Z. King, ISHC  Founder & Principal, Quality Management Services, LLC, Franklin, TN

From an industry innovator who made his mark based in Tennessee and who recognized Jack Vaughn as the national and global hospitality leader who changed much of how convention hotels evolved

I first met Jack when we moved STR from Pennsylvania to Nashville in the late 1980's.  He had heard about our new STAR reports and wanted to learn more about the details.  Jack called me one day and invited me to lunch.  I drove to the Opryland Hotel with some apprehension, since at the time we did not provide STAR reports to individual hotels and I was convinced that we never would. 

After the usual chit-chat (which was a lengthy but fascinating discussion about the operations of the hotel), he brought up this report that the GM of the Marriott down the road had shown him.  As I was explaining how the program worked, I mentioned that at the time we were only bringing in brands to participate in the program.  There were a number of perfect valid reasons for this, but as I discovered during that lunch, they were all perfectly pointless.  At the time, the Opryland Hotel had something north of 2,000 rooms and as Jack pointed out, that made them bigger than some of the brands that were just starting up and therefore, he felt he qualified to participate. 

So as I sat there listening to him, I pointedly asked him how much he would be willing to pay for the report as an individual property.  And he responded with 'around $500'.  I thought that sounded reasonable and told him I would check when I returned to my office if this was ok with our existing clients.  They agreed (with a few raising objections) that this would help the overall sample.  I called Jack back and told him they were in.  A few days later we got a check for $500 and we were off and running with the Opryland Hotel.  Up until this point we were absolutely convinced that we could never sell a STAR report to an independent property.  Jack clearly pointed out how wrong we were. 

Within a year, we were providing STAR reports to over 300 independent properties and had established a model for dealing with independent properties that we used to grow the program in the US and eventually enabled us to move globally.  Today, dealing with independent properties has become a central focus of our global team and includes thousands of properties here in the US and Canada.

I continued to meet and have lunch with Jack for a number of years and when he and I joined the Research Funding Committee of the AH&LEF at virtually the same time, we became closer friends.  I have always considered my friendship with Jack as one of the highlights of my career and he will be sorely missed but those of us who had to opportunity to meet and work with him. His knowledge of how to make a large hotel work in a relatively small market was truly impressive.  There will probably never be another industry leader with the kind of vision and intellect that Jack brought to our industry.  He will be missed. 

Thanks for the opportunity to write this note.  

Randy Smith, Chairman and co-founder of STR

From a former training Manager, who evolved to Director of Training/Quality Assurance at the Opryland Hotel (1985-2000) and then as Vice President of Training and Development for Gaylord Entertainment

I, like so many others, am grateful that I had the chance to learn "the business" from this remarkable man.

  • A man who painted the picture of what excellence looked like and expected nothing less from any of us

  • A man who put training and quality high on his list and kept priority there-even in the toughest of times
  • A man who regardless of schedule and important meetings and events- never missed orientations and greeting new employees
  • A man who built and created a small community feeling and a family atmosphere within a cast of thousands.

I am proud to have been a part of his family-in the house that Jack built, and I will never be in any hotel anywhere without thinking about the lessons he taught. 

Emily Ellis, CHE CHRE CHT ME   Principal at Education and Training Concepts (etc), Greater Nashville Area

From the associate with whom Jack had perhaps the longest professional affiliation in their careers, as the 2nd in command at Opryland Hotel for 20 years and serving as the Vice President of Hospitality for both Opryland and Gaylord Entertainment

It is hard to put into words many great years with a legend to really cover him.  I was fortunate to work with Jack for over 20 years and have too many stories to tell them , so I will try to sum it up into several small statements:

  • Jack was a person with great vision, who was a mentor and someone who adored his family, his work, his community and his country.

  • I feel the city of Nashville can contribute a lot of its success today because of Jack's vision and hard work to put Opryland and Nashville on the map.
  • He felt everyone had something to contribute and took time to not only listen, but felt it was his responsibility to pass on his knowledge and encouragement on to others so they could reach their goal
  • We often discussed which was more important -  the guest or the employee.  He placed the same importance on both.  
  • He always said that the guest is paying our salaries and we should work each day to earn that salary and respect at all levels.  But he also said we are only going to be as successful as our employees allow us to be and therefore we should treat them with the same importance and respect.
  • He led by example, he was not too good to stop and pick up a piece of paper, or too busy to stop and talk to a guest or employee. 
  • He did not like the spotlight but wanted the spotlight to shine on others. 

As you look around today, many will say they owe their success to the influence of Jack and because of him, our industry and community are better because he crossed their paths and left his mark.

Joe Henry, CHA  President, Henry Hospitality  Greater Nashville Area

I can look at the preceding comments from each of those people who interacted with Jack at many levels and recognize there was more each of them could have said.

  • Due to Jack's personal commitment to learning, at one point in the early 1990s , there were more associates at the independent Opryland Hotel who were certified than at any other entire hotel brand.  

  • Jack walked the talk of giving everyone the opportunity to improve and shine. He made Quality a goal for every department and staff member every day and proved it could be done!
  • Jack believed in the strength of associations and CVBs. He is the one who made the recommendation that a hotel occupancy tax be passed so that that the undiscovered Nashville could raise the money to market the city as a tourism and convention destination.
  • Jack valued the significance of every staff member, which is why Jack  or Joe Henry personally met and welcomed every orientation class held weekly for over 20 years! That made an impact.
  • Jack had likely been honored by almost every hotel and hospitality association, including Independent Hotelier of the World, yet not one person who shared their thoughts even thought about that side of Jack, because it really was not important to him.

I relocated from Nashville in 1997 and had breakfast at the Opryland Hotel with Jack shortly before I left.  After declining a promotion for several years, he had finally accepted a different title, with something like Senior Vice President of Gaylord Entertainment Properties. He would have responsibility for the Gaylord Hotels, the Grand Ole Opry, the Opryland theme park, the General Jackson Showboat, the Wildhorse Salon and more.  I asked why he finally decided to take the newly created position after turning it down for so long.   He paused and said he did not want to leave the day to day operations of the hotel, but that he had been advised the Gaylord organization decided they really needed the position filled.  Jack said he felt he could better take care of "his people" in the new role rather than have to orient an outsider in the Opryland culture.  I knew that Jack's people included the hotel staff, the guests and the organization.  It was  always about caring for others that made Jack thrive!

Legacy means handing down something of value to those who follow.   There is no question about the legacy that Jack Vaughn, CHA left to those of us who were fortunate enough to have known him, and even to others that have benefited from the values he shared.

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[1] http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/tennessean/obituary.aspx?n=jack-vaughn&pid=173174961& 

[2] http://www.hotel-online.com/press_releases/release/jack-vaughn-the-consummate-hotelier

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All rights reserved by John Hogan and this column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.  This article may not be reproduced without the expressed permission of the author.  The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

About John J. Hogan, CHA,CMHS, CHE, CHO

John J. Hogan, Certified Hotel Administrator (CHA), Certified Master Hotel Supplier (CMHS), Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE), Certified Hotel Owner (CHO)

John Hogan is a successful hospitality executive, educator, author and consultant . He provides keynote addresses and leads seminars leader at hotel brands and hospitality industry events. He is the Principal of HoganHospitality.com , which offers hotel expert witness services and hospitality consulting.

He is CEO and Co-Founder of HospitalityEducators.com, which has more than 2000 resource pages and has become the #1 independent website for hotel owners and managers. HospitalityEducators.com conducts certification and training programs for hotel owners and managers, working with both branded and independent hotels.

KEYS TO SUCCESS™ is the umbrella title for our programs, hospitality services and columns. This year's writings focus on a variety of topics for hotel owners, managers and professionals including both my "HOW TO" articles, HOSPITALITY CONVERSATIONS™, Lessons from the Field™, Hotel Common Sense™, THE P-A-R PRINCIPLE™ and Principles for Success.

Contact: John J. Hogan

John.Hogan@HospitalityEducators.com / john@hoganhospitality.com / 602-799-5375

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