Larry May: The Passing Of
Another Hotel Soldier

By David M. Brudney, ISHC, April 2005

The obituary read that veteran hotelier Larry James May died of a sudden heart attack last week in McCall, ID.  He was 67.

Those of us who had the pleasure of hotel soldiering with Larry these past four decades, will remember him as an innkeeper bigger than life, a cross between Father Flanagan, Tip O’Neill and Santa Claus.

Not many hotel general managers get featured in Fortune Magazine.  Larry did. 
Larry successfully managed upscale hotels for Westin from Chicago to Atlanta, Houston to Los Angeles back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s before returning to his boyhood home of Boise, ID and launching his own hotel & restaurant ownership, management and consulting business.

“He’s a hotelman”

At one time in our careers, our families were neighbors in Rancho Palos Verdes, a suburb of Los Angeles.  Larry’s daughter Lori and my daughter Cheryl attended the same junior high school.  One day Larry came to pick up Lori and I overheard one of Lori’s classmates say, “there goes Lori May’s father, he’s a hotelman.”

Larry was the quintessential hotelman indeed.  Larry was from a generation of hoteliers that knew the hotel business before it became the “business” of hotels.
Larry would not have been comfortable managing a large, branded hotel today.  He would have been more concerned with guest satisfaction and employee morale than with incessant reporting and satisfying Wall Street. 

Larry was the kind of G.M. that understood that to be successful in the hotel business, you had to take care of the employees first.  If you did that right, the employees would take care of the guests.  And if you did that right, the guests would take care of the owners.

Larry did not believe in firing employees.  He preferred to find another skill, another department, where they might find a better chance for success. 

Larry knew the difference between a good hotel and a great hotel: in a good hotel, the staff knows the names of the guests; in a great hotel, the guests know the names of the staff.

There was a sign at McDonald’s corporate offices for all executives to see every day: “if you are not serving the customer, you had better be serving someone who is.”  Larry could have written that.

Touched my life

Larry touched my life in many ways but never more so than those first few critical years when I had ventured out on my own as an independent hotel marketing consultant 27 years ago.

Larry was still managing The Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles but was laying the groundwork for a start up company back in his hometown of Boise, ID.

At that time, I had never seen a concept such as his.  A team of advisors for the hospitality industry: operations, financial, development and sales and marketing.  I was honored that Larry selected me to be the S&M advisor.

My second year in business Larry put me together with an owner of a Scottsdale resort where I served as a S&M advisor for 11 months.

A year later Larry selected me to become the outsourced S&M director for a ski resort in Sun Valley, ID under Larry’s management company.

That initial Scottsdale resort project has helped me land dozens of Arizona assignments over the past quarter century.  And to this day, I still benefit from my ski resort marketing experience and knowledge gained back in Idaho in 1982.

My one shot at being Larry May

Inspired by Larry’s entrepreneurialism, I took an ill-fated fling at starting a hotel management company in the mid-‘80s.  The initial project was the restoration of a landmark hotel in Birmingham, AL.  I borrowed an idea of Larry’s during the hotel’s critical pre-opening phase, something that worked successfully for him at the Houston Oaks.  I rented space on every available billboard in and around Birmingham, heralding the hotel’s opening with a tag line, “we’re going to spoil you.”  A year later I was back full time consulting.  I was no Larry May.

Larry was a “throw back” to another time of Innkeeping.  My wish is for all of us who care about this business, and for all the future generations of hotel managers, that Larry and his style of management will never be forgotten. 

The night before Larry’s funeral, a group of Larry and Gail May’s close friends and family gathered for dinner.  Many hotel soldiers attended.  We all shared stories and reminiscences of our times with Larry.

I said on behalf of all the hotel soldiers everywhere, those that were there that night or wanted to be there, on behalf of all the maids, dishwashers, bellmen and room clerks, from Chicago to Atlanta, Houston to Los Angeles, that it was a privilege and an honor to soldier with Larry.  But more importantly, it was fun.

I wonder how many hotel managers are having any fun today.

© copyright 2005

David M. Brudney, ISHC, is a veteran sales and marketing professional concluding his fourth decade of service to the hospitality industry.  He is the principal of David Brudney & Associates of Carlsbad, CA, a marketing consulting firm specializing in the hospitality industry since 1979 and a charter member of International Society of Hospitality Consultants.  Previously, Brudney held sales and marketing positions with Hyatt, Westin and Marriott.


David M. Brudney, ISHC, Principal
David Brudney & Associates
Carlsbad, CA 92009
760-476-0830 Fax 760-476-0860
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Also See Hotel Owners: Better, Worse or About the Same? / David Brudney ISHC / December 2004
Let’s Put Bush and Kerry Through the RFP Process / October 2004
Bev Kordsmeier, Hyatt Sales’ First Lady / April 2004
Message to Hotel Sales Associates: “It’s Not You!”/ January 2004
What Innkeepers Want Every Christmas? Fill Those Empty Rooms / December 2003
Uncertain Times Call for Return to Backyard Basics / April 2003
Time to “Group Up”?  Maybe, Maybe Not / May 2002
America’s Front Desk  Fights Back! / January 2002
Front Desk Fails To Catch America’s Hospitality Spirit / David Brudney ISHC / November 2001
A Very Good Time For That Sales Audit / David Brudney ISHC / Sept 2001 
More Theater, Less Zombies / David Brudney ISHC / Dec 2000 
It’s The Experience, Stupid! / David Brudney ISHC / Nov 2000 

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