Partners William Meyer and Richard Jabara share their insights on longevity and how to successful operate a family-owned and operated hotel company for four decades and counting
[Danbury, Conn., October 18, 2017]—What is the key to success and longevity in hospitality? For William Meyer and Richard Jabara, founding partners of Meyer Jabara Hotels, it’s having mutual respect between partners and bringing no ego to work each day. With 2017 marking the 40th anniversary of this privately-owned and family-operated hotel company, Meyer and Jabara are sharing their insight on beating the odds, overcoming challenges, learning lessons and cultivating best practices in an industry fashioned by economic uncertainty and wrought with technological change.
MEYER AND JABARA ON BEATING THE ODDS . . . Meyer: “What makes Meyer Jabara Hotels unique is the bond that Richard and I share. Forty years in any relationship is a long time. Often what happens with partners is their dedication to the company and the industry begins to dissipate and personal interests wane. When that happens, both parties agree to do other things. None of that applies to us. Over the last 40 years, Richard and I continue to be interested in the hospitality business. We’re supportive of each other, and we extend our personal knowledge and abilities across the company. There’s absolutely no ego and no feeling of grandeur. We are successful and our business continues to grow because we mutually recognize the strengths each of us brings to the table and we strive to grow from each other and through our employees. How many other privately-owned hotel companies have stood this test of time? Not many. We beat the odds, and Meyer Jabara Hotels plans to continue doing so for at least 40 more years.”
Jabara: “Our focus first and foremost is on our guests. To make them happy and keep them happy, we must have the best people working for us. It’s our people who will ultimately deliver guests’ experiences. Over the years, Meyer Jabara Hotels has nurtured a group of managers who have become exceptional leaders and remarkable human beings. In addition to wanting to be hoteliers, Bill and I have always wanted to establish a culture for our employees whereby they will look back years from now and say “I am a better person, leader, or manager because I learned from the best.” We beat the odds because we are vested in cultivating exceptional employees, and in turn, our employees take what they have learned and invest their time and talents by creating memorable experiences for guests.
MEYER AND JABARA ON OVERCOMING CHALLENGES . . . Meyer: “In every decade since the 70s, there’s been a recession. None have been worse for hospitality than 2008 and 2009. Hoteliers who were over-leveraged or who had personal guarantees on their debt are no longer with us today. Meyer Jabara Hotels is fiscally responsible, and we have been able to weather each recession every decade.
“The proliferation of the brands and the rise of soft brands also poses a challenge. When the economy is good, there is business for each brand and sub-brand. When the economy falters, it’s a different story. Typically, each hotel within the enterprise is on the same reservation system, and when business is down, we see some aggressive competition rising between hotels within the same system just to maintain RevPAR. The hotels with the strongest sales teams are the ones who will weather the economic storm. Meyer Jabara is proud of the effectiveness of our onsite sales organization and their ability to supplement business generated by the various franchisors. Our teams are skillfully trained to increase group business and corporate business during those periods. That part of our business keeps us anchored and strong.”
Jabara: “The key to operational efficiency during a downturn is steadfastness; good management, good sales people and good office staff supporting your teams in each market. When things are good, everyone does well. When they’re not, it’s your people who keep you going . . . working in the fox hole.”
MEYER AND JABARA ON LESSONS LEARNED . . . Meyer: “One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that outside of major urban markets, hotels do have a useful life cycle. They increase in value to a certain point and then they begin to decrease in value. The take-away is that you can’t fall in love with your real estate forever if you want to maximize your return on investment. There is an ideal time to sell, and it’s usually less than 20 years.”
Jabara: “Obsolescence happens quicker today than when we started. Forty years ago, owners could hold onto a hotel knowing that it will remain competitive for 30 years. Today’ that’s not the case. With each relationship we enter, we fall in love with the markets, the communities and the people we hire to run those hotels. It’s difficult to sell the asset and walk away; we’re in a sense breaking-up with the market and the people who were married at our hotels, then held a bat mitzvah, followed by a Sweet 16 party. It’s a difficult transition because our goal is to connect with the community and forge lasting relationships. Break ups are hard, but in real estate, they are essential.”
MEYER AND JABARA ON BEST PRACTICES . . . Meyer: “In addition to forging an exceptional company culture that we call ‘The Journey,” we consider building lasting relationships with the brands an important best practice. Our management teams are active at all brand functions; we attend regional meetings and sit on regional boards. Communication and interaction should flow both ways. It’s not just them telling us what to do; but we try to make the franchisors better brands by participating in the discussions. We share with them our owners point of view and let them know how their decisions impact the owners. As critical as it is for me to always have open communication with my partner, it’s equally as critical to treat brand partners in the same way.”
Jabara: “Another best practice comes in giving back to the company and to each hotel. While Bill oversees finance, development and acquisitions, insurance and legal, I focus on revenue management, accounting, purchasing, and operations. Together we share the role of company designers and innovators. When visiting our different properties, both Bill and I get actively involved in the design process. We share our ideas and then come to an agreement on how to make each hotel a better experience for those who work and stay with us.”
MEYER AND JABARA ON THE NEXT 40 YEARS . . . What does the future have in store for Meyer Jabara Hotels? The company will continue to expand its ownership platform as it has in the past. Today, the company owns 23 of the 27 hotels in its predominantly East Coast portfolio; only four are under third-party management. Plans to expand West of the Mississippi are possible if the right opportunity comes along. In addition, the company is looking to add more independent hotels to its portfolio. Meyer Jabara Hotels has a differentiated management model for independent and boutique hotels that includes offering onsite sales expertise, a group sales desk and an exceptional reservations call-center comprised of trained specialists who about each market.
Meyer: “The hotels managed by Meyer Jabara Hotels are operated no differently than the hotels we own. Even if our equity stake is minimal, we run the business as if we own 100% of the asset. That will never change. Our remarkably-low turnover rate will remain in the 3% to 4% rate for upper-level managers as well. We’ve enjoyed nearly-zero voluntary turnover among management, which is almost unheard of in this business. We’re extremely proud of that.”
Jabara: “My son’s Justin and Theodore are very involved in the company, as are Bill’s children Candace and Andrew. Meyer Jabara Hotels is not merely an ownership or management company; rather we are fast becoming a well-known brand. The franchisors know us and they respect us. Institutions that lend us money trust us. People who are looking for jobs turn to us. We are proud of our legacy, and this company will continue to thrive under the direction of the Meyer and Jabara children for years to come.”
Justin Jabara, VP of Development and Acquisition, is being groomed to take the helm in the future.