At the time of check-in my circumstances laughable. And awesome. I have just come from beekeeping class. I am still laughing now in my own first world five stars kind of way of course. Some things are better left unsaid or untyped in this case. So, here I am at the front desk checking in for my one night stay. My familiarization stay as it were called. After four and half years I am afforded the opportunity to have an experience similar to that of a hotel guest. Human resources arranges for all eligible staff to stay at the the hotel in hopes of enabling each staff member after the stay to have a better understanding of the guests’ experience. Fitness room access, meal vouchers (also including gratuities), complimentary valet and pool side lounging all included. The Laurent Perrier is off limits of course as there is no drinking for staff on property. I still took it’s picture. Certainly a photo worthy bottle of champagne. On the walk to the elevator, I hear the echo of my favorite Saint Laurent’s on the marble floor and I soon forget I am an employee. There is a reason this staff continually receives the Forbes Five Stars recognition. A front desk staff member escorts me to the elevator and the room. A room tour to show how things work (lighting, faucets, temperature, etc) is given. Hand signed greeting cards, fruit bowl, chocolate, cookies and water are waiting for me in my room. In case I forget something and need to go to the pharmacy, the house car is available to take me and it’s a Maserati! Rolling in the Maserati. I didn’t forget anything. Soon, I am sipping delicious mocktails and sparkling water by the pool. The newly renovated, now Viceroy property, formally an Asian chic Raffles Hotel product, is exquisite. Not that it wasn’t before but the property hadn’t been updated since 1998. Smith/Firestone Associates have out done themselves with the decor. The makeover truly extraordinary. Really. Quite the transformation. The arts collide. Fashion, art, culinary and customer service. As I try on the guest perspective, I can’t help but think, what the head executive day to day behind the scenes must look like outside of my food and beverage bubble. After my stay my perspective has truly completely shifted. The halls I roam and the bar I keep no longer look and feel the same. I want to know more about Viceroy and it’s portfolio and the man behind such a successful boutique hotel brand management company. I reach out to the best possible source and request an interview. Bill Walshe. CEO. He agrees. It takes some time however. Scheduling and politics, I imagine. Tiffani, Mr. Walshe’s assistant is very helpful. The interview lasts about and hour and half and concludes with a light working lunch. I record interviews as they are easier to transcribe. While the audio is really great from the interview and you get more of sense of who Bill Walshe really is and my interview style, there is some “off the record convo” that is included so you’ll have to read the “on the record” interview for now and enjoy the photos from my stay and my visit to Viceroy Hotels and Resorts corporate offices located at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles…
The Restaurant and Bar :: Avec Nous (translates to ‘with us’ in French)
Pastries and latte before checkout..
At Viceroy Headquarters..with Bill Walshe.. a little bit of the day in the life..interview questions happen organically and in no particular order..clearly..
Bill Walshe Interview:
Me: Where were you born?
BW: Dublin, Ireland
Me: Did you always want to be a CEO and have the job you have now?
BW: Yes, I did.
Me: What was your first job?
BW: Taking out the trash for my Uncle’s guest house guests.
Me: How many properties are in the Viceroy portfolio?
BW: Thirteen open and in operation and ten under developments. Next one to open, Istanbul, Dubai and Chicago. One in Panama similar to that in Bali and Tahiti. And then in Colombia. I love Latin America. Cartagena location is a 14th Century former monastery. Wonderful collision of hospitality and heritage. Also, Morocco.
Me: What is your philosophy in Viceroy life?
BW: I have a very simple philosophy on life. The two most important words are thank you. As CEO, really important is to get out there and meet our colleagues that are running these hotels and could possible be doing easier jobs and say thank you for what they do. Also, say thank you to the guests, our customers. Where there is an enormous amount of choices, they choose Viceroy. They have their choice of Montages, and frequently, they have been influenced by someone staying in our hotels or someone that knows someone staying in our hotels and decide to stay. It is of course a risk to recommend but we go out and constantly try to reassure and say thank you.
ME: How much, on average, does a hotel cost for purchase?
BW: To buy a hotel at the top of the cycle, probably looking at, depending on the market, probably looking at 500k to a million dollars, per key. Buying a 240 room key hotel in NYC, you would pay 180 million dollars for that. Then if you are renovating, probably put in 100k a key for a renovation. When a management company.. so, if we get approached by a company, we like to get in early. We help put in the programming of the building and designs. We were with a company in NYC for a property somewhere else; we presented our idea and said look if you had 1000,000sq ft. of built up area this is how we would allocate in to suites, food and beverage, meeting spaces, spa, etc. Then, and if they like what we purpose we show them a ten year outlook with a profit perspective will be and they say this justifies our investment therefore we will build a hotel, we will hire you as management, you will get a percentage of revenues that you drive, and the more efficiently you run the hotel the better you do as a management company. Payroll, born by expenses are by the owner. The management benefits from income sales and driving profit and cost space between those two things and it the owner obviously benefits because the business should appreciate in value. Say hotel was purchased for 100 million and five years time they will sell for 150million. There are the parts that we all play.
Me: What new properties are opening soon?
BW: Istanbul, Dubai, Chicago
Me: What sort of process goes into deciding where a property will thrive? How do you know?
BW: Depends on where it is. If it is in a mature market, so, we are opening in Chicago, first Viceroy in Chicago, for instance.. That is a luxury market. Modern luxury properties that are the same positioning that we can get access to their numbers in that market, we believe we will come out with a suitably differentiate type of product. That will compete. And therefore we will achieve eighty percent of occupancy of whatever the average rate will be based on identify trading patterns we have analyzed and identified from previous years.
A super luxury, over water villa on the Caribbean side of Panama, that has never been done before that is a leap of faith. So we will ask for help. We will reach out to high end travel agents with whom we have a relationships with..Travel and Leisure to American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, Signature, Luxury, Virtuoso, etc. We are considering opening a resort, what do you think? Do you believe clients with whom you interact will be attracted to this kind of resort? They break it down into category. We make sure there is a suitable demand in terms of people’s willingness to explore. We also have to look at access. You can have a beautiful resort, superbly built out and an ideal location but if people don’t have access to it they wont come. We are dependent upon airlines. We look and say we don’t want to be dependent on one key source market. Spread the risk and make sure they are sufficient flights. Asian, Latin America, Europe. One country is having a bad year economically the others will still come. Why do I go to Hawaii? I love Hawaii. It’s easy. It is a four hour flight and I am there. I like Maui and there are other islands I would like to try but if it means taking a second flight, I wont do it. I like Hawaii. I want to take one flight. I don’t have time. People are increasingly like that. So we want to know we have an audience. We want to make sure it is easy for our guests to get there. For some of our customers, that is not an issue. They get on their private jets and that is the way it is.
We are also not afraid, as a brand, to be the first in. When I first joined the company, and I was getting familiar with our portfolio of hotels, I actually thought one the name of our destinations was Snowmass near Aspen. “Near Aspen” doesn’t exist in the name of the hotel. Everyone was used to apologizing almost that they had never heard of Snowmass. Do you have a ski resort? Yes, it’s in Snowmass, near Aspen. No. It is Snowmass which has an identity of its own. We work hard to no longer qualify who we were by whom we are near. Viceroy Snowmass is now just Snowmass Viceroy not Viceroy Snowmass near Aspen.
We had Viceroy Anguilla, we were, that resort is the largest employer for the nation of Anguilla outside of government employees. So, the economic impact we had on a country, uhm, was really profound. Quite and obligation. Not just a social obligation, people are education their children because of what we do. We look at all those factors. For example, availability of skill labor. Ultimately the “field of dreams” approach build it and they will come doesn’t apply. No they won’t. Build it brilliantly, make sure they can access it easily and deliver a great value with a skilled, ideally, indigenous labor force. People want to go and interact with the community. Build a hotel that has a sense of place. Relevant to its location, not just another box.
Me: What is your favorite hotel in the world in Viceroy portfolio?
BW: Hotels are like children. Each hotel has their own personalities. Sometimes they are naughty and sometimes they are good, but you love them all equally. What I will tell you, some of the work that I am proudest of in recent years, is the sugar beach re-launch. One of the most unique. Hotel Zeta in San Fran by creating immense positive disruption. I love disruption; it is great fun. And I think the Viceroy L’Ermitage renovation, aesthetically, is one of favorite. Dealing with the low ceilings and the idyocrasticy of the building and working with Kara and the team from SFA. I think it was my most fun renovation. Hotels have individual personalities. What constitutes me having a favorite hotel? Is it the one that makes me the most money? Well, that would be YAS Viceroy. Is it the one I would like to go to this moment in time? Well, it depends on what mood I am in, a resort because I have been traveling and want to lye on the beach and do nothing or perhaps an urban retreat because I was stuck in the office and want to go nuts for a weekend? I think, that’s what hospitality is really. It is the right product to the right customer at the right time. Just because we have a beautiful hotel, doesn’t mean it will fit for everybody.
What other competitors, do you say oh, I appreciate what they do, since attention from you is required to be in the know given your position in the industry, so have to pay attention, they are doing it they are consistent, we are with them. In other words, is there one property outside of Viceroy portfolio that you think is great?
As far outside of Viceroy Hotel, there is a company that started in London about ten or fifteen years ago called Firmdale and the have some highness individual and they stared to expand and opened a hotel in NYC called the Crosby Street Hotel. Other than Viceroy New York, that is my favorite hotel in NYC. I think what they have is a passion for thoughtfulness of the guest experience and the manner for which they interact wit the guests. They are as passionate about that as they are the aesthetic, for what they are originally known. Kid Campos, is amazing. Their pencils are amazing. People don’t go back for amazing pencils if they have crappy service. Of the bigger companies, I like Park Hyatt in Europe. Interesting niche brands. What Barry Sterling’s is doing with The ONE. Which is a brand with a purpose. I think that what is happening with Airbnb. There has been diversion, where people have said we’ll take a home. The majority of people that will go to a viceroy property are going to be pampered and to disassociate themselves from their everyday lives. Your everyday life is get up, make your bed and look after yourselves. I think guests enjoy the pampering aspect of the hostel. Speaking of disruption, Airbnb is the most powerfully and positively disruptive forces to come for a very long time. I am not scared by them at all and think for the world of travel and tourism. It is like when the low cost airlines came. They didn’t cannibalize the market. They mobilized a component that had never travel before. Now a price point is accessible. It is getting people out and creating a generation for whom there are no boundaries.
Me: What do you think of Air BNB?
BW: …diversion that people have said we will take a home instead of one of our locations.. people that go to our property in the Carribean or Mexico they go to recharge to reconnect to be pampered to disassociate themselves from everyday lives. That means, get up in the morning you make the bed, cook for yourself, clean for yourself.. looking after yourself.. airbnb the host lets you in and you are in someone else’s home in everyday life. I think the guests enjoys the pampering we give and they keep coming back..
speaking of disruptive, they are positively on of the disruptive forces in a long time. I am not scared by them.. For the world of travel and tourism it is similar to that of the low cost airline. They didn’t cannibalize the market they created new travelers. Now there is a price point that is accessible. South West and Spirit. Air B and B is appealing to people that may have not ever been into the luxury hotel market but its getting them out and getting them exploring. Creating a generation who will in turn raise a generation for whom there are no boundries and that can only be good for all of us.
Me: Is there any advice that you can offer to young entrepreneurs?
BW: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is true for all behaviors and aspects of life. I was in NYC last week for a day and had gotten to the airport and I couldn’t find the gate. I muttered out loud. Not realizing outside voice instead of inside voice, “Where is ?8$# gate C37?” And a woman heard me and she said she didn’t know either and was looking for it. We see someone in American Airlines uniform and ask. He says oh, That’s a new gate. We are on our way and she looks at me and She says why do you think we couldn’t find the gate? I say, well, its like the train platform in Harry Potter and only certain people can see it and for the rest of the flight back she called me Harry Potter. I couldn’t help think, Why did I spend fifteen minutes of my life trying to figure out and do it on my own.. I think, why didn’t I just ask for help. Say I don’t know what to do, help me. In a corporate environment, a young entrepreneur, or a person in a career environment there are people out there who are and have beaten the path you are beating. You can study others successes and failures. Ultimately, Everything we do is mimicking is founding a different way of doing it. Like Uber. They put a very different twist on a taxi company, but they are essentially a are a taxi. They take people from A to B.
Me: Did you have mentor?
BW: Not formally. As you go through industry, there are people that I have connected with and keep in touch with. For me, the person that has been the biggest influence in my career is a gentleman by the name of Gerald Rollins CEO executive chairman at Jumeirah Dubai when I worked there. He is a fellow Irish man but not for that reason, that isn’t the reason that I look up to him. He is one of the most talented hoteliers and one of the most gracious human beings of his generation and one of the individual resistances to accept mediocrity I have ever met. This is something for which I love. And, uhm. I will still pick up the phone today when I don’t know what to do. I think one of the greatest strengths in leadership is the willingness to ask for help. That is something that has been established and recognized as weakness in our industry. You are the guy, you are the hotel manager, you are the director of Sales and Marketing, you are the CEO, you are suppose to have all the answers. If you say, I don’t know what to do, people then say well isn’t that what you are paid to do? When therefore, you are weak and inefficient. I think you are brave and honest, if you recognize that you may encounter things that you haven’t encountered before and wither bullshit your way through it and say I have to be seen to do this on my own or look for people that are smarter and more experience and say how did you do this or how did it work? What do you think I should do. So, I have two or three people that I have met in my career that to go to and I hope that there are five or ten who now consider me to be that for them. I think within hospitality there is a sense of community, education and economic betterment. We are the largest work force in the world. Travel and tourism, globally is the largest work force in the work and that is quite a profound obligation. I will pick up the phone and ask for help. I think we are stronger collaborating than we are competing.
Me: Are their any charities for which Viceroy is involved? Are there any that are near and dear to you?
BW: We help a number of different. No retained permanent relationships for one charity or group. We do fundraising, opportunity to put together packages for raffling. We are approached all the time. Our product is perishable. If we have an available room, we can never resale that room a night again, once tonight is gone. So, two night, breakfast and one dinner and in the right environment, that could get 5 to 10 thousand dollars for a charity.
For me personally, I am close friends, Ronan Keating. Judge on the voice in Australia. We met and were friends because of his music career when I was in Dubai. I think he has had more hits than the Beatles. We really became friends because he lost his mom to breast cancer. He lost her because of the lack of education. Particularly in rural destinations don’t have sufficient educations about signs and symptoms and they get scared and they do nothing and then it is too late. Awareness of symptoms and signs he lost his mother. They did something but it is too late. The family because the wealth and being well known from singing endeavors decided created a foundation in her honor. There was a lot of passion but very little structure. He was passionate. I structured it as a business. We had a CEO but I ran that for years and years. We came up with really cool initiative that I think saved a lot of lives. We mobilized a fleet of bands that had scanning capabilities, to go into mountain areas and other rural areas. Had we not been there, women would probably not have taken the journey to go to hospitals to get checked. We brought the hospitals to them. Of course, it was sad when a women found out that she had the issue but at least they knew and could now deal with the issue.
We also put money into wigs, survivors program.. I am a business guy and structure business it was wonderful to be part of something so meaningful.
Me: If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why? And what would you want to eat and drink?
BW: Qualified answer, in the whole world whole world, I don’t know. Somebody this evening, In Los Angeles, this evening, specifically, I would say you, as a cheesy answer. If you weren’t available, I’d say Ryan Seacrest. I think he is brilliant example of someone with hard work dedication, skill and sheer focus has established himself as one the most influential people in what he does. I know so little about how that works in this town, I would be fascinated to sit in his company and ask him questions. How, when and why? Understand, How did you become preeminent? I am a fan of brands. Someone asked me a few years ago, not in an interview, who would most like to meet and I said the who started soul cycle. I like their brand, their manta, ideology. The whole package and the way the communicate it is interesting to me. I met them for 20 minutes and we spent three hours together. So, I guess I would have dinner with anyone who has created and evolved the space for which they are in. I would want to know how they figured it out, the whys and hows and what was the moment..
The third one.. off the record..
Me: Where did you study?
BW: Dublin in Southern Ireland , at eight years old. Called Limerick and then went to hotel school in Galway. At that stage I already knew what I wanted to do. My first involvement with anything hospitality hotel was at age 14. My uncle owned a guest house in the city that I lived in and twice a week on a Tuesday and Thursday I’d get on my bicycle cycle 2 1/2 miles take out the trash. I did that for a couple of years to make money and I started to see that it makes a difference to the guest. My uncle was a career hotelier and I ask what it means to do this and that. My first touch with hospitality was that. I often say in orientations I have gone from trash room to the board room.. There are frequent occasions when it is difficult to differentiate between the two. This is an industry where truly anything is possible. I decided that I wanted to do hotels. I went on to a hotel management degree course. I put myself through school by working in a hotel. Literally, I would do everything. I worked every weekend and holidays. I would go in the morning, city center independent property, and I would check on the chef, housekeeping and straight through to the end of the evening and about 10:45pm I would go into the night club and DJ. Being in a small hotel, I literally touched everything. The hotel was about sixty rooms. It was fun. Then from the four years of my hotel school, I went to Switzerland for eight months. After that, I would still go back to that hotel to work. But, it all started with my uncles. It was about the human interaction.
Me: Did you always want to be a CEO and have the job you have now?
BW: I think so. We are host first and foremost. In the olden days people would open their homes and create safety for travelers. Open their homes. Providing safety from point A to point B and that’s what we do today in a much cooler and luxurious manner. Everything else I did around that time was also very interactive.
Me: What are the most prominent hotel schools?
BW: Cornell. That’s the big Daddy. Last year I was invited to speak there. Surreal. Equipment, technology and resources they have. It is quite different than the hotel schools we had back in the day. There is one called Shannon. I didn’t go to Shannon. That was number one. I went to number two in Ireland. This is the second most popular there. Then, of course, there are schools in Europe, and Switzerland. I did go to Switzerland for a year to work in a five star property and learn a different style of hotel keeping. The ones that were famous back then are still there today.
Me: Tell me something about yourself that can’t be found in a press packet or previous interview.
BW: I was a radio and club DJ and stand up comedian for about four years. When I started in radio, it was every so slightly on the wrong side of legality. Back in those days, there was only national radio, so we would on frequent occasion heard the police were on their ways and we would pack up and get out of there. None of us broadcast under our real names and didn’t pay royalties or taxes. Kind of the ” Wild West”..
Me: At the end of long day what is your favorite cocktail? Wine?
BW: Jack Daniels or White Burgundy
Me: What is a typical day like for you? Do you take your work home with you? Are you ever screen free?
BW: With hotels and so many different time zones and hotels and Abu Dhabi and there is an inevitably that it is 24-7. Easy to maintain connection and not easy to disconnect. Soul cycle is good for me. I don’t take my iphone in because they don’t allow it. No, you, I am constantly aware that hotels are constantly operating with human being for 24-7. I need to be able to be found. My family is extremely tolerant. They have known me to always be doing what I do.
Me: Do you workout and/or meditate?
BW: I don’t meditate. I do attend classes at Soul Cycle.
Me: Are you always wearing suit and tie? Do you have any particular brand that you favor?
BW: I don’t always wear a tie. As far as brands, The Kooples on Robertson. My Tumi backpack has been around the world with me. I am an “Apple” product junkie. There is a brand, clothing wise, Bonobos. Internet clothes. There is one on LaBrea and several different ones in the country. Three different styles and get sized in the store. Then you go home and buy on-line. Travel luggage, I also like Ghurka.
Me: Is there one most important moment you can say, yes, that’s it? This is why I do what I do.
BW: The Viceroy ideology. The most important obligation I have is activating that. It is still in its infancy and yeah great to talk about that but that everyone, especially colleagues. When people say who are you and what do you do as a leader, that one document is it. I have the stupidest title. It is an ego title. I consider myself a chief pride officer. I am here to make people proud. If I can do that turnover decreases..
Me: What is your favorite thing to do for fun?
BW: Play golf.
Me: As far as eating, do you cook or do you have a private Chef?
BW: No I cook. One of the most exciting things is that Curtis Stone opened a butcher shop near my home.. As far as dining out though, dining, say I had one meal left, Spago, Veal “Weiner Shnitzel”. I love Spago. Small town Irish boy eating at Spago. Charming, Wolfgang Puck comes out..
I don’t think you can beat a great steak. Wine, I don’t visit vineyards. I don’t know as much as people think I do.. I am really getting into Napa whites. Learned to appreciate California. I choose a White Burgundy, I am more of a white than a red guy. If I have red wine, it would probably a Chateauneuf-du-pape. I don’t like champagne. It is too acidic for me. I also like a well made old fashion cocktail. I ask for bourbon, I say dealer’s choice or bar person’s choice. I am learning about the bourbons. There is a fantastic restaurant in Miami and they have a delicious chicken and they are supposedly the best bourbon selection in the country.
Me: What are some “secret” things you do when during and before travel to prepare? Any tricks for skin hydrations, for the gents?
BW: Alex Spencer, model, blogger and my best friend’s daughter, recommends, SK-II masks. She suggested I out this mask on during flight in public view.. I am not doing that. Emirates, first class that has doors that close. I like oxygen. It really does wonders. And, really, I should drink more water. For twenty years, I still don’t understand why it is so hard.
Bill Walshe is one of the most interesting men. He truly takes pride in himself and in his job. He has a sensibility and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Respectful and well respected. And while the hotels and resorts portfolio is ever expanding and Viceroy L’Ermitage has undergone some transition since the renovation, my employment and my stay, it is very much a go to place. A place of well traveled, affluent, low key, non-portentous, well educated, local and tourists alike. To some it is still known as the writer’s bar and the place where Hollywood industry “does deals”. Oscar parties, Grammy parties and Emmy parties happen here. A get away, a staycation or place for recovery. This luxury property truly has it all and if not available during your current stay, your dossier is for sure updated and the next time you arrive, for sure count on having what you need; within reason of course. If you haven’t checked out any urban retreats, luxury properties, or resorts, I encourage you to consider. Truly worth every penny. If staying in hotels isn’t your thing? Dining at Avec Nous will not leave you disappointed and should you need pastries to go, as I did one morning, stop by for parties from Pitchoun Bakery (saving yourself a trip to downtown Los Angeles, in a pinch)…
Pastries, I took home..
Until Next Time..