McKibbon Hospitality puts a premium on experience
Randy Hassen has been with McKibbon Hospitality for 26 years. He got started in the industry 28 years ago with a summer job in F&B at the Holiday Inn in Augusta, Georgia, and discovered that he enjoyed the hospitality side of the business, the service and social aspects of meeting new people. When he went off to the University of Georgia, he was looking for a part-time job to help pay for school. “There were only three hotels in the downtown Athens market,” Hassen says, “and I went to all of them.” The last property he applied to was a Days Inn. “It was a McKibbon property,” Hassen says, “and it was a beautiful hotel, with a wonderful, friendly staff, and it just felt like home.”
His application is still in his employee file. Hassen laughs, “It says: Position looking for? Any. When can you start? Now. What is the required rate of pay? Open. It wasn’t very specific what job I was applying for, but I was hired by McKibbon as a part-time houseman in 1991, at about $4.50 an hour.”
Hassen is not alone—McKibbon has provided multiple people with opportunities for growth. Two years later, that Days Inn converted to a Courtyard, and McKibbon started franchising with Marriott and Hilton. When Hassen graduated from UGA, he took on a general manager role and has since worked his way up to being president of McKibbon’s hotel management company. He’s truly an embodiment of the American Dream.
McKibbon Hospitality's third party management contract at Courtyard Ft. Myers
McKibbon is a third-generation, 90-yearold company, but even in Hassen’s time they’ve been through three economic downturns. And with each one, he says, they have come out stronger. “We have grown the company 26 years with year-toyear growth, even during the downturn,” he says. “Our strategy is to prepare the best we can for the future economic downturn, understand what risks are involved, make adjustments, and grow again. We are looking to learn and always looking to improve, so we always have something in the pipeline. As for individual hotels, we look at them at a market level, what are the factors that are going to determine how that hotel will perform and what adjustments we need to make according to that forecast.”
About 75 percent of McKibbon’s hotels were impacted in some way by the recent hurricanes, whether by evacuation or direct storm damage. “It was a big test for us,” Hassen says. “It really taxed all our resources, and our team did an amazing job of stepping up to the plate. We really feel that it is imperative, as a hospitality company and in our hotels, that we are shelter for evacuees. We look at our role as being very vital, and the team worked around the clock because they were supporting the guests and working with power companies and crews and the first responders.”
Dog adoption program, Aloft Asheville
Capella on 9 rooftop bar, AC Asheville
Arras, an independent hotel opening late 2018 in Asheville
“It’s been a great run,” he says, “but we have so much that we still want to do. We are excited to have a platform and opportunity to be able to provide the same opportunities I’ve had for others in the organization.”
Hassen oversees all of the disciplines at McKibbon: human resources, operations, sales and marketing, communications, public relations, procurement, and engineering. One of his most important responsibilities is to recruit and retain “the best and the brightest talent at the corporate level and in the field” to best serve McKibbon’s ownership groups, investors, and the communities as a whole.
Our strategy is to understand what risks are involved, make adjustments, and grow again.
McKibbon has historically been known as a select service developer and operator, but they work with third party owners as well. They had primarily been a manager of their own developments and assets, but as they have grown through the years they have sold real estate with the management encumbered, creating relationships with third party ownership groups. This has led to them being approached for managing additional hotels, so that aspect of the business has really taken off. Now they market their hotel management services directly toward third party developers.
AC Hotel and Residence Inn & Suites Charlotte Center City rendering
McKibbon Hospitality’s third party management contract at Aloft Orlando
I asked Hassen what McKibbon specifically brings to the table that sets them apart as a management group. “When you are in the management business,” he says, “you are selling your people, your services, your expertise of how much you can do in house, versus outsourcing. We have a great team of seasoned professionals that oversee everything from branding, marketing, and sales to renovation services for our properties, which allows us to be a one-stop shop for third party owners.”
McKibbon currently manages 17 different flags, so the brand knowledge and market knowledge of an experienced staff goes a long way. They put a lot of care into their recruitment and hiring process, getting creative with the ways they attract and retain top talent. “We really look for referrals for people that are very likeminded,” Hassen says, “ hospitable, but eager to grow their careers. People want to work with companies that are growing, that are innovative, that are not afraid to take calculated risks and have a platform and history of growth and great partners. When we tell candidates that we have five new projects going, they are very excited.”
McKibbon Associate staff in Tampa for a service project.
Buckhead Hampton Inn and Suites, Atlanta rendering
AC Asheville’s rooftop bar, Capella on 9
Capella on 9 in AC Asheville
AC Asheville’s Capella on 9 has local influences
Whether or not someone is a good fit is also something to be considered when forming a management partnership. “The biggest thing we look for immediately,” Hassen says, “is: are we aligned with that partner on expectations, goals, and culture?” After that it’s a question of whether the project makes good financial sense and what risks are involved. “We’re going to be extremely transparent throughout the process,” he says. “We do not like surprises, so we do not like to provide any as well. In new relationships, we just look for true alignment. We like doing business with people we like, and if it’s a viable project that we are passionate about, we go in 100 percent.”
We do not like surprises, so we do not like to provide any as well.
A big part their culture is promoting from within, and while he is a good example of that, Hassen says, “I am just one story of many people in our organization that can say the same thing.” McKibbon also has a forward-looking mindset, always asking how they can be better tomorrow than they are today. But the key element of cultural compatibility comes down to the “service first mindset.” They are going to work best with someone who is looking to help and serve others, someone who is focused on their community. “When we look at culture,” Hassen says, “ a big part of ours is giving back. When you find individuals like that, they are usually driven and motivated in other ways, and that really helps us to attract like people.” Giving back starts at the top with McKibbon and is supported and encouraged both on the corporate and local property level through the giving of time as well as funds. With corporate offices in Tampa, Florida, and Gainesville, Georgia, and properties in over 40 different markets across the nation, McKibbon has an opportunity to impact a lot of different communities, and they do so in a way that empowers the hotels to drive that giving based on their local needs and the passion of the staff. The McKibbon Foundation is the company's charitable giving organization that distributes grants to support nonprofit organizations. Through the Foundation's matching funds program, every single dollar earned through individual hotel fundraising is matched. Over the past five years, they have raised over $2 million for nonprofit organizations across the country.
Philanthropy is not the only area where McKibbon trusts the expertise of the locals in a community. They are also taking a fresh look, with future development and also properties they currently manage, at how the food and beverage programs factor into their hotels’ success. “We really amped up our corporate staff on that side to better serve the guests,” Hassen says. “We feel that food and beverage is a huge component of the overall guest experience. They want local and sustainable, and for it to really enhance their overall experience. So, we work diligently on that.” To that end, McKibbon is forming local partnerships for menu development and connections to farmers and other providers. “We found that the best approach to having a great food and beverage concept in each of these markets,” he says, “is to find the expert there and work with them to create something special and unique.”
- AC Hotel City Center— Charlotte, North Carolina, opening early 2018
- Residence Inn City Center— Charlotte, North Carolina, opening early 2018
- Hampton Inn & Suites Buckhead—Atlanta, Georgia, opening early 2018
- Hotel Arras—Asheville, North Carolina, late 2018
By Ashley Atkins
Images courtesy of McKibbon Hospitality