In the 15 months since his retirement, former InterContinental Hotels Group CEO Richard Solomons has joined the boards of his university and Aston Martin, dallied in startups and shared the wisdom, knowledge and experience of his 25 years in the hotel industry at the recent Hot.E conference.
Richard Solomons, former CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, said he misses the industry a great deal but he does not regret the decision to retire or that he did not buy Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.
Solomons, who retired at the end of June 2017, took the stage at the recent Hotel Investment in Europe Conference, better known as Hot.E.
Chatting with Laurence Geller, chairman of Geller Capital Partners, Solomons said after a quarter of a century at IHG and 14 years on the board he has not stopped being busy.
“I have been to the gym, lost a little weight,” Solomons said, who I never remember as being remotely portly. “I joined the board of Manchester University, my old university, also the board of Aston Martin, which went public last week. I am investing in a few small businesses and doing some mentoring. I (am) also spending more time with my wife and kids.”
That sounds like a full agenda, but Solomons admitted to missing the pace of business when leading IHG and its 5,431 hotels and 809,889 rooms.
“I planned (my retirement). It was not a false move,” he said. “Yes, I do miss being at the center of things, the pace of work, but you make a decision, so I do not regret it at all. But there are things you miss.”
Solomons is finding that needed pace in his collection of cars.
Geller asked him what his latest car was, and Solomons was bashful, saying it was “something blue and slow,” before admitting it was a 2018 Ford GT.
“That’s pretty much a racing car,” Geller said.
Solomons was a tough nut to crack when it came to questions on current hotel industry consolidation and some of the buys he might have missed or stumbled in when he was the boss.
There were no public relations people throwing him dagger stares, but he kept things pretty close nonetheless.
“There always was more to do. The market always is changing, and now faster than ever, and if you ever think you have finished, you are in trouble. That’s part of the fun of business,” Solomons said, who added he was proud to have left IHG as a business that continues to do well and with a strong team.
“I was there during a time of considerable change, including the relaunch of Holiday Inn, which had slightly lost its way. Also during a time of more branding and mobile,” Solomons said.
He then got to some points of regret. Well, almost.
“If you are sure about something, get on with it, but I might have taken too long over some things, mainly in the people area. I might have got the right people in earlier perhaps,” Solomons said. “It was pretty public that we might have had a look at Starwood, but you cannot build a strategy around things you might have wanted. I never wanted (IHG) to be big for the sake of being big, so, no, there is nothing I truly regret from the deal front.”
He also was able to speak a little more freely about disruption.
“From a consumer perspective, intermediaries, it has to be said, do a great job,” Solomons said. “They are so sophisticated in data and ruthless in their pursuit of profit. They are formidable competitors that we have to be continually vigilant, so without question hoteliers need to develop brands that customers want to stay at.
“I make the analogy between hotels and (United Kingdom department chain) Marks & Spencer. M&S want to develop and market their own products, but they know they have to stock Marmite, Cadbury, and Heinz baked beans,” Solomons said, referring to three favorite food brands of U.K. consumers.
“(Disruptors) do not think that way. They do not care where customers go, so I do not see the need for them to buy the brands themselves, but you cannot compete head on with these companies in terms of technology,” Solomons said.
“For hotel chains, we can talk for ages on strategy and holistic business, but it comes down to where your vision is of where you want to go. Hotels must clearly stand for something, one of the reasons I bought Kimpton Hotels, and then as always you need a great location and a product that delivers.”
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