CSM Corporation’s new President of Lodging Mark Prince returns to hospitality with some different perspectives, including recent experience in senior living and multifamily housing development.
MINNEAPOLIS—Trends and target guests may change, but at its core, hospitality is all about customer service and connecting with guests.
That’s Mark Prince’s strategy as he assumes the new role of president of CSM Corporation’s lodging and residential divisions. Following 20 years with White Lodging from the late 1980s to the mid-2000s, Prince spent several years developing residential communities and eight and a half years in an executive role with retirement community developer Holiday Retirement before returning to the hotel side of the business with CSM in December.
“There are a lot of similarities between (hotels) and senior living and residential when it comes to yielding and managing the business, and maximizing the rate or rent,” Prince said. “All of them are customer-driven businesses. I’ve had the opportunity to see what all three of those customers’ needs are and learn from them, and now coming back into hospitality I can bring what I’ve learned from those businesses.”
Prince joins CSM in the hotel division’s 17th year in business. The company’s portfolio includes 32 hotels and 5,051 guestrooms concentrated in a few U.S. cities coast to coast, including Minneapolis, Boston and Seattle, among other locations. Radisson Hotel Group, Marriott International, Hilton and Hyatt Hotels Corporation top CSM’s brand roster, and its properties range from select-service to full-service and extended-stay hotels. On the residential side, the company manages 2,600 apartment units.
One of CSM’s most notable recent hotel projects is the renovation and expansion of the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot in its hometown. The historic train depot property was purchased by CSM Corporation CEO Gary Holmes 20 years ago and has been undergoing rooms, public space and event space renovations in recent years. This spring, the property will debut a new 24,000-square-foot event space expansion.
Opportunistic growth, relevance and long-term holds are CSM Lodging’s key priorities, Prince said, and the company’s reputation is what drew him to join.
“Making sure our current assets continue to be relevant in the marketplace is a top priority. Making sure our people can see a career path. We want to be the best,” he said.
“We’re not looking to grow to a certain number. The constant (among our properties) is that we have long-term stability in a market. We look long term at how we can have value.”
To that end, the company will continue to focus on finding opportunities across the board for ownership stakes and management, from select-service to full-service and extended-stay hotels, Prince said.
“We want to be at the top tier of our brand performance, the top for market share,” he said. “We want to be able to produce quality returns so we can give those to our stakeholders.”
That “be-the-best” mentality includes how CSM views its employees, Prince said. Identifying clear career path progression for employees is a priority in today’s tough labor climate, he said.
“We’re focusing on retaining our associates,” he said. “We know labor markets are difficult, so we’re going to benchmark so we can hold on to folks longer.”
He’s also focused on keeping an unwavering eye on what guests want—and in the case of most hotel stays, he thinks it’s all about fundamentals.
“My big thing is to stay focused on the basics,” he said. “There’s nothing that can replace a clean, well-maintained and friendly hotel. Sometimes we try to make things more difficult than they need to be. I think good leaders know how to keep things simple, and great leaders know how to take complex things and make them simple.”
Prince said he draws on his experience in residential and senior living when it comes to figuring out what guests want, and he said the similarities are more than what might be immediately apparent.
“I hear so much about what the next generation wants, what millennials want from hotels,” he said. “On the senior housing side, it was all about what boomers want and expect. It’s been quite intriguing to see this intersect. Yes, we need to take full advantage of technology for our customer and business, but we can’t forget what we’re here for—to provide quality service and make connections with people.”
Prince said his experience in senior living also helped him recognize a key skill when it comes to guest satisfaction, and that’s the willingness to put people first.
“People who make a career out of senior living have an emotional connection to care for people,” he said. “It’s still a business, focused on the bottom line, but what I learned from it is more patience and understanding and customer care. It’s not about glossing over the people. You need to pause and remember we’re dealing with people. I think we can still do that on the hotel and (residential) sides of the business, too.”