adidas small items bag ‘Travel agents created this hotel’

Those concepts are not particularly radical, but if applied creatively, they can yield extraordinary results.

Mark King, CEO of Adidas Group North America, discussed how ideas generated by his staff turned the TaylorMade golf division (which he ran from 1999 until his promotion last month) from a $300 million company with 10% market share into a $2 billion company with 50% market share today.

“At some point in time, leaders exhaust what they know,” King said. “And the world is moving fast.”

“Distributed leadership” is the term for a model that suggests executives should listen more than they command.

Portland, Ore.’s Umpqua Bank changed the concept of what a local bank can be by putting the communities in which they operated at the center of their brand. They began opening their banks after hours to serve as meeting places for local groups, becoming the venue of choice for everything from entrepreneur networks to “stitch and bitch” clubs (whose primary purposes appear to be knitting and complaining).

The branches do not look like conventional banks, and they were redesigned with the community outreach in mind. The outcome of that initiative (as well as some smart acquisitions) was similar in scale to TaylorMade’s turnaround: Umpqua went from being a relatively small local bank to one with 394 branches and $22 billion in assets.

Taylor also spoke about how DaVita, which provides kidney dialysis services, brought its stock price up from $1 to $60, in large measure by involving 300 nurses in its decision making process.

So where is the parallel travel industry story? I was reminded of one, not at an industry conference nor in the pages of a Wall Street Journal best seller, but at a corner table at the Lambs Club in the midtown Manhattan Chatwal hotel.

The Chatwal, part of Hampshire Hotels Management (which includes the Plaza, Dream, Time and Night brands), opened four years ago as a “baby grand” hotel in the theater district. With just 76 rooms and in a prime location off Times Square, it is arguably the top small luxury property in the area, and the Lambs Club, under celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian, has become one of the more difficult reservations to secure.

Joel Freyberg, who opened the property and is its general manager, has deep experience in both luxury hospitality and the New York market. He began his career at the Mayfair Regent,
adidas samba original 'Travel agents created this hotel'
moved to the Michelangelo, then to the Carlyle, opened the Gansevoort and was recruited to be general manager of the Waldorf Towers prior to being asked to open the Chatwal.

The New York hotel scene is both competitive and lucrative, with several candidates vying for fickle and fussy visitors (and even more fickle and fussier local diners). Over lunch, Freyberg and I discussed what, during the preopening period, he had identified as being key to making the property successful.

Given his long experience running luxury hotels, his answer might seem counterintuitive.

“Travel agents created this hotel,” he responded. “I knew that to succeed, we would have to get the luxury community to buy in, and the luxury travel professionals know more about their clients’ life than even their spouse.”

Before the property was renovated prior to opening, he asked retailers for their input on the design. Originally, he had thought to have a full bath and a half bath in the suites.

“They looked at the plans and said, ‘Why are you doing that? Two full baths are important.’ So we took space from the parlor. And we put a full queen size [Murphy bed] in every one bedroom suite, one whose mattress is every bit as comfortable as our other beds, so now every one bedroom suite can comfortably sleep four.”

He listed other features that resulted from agent input: complimentary butler service for everyone, not just in the suites; complimentary Internet. “Make sure the lighting is good, I was told. There needs to be a good place for women to put on their makeup. Make sure the technology is simple, not complicated. Make sure entire floors can be keyed off as private floors. Make the room service menu exactly the same as what guests will get in the restaurant.”

And, unusual for a midtown hotel, there is no business center. “It was pointed out that people often have to wait for a free computer in a business center,” he said. “So instead, if someone needs these services, we send a computer and printer up to the room.”

It’s intuitive that the “distributed leadership” explained by Adidas’ King would extend to employees and customers. Freyberg’s success suggests leadership is extraordinarily elastic enough so to include intermediaries,
adidas samba original 'Travel agents created this hotel'
as well.