|Interstate Hotels & Resorts' newly appointed president Ted Knighton is charged with leading the management company's global growth, as exemplified by the opening of the Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam-Sloterdijk Station in the Netherlands (pictured, background).
ARLINGTON, Virginia—Samuel (Ted) Knighton used to wake up and find his email inbox relatively quiet from the night before. And just as those nighttime dreams begin to dissipate with the rising sun, so, too, is Knighton’s peaceful, uninterrupted slumber fading into distant memory.
It’s all part of his new gig, he told HotelNewsNow.com Tuesday, fresh off his first day as the newly appointed president of Arlington, Virginia-based Interstate Hotels & Resorts.
Knighton, who also retained his existing role of COO, is responsible for transitioning Interstate from a U.S. operation with global satellite offices into one, singular global platform.
It’s easier said than done, according to Knighton. “That’s what my job is now, is to manage this operation as more of a global company than a U.S. company with smaller parts around the world.”
It also means managing a constant stream of communications from around the globe.
“The thing about the global network that we all find is that it’s a 24/7 job operationally. If you wake up in the morning if you run a domestic operation, you look at your iPhone and it’s kind of quiet from the night before,” he said. “If you go global, Shanghai has been working all night and has all kinds of things they want to talk about.”
To keep up with that pace, Knighton now calls Interstate’s Shanghai and Moscow offices every morning on his drive to work. A few hours later, it’s time to touch base with India. U.S. operations take up much of the work day, and then by late evening the emails and calls start coming in again from the other side of the world.
“It makes the days long on communication, but it’s a pretty rewarding assignment because there’s a lot to do and there’s so much development and excitement in these various areas. If you look at India and China, the potential in those markets is just phenomenal,” he said.
Knighton was previously COO and president of hotel operations for Interstate's North American portfolio. His new title reflects an entirely new position within the company.
Interstate is trying to capitalize on that potential with an aggressive push into emerging markets.
In India, for instance, the management company now counts 13 hotels in its signed or management portfolio. The pace has quickened dramatically in the market. When Interstate first entered the market in 2008, it took more than two years to get the first deal signed.
“Now it’s starting to be accepted, and people are getting used to it,” he said.
Having the backing of a strong player familiar with the region certainly has helped. In 2008, Interstate formed JHM Interstate Hotels India Private Limited, a 50/50 joint venture partnership with JHM Hotels.
Interstate adopted a similar approach in China by partnering with Shanghai-based Jin Jiang Hotels. The joint venture, called Interstate China Hotels & Resorts, has four properties in its portfolio, including the 850-room DoubleTree by Hilton Shanghai-Pudong, the first Hilton Worldwide-franchised hotel in China.
The JV has several other projects in the pipeline, including a 255-room independent hotel set to open in the 128-floor Shanghai Tower, which is scheduled for completion in 2014.
Interstate is a wholly-owned subsidiary of a 50/50 joint venture between subsidiaries of Jin Jiang and Thayer Lodging Group.
Establishing a foothold in China has not been easy, Knighton said. Third-party management is a foreign concept to the country’s hotel industry, and executives at Interstate spent considerable time familiarizing potential stakeholders with the operating structure.
“I think with the Chinese the advantages that we present there are the same that we present in the United States. As people understand it and we get in and owners start talking about us and start talking about the various things that we offer, we’re making progress there.”
In addition to offices in Shanghai and Mumbai, Interstate also has a long-standing presence in Moscow. Established in the mid-90s, the office now oversees a portfolio of seven properties throughout Russia.
The management company also expanded into the Netherlands during 2011 by entering into a joint venture with TVHG Budget Group Beheer BV. Interstate’s Amsterdam office now manages nine hotels throughout the region as a result.
“This globalization that we’re working on will make us stronger,” Knighton said. “That’s happening now because these groups that we have around the world are starting to pick up steam and grow so fast.”
The challenge now, he said, is to streamline that growth onto a single global platform. “That’s a big part of what I’m doing.”
One hotel at a time
Despite the company’s global focus, Knighton said the key to Interstate’s success is its ability to focus on each hotel individually.
“You’ve got to manage one hotel at a time—not groups of hotels. It all focuses on individual hotel performance and relationships with our customer.”
It’s a daunting task considering Interstate managers and/or owns nearly 400 properties comprising 70,000 rooms throughout the world—but nothing the right people with the right tools and workload can’t help accomplish, he said.
“When we meet with an owner of the hotel, we introduce them to a core building block. It’s a regional team that has four disciplines: senior VP of operations; senior VP of sales; a VP of finance; and a revenue manager,” he said.
“That owner has that group that works on their hotels. That particular group of four won’t have more than 12, 15 hotels. That group of four has all the resources of a large company into it,” Knighton said. “But for the owner, they only deal with a small group of people. … An owner can call one person and get anything he wants. He’s got his own team (with) very clear lines of authority, accountability.”
“The owners love that. We do a lot of this type of business.”