GREENVILLE, South Carolina—From its humble beginnings 39 years ago in Pomona, California, to its status now as a large hotel-ownership-and-management company in the United States, JHM Hotels has remained a family business dedicated to keeping the promises it makes.
It all started in 1973 with a 40-room motel in Pomona, purchased by H.P. Rama, JHM’s chairman of the board and CEO.
H.P.’s oldest and younger brother joined him at the property, and the three of them initially worked in all facets of running the business while their wives assisted in keeping the rooms in order.
“It was a home recipe, no different than other success stories you hear out there,” said D.J. Rama, president of JHM Hotels, and a nephew of H.P. Rama.
D.J. Rama, president of JHM Hotels
From that venture, the brothers Rama created JHM and were able to save enough money to move and expand their business to the eastern U.S.
The brothers purchased mismanaged and distressed properties in various locations including Tennessee and Kentucky. “Back in those days, assets were available at a much more distressed price,” D.J. Rama said.
In 1976, JHM purchased the 100-room Camelot Inn in South Carolina in a lender deal, and things took off from there. JHM purchased 12 to 15 hotels in the area, and the company expanded, hiring more manpower to run the company.
“We’ve gone through about 85 hotels over the years,” D.J. Rama said. “We currently have 42 hotels with 7,200 rooms.”
What makes JHM unique, D.J. Rama said, is that the company is still an owner, operator and developer of hotels. “We haven’t recapitalized or brought in outside equity to fuel the growth. We’ve been redeploying the capital back into the business over the years.”
Strategies for growth
The company is focused on acquiring hotels and renovating the assets it acquired.
“In the last 24 months, we bought about 1,100 rooms,” D.J. Rama said.
Part of this means putting capital into property-improvement plans, which will allow JHM to ensure its properties are up to date, and will help it maximize rates, D.J. Rama said.
As far as acquiring new properties, D.J. Rama said the company’s diverse relationships in the industry drive it toward more off-market deals. Identifying with special servicers the available assets the company can take over is a major strategy, he said.
Brokerage firms are an option, but they’re not as favorable, especially as “that pool gets opened up to a wider audience,” D.J. Rama said.
JHM is targeting full-service hotels over select-service ones to add to its portfolio. “We prefer full-service because we feel … it’s going to be a long time in the making before we start building full-service hotels,” he said.
JHM’s executives are working on identifying sites that might be viable for ground-up development in the future. They are trying to identify markets where it would make sense to build 14 or 18 months from now, Rama said.
India development opportunities
JHM also continues to seize opportunities in India through its subsidiary, JHM Interstate. JHM Interstate is a 50-50 joint venture between Interstate Hotels & Resorts and JHM Hotels.
“We have 13 hotels in operation and will soon have 16, so the numbers are multiplying much faster in India with the opportunity that lies ahead,” D.J. Rama said.
Many investors looking to develop in India recognize the Interstate name, which is a beneficial aspect of the partnership.
Greenville-based JHM has its own assets in India including the Taj Gateway Hotel Athwa Lines, and executives of JHM are currently working on additional development deals in the country.
D.J. Rama said there are three locations in India in which they are working to develop select-service properties, though he wasn’t ready to reveal where as it’s still in the early stages; JHM Interstate would manage the properties once they open.
JHM’s founding partners recently fulfilled a dream of giving back in India and did so by building a private university in the country. Auro University opened last August.
The school focuses on hospitality, business and IT training and is affiliated with the University of South Carolina for technical calibration, D.J. Rama said.
“The time has come to make sure we are fulfilling our promise,” he said.
In addition to their philanthropic efforts, executives provide their employees with strong incentive programs.
One of the programs is directed toward the best-performing GMs in the company with the top three performers this year winning a trip to Spain.
The industry has gone through a lot in recent years, D.J. Rama said. “We are reinvigorating our people to make sure everyone is upbeat about our business.”