Q&A: La Quinta’s new CEO Keith Cline
 
Q&A: La Quinta’s new CEO Keith Cline
02 MARCH 2016 10:00 AM

La Quinta Holdings’ new president and CEO Keith Cline is a three-year veteran of the company and is already running with new initiatives and plans for the company’s growth in the short and long term. 

LAS VEGAS—While he’s new to the position, La Quinta Holdings President and CEO Keith Cline isn’t exactly a new face to the company he’s been with for three years.

Cline served as EVP and CFO before stepping into the CEO role just over a week ago. His prior professional career was largely in retail brands, where he honed a brand sensibility that he’s applying to the international hotel franchise company.

Cline spoke with Hotel News Now during La Quinta’s annual brand conference this week to outline his plans for his first 100 days as well as the challenges he sees facing the industry today.

HNN: What are your short-term goals for 2016 in your new role?

Cline: “We’ve talked about this a lot at the conference—we’re going to significantly accelerate our renovation program. We’re going to get very strategic around our real estate plan as a business. We’re investing in our hotels in terms of labor standards, and we’re really investing in LQ Returns.

“My top priorities have some length to them. My first 100 days are about people, culture, environments and transition. I’ll spend time traveling into regions to listen to people on the front lines directly. The strategy we’ve laid out is solid and it’s going to consume much of the next 18 to 24 months. It’s my job to keep it on course.”

HNN: You were EVP and CFO at La Quinta before taking this role, and before that your career was largely in retail brands. What do you bring from your past professional experience to this job?

Cline: “For my entire career, I’ve been just as much an operator and brand guy as I have been a CFO. Coming out of retail, you need to have a perspective on branding. Coming into this business with that background, I know about working toward building a brand that showcases how having the best product and the best service wins. It’s the same in every industry—you need a brand that creates stickiness. It’s the same as being in the fashion retail industry—we’re just applying it to a different industry.”

HNN: How about long-term goals? Describe how you think La Quinta will look in five years.

Cline: “Five years from now, we’re still going to have an amazing opportunity to grow our footprint in the United States. We’ll be a brand that has had five more years of outstanding unit growth. But it’ll be a business that can deliver things exceptionally—a more consistent experience, a more consistent guest experience and more engagement.”

HNN: What makes you the most excited about this role?

Cline: “I’m always the most excited if I’m in a role where I believe I can add value to the organization and can do it around people. The reason I came to La Quinta is because I found the hospitality industry extraordinarily exciting. I thought it would translate well from my retail experience. And second, I love the culture and the values here. Strong culture- and values-based companies drive extraordinary returns. It’s a really interesting puzzle to me, to figure out how to drive value.”

HNN: What larger challenges do you think the industry is facing these days?

Cline: “What are the most pressing challenges for lodging? Aside from the backdrop of oil, and what effects from that we’re seeing across the industry, I think there are three important issues we’re facing. 

“First is the continued growth and expansion of short-term rentals and their impact on our industry. At the end of the day, there’s a lot going on there, and I fully support having a level playing field. Second is the growth and strength and expansion of third-party channels into the industry. It’s not that we need to control all distribution, but it comes down to the fact that brands have a voice, and that voice should be heard. The third is a more near-term problem. This year we’re seeing a tightening of employment in our industry, and I think hotel companies will see competitive wage enforcement.”

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