On Monday, I had the privilege to interview Stewart Bainum, Jr. about the hotel business and his life philosophy. It was appropriate because he had just accepted ALIS’ prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.
As background, Stewart has previously held the role of CEO of Choice Hotels (his father was founder) and became chairman in 1987. He has been chairman ever since and has grown the organization from 290 hotels to 6,900 franchised hotels. Stewart has also served eight years as a delegate and senator in the Maryland General Assembly. He has been philanthropic to the point that, when I asked him about why he has taken the Warren Buffett challenge, he told me, “My wife and I actually promised to give our money back to society years before!”
As for innovation, Choice has a significant track record of being the first to offer things we now consider hotel industry standards, like segmented hotel brands, 24-hour desk service, and non-smoking rooms. More recently, Choice can take credit for being the first asset-light hotel company and the first to launch a soft brand: The Ascend Hotel Collection. When I asked Stewart about these innovations, he jokingly said: “I can only take credit for the last 62 years, when I started working for the company as a janitor.”
But here’s what Stewart told me about long-term planning, which will resonate with many top CEOs I know, “The key for a leader is to think in terms of decades, not years or quarters, and lay out a vision. We have big, audacious goals for the future of Choice Hotels, which, with the team we have in place now, we’re going to live out.”