Hunter Conference to honor Ray Schultz for entrepreneurial spirit

NATIONAL REPORT—The Hunter Conference Award for Excellence & Inspiration is given every year to an industry leader who has exemplified high standards in leadership, citizenship and innovation, and who has been an inspiration to the industry. While Raymond Schultz was chosen as this year’s honoree, he feels he’s really receiving the award on behalf of his long-lasting creation—the Hampton brand.

“I’m proud to be receiving the award, but I’m most proud that it’s the Hampton Inn brand that is really receiving it,” Schultz said, noting that Hampton has grown and flourished since he founded it in 1983. “I feel like I’m going to be accepting this award for a lot of people—teammates, franchisees, owners, operators, the people who had to risk their money on an unknown brand many years ago. It’s very meaningful.”

Lee Hunter, conference chair and COO of Hunter Hotel Advisors, noted that Schultz is receiving the award for his “tireless, entrepreneurial spirit.” He added, “Being an entrepreneur in the space who has made a significant impact in the industry is the spirit of the award. Ray had the concept, created it, grew the brand.”

While the creation of what is now Hampton by Hilton is certainly enough to merit an award, the honor is also about the brand’s impact on the industry overall. Today, select-service is the darling of the industry, thanks to customer demand and the efficiencies and returns this model can achieve. But that wasn’t the case in 1983 when Schultz, who is now managing partner of Schultz Hospitality LP, launched Hampton while he was working for Holiday Inns.

“It was a revolutionary concept back then,” Hunter said. “Today, we think of it as commonplace and normal, but he was a visionary… Select-service did not really exist until Hampton came along, and he built that into the powerhouse brand that it is today.”

“Once select-service caught on, not only Hampton, but [others] saw the advantage,” Schultz recalled, noting that they had a good feeling the model would catch on, but no inkling at just how far the brand would grow.

“I wish I could tell you that when we built the first one in Memphis, which opened in 1984, that I could be sitting here talking to you about a brand of more than 2,300 around the world,” he said. “We had a good feeling because of what was happening—the full-service midscale brands were all getting old. As a brand ages, unless there’s a very concerted effort to keep that brand fresh and have strict standards, you have a decline in the guest perception; they start staying in some of the older hotels and it’s not what they expected.

“We did our homework,” he continued. “It had great curb appeal, was easier to operate because a lack of food & beverage, had continental breakfast. The 100% satisfaction guarantee really became the culture of our company from top to bottom. It was not a gimmick; that was the key.”

Rick Schultz, SVP of hotel operations for Hilton’s focused-service division, who is also Ray Schultz’s son and will present him with the award, agreed. “The success of Hampton Inn and the creation of the first true 100% satisfaction guarantee in the industry really speaks for itself, not to mention the other brands that were influenced by his leadership,” he said, praising his father’s “ability to see the next big thing and his determination to create something new that would be viable in years, even decades, to come.

“As an award winner, he’s following other entrepreneurial winners who are free-thinkers, informed risk-takers and those grounded in doing the right thing,” Rick Schultz continued. “Ray’s contribution not only has had an impact on millions of satisfied travelers, he’s also taken his team, franchisees and capital partners along with him on the journey. It’s all about the team. He never forgets that.”

The Hilton executive noted that the best advice Ray Schultz ever gave him was this: “Never forget who the customer is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the guest in the room or the owner who has put his capital at risk—those are the needs that come first. If you prioritize your efforts around that, you’ll never go wrong.”

The biggest lessons, he said, included the following: “Always do the right thing, even if it costs you in the short term; Leadership can be a lonely place, but necessary at times. And never forget that as a
leader, it’s always better to be respected than to be liked; Be comfortable interacting at all levels of the business while constantly keeping in touch
with the front line. It’s the front line that keeps you grounded in reality; Remember that the hotel business is a small business. Everybody knows
everybody and relationships are king.”

Ray Schultz, who has also been a director of TBC Corp. and Equity Inns Inc., and CEO of Promus Hotel Corp., also had his hand in the creation of another long-standing industry mainstay—Holidex. After serving in the Air Force, Schultz took a job at IBM, heading the team that developed the Holidex system for Holiday Inns. This led to his career in hospitality.

“I never aspired to be a hotelier, but once I got into it, then I loved it,” Schultz said. “I met so many good people; it’s an industry with an entrepreneurial spirit.” HB