Q&A with Bill Doak Stockdale Capital Partners

With more than 30 years of hospitality experience, Doak has held senior leadership roles in operations, marketing, product development and asset management with CIM Group, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Ian Schrager Company, JRK Hotel Group, Loews Hotels and Morgans Hotel Group. Now, he’s taking his talents to Stockdale Capital Partners, a Los Angeles-based, vertically integrated real estate investment firm.

Much like other celebrated industry veterans, Doak comes from humble hospitality beginnings, getting his start as a bellman, as well as a restaurant server and a sales intern with Four Seasons Hotels. These experiences exposed Doak to the basics at an early age, creating a strong foundation for an illustrious hospitality career.

Fast forward to today, Doak recently led Stockdale’s acquisition of the former hClub located at 1717 Vine St. in Hollywood and is spearheading all of Stockdale’s hospitality industry-related initiatives.

Hotel Business caught up with Doak about the new role, his plans for the coming years and how his early-learned values inform his work ethic and optimism.

Why hospitality? What about the industry inspires and motivates you? Because I am a “people pleaser,” I am genuinely inspired by the opportunity to be hospitable. I am motivated by the opportunity to align the interests of customers, employees and investors to create a sustainable income model.

Alignment comes from an agreement of expectations. The first thing to expect is that perfect alignment is fleeting and the work to achieve balance never ends. Begin with aligned objectives and then maintain active transparent communication in the effort to achieve them for each interest.

Customers are satisfied when their expectations are met. Customers are inspired when their expectations are exceeded. Obtainable and sustainable expectations establish the foundation to exceed.

What was your first hospitality job? What did you learn from it? I started as a bellman at a luxury hotel and quickly learned the power of a single gesture and the ability of a single employee to transform a complete guest experience. My intentions were authentic, and I received great satisfaction from creating an enjoyable experience for guests and for my colleagues. The gratuities were amazing, too.

What do you like best about your new position? I am approaching four decades of working in the hospitality industry with a broad range of experiences that cover every aspect of the hotel business and the business of hotels. For the duration of my career, it has been my good fortune to be mentored by some of the greatest hoteliers, industry innovators and successful investors in the hospitality industry. My role at Stockdale Capital Partners allows, and demands, that I engage all of my senses in sourcing, securing, planning and executing hotel investments.

What’s the most challenging part of your position? We are truly opportunistic investors with keen real estate insight and no boundaries to our vision. We develop our plans based on the opportunities we see, and this requires me to foster and celebrate unconstrained ideas and channel them into a strategic action plan specific to each investment. Execution is also my responsibility and relies on my leadership to ensure our hospitality team has the tools and clear direction to fulfill our strategy. All this in an environment of constant change.

What keeps you awake at night? The excitement of tomorrow… I am an optimist at heart and a learned realist. The hospitality industry will rise from ruin, driven by the demand for in-person socialization and adventure, and from the available spending power. Changed expectations from guests, employees and investors will drive creative innovations that will evolve a new and improved version of world travel. This pandemic forced dramatic changes where a gradual change was already emerging. I am in a position to innovate and execute and this is very exciting.

How do you maintain a work/life balance? I listen to my family and friends. I am very fortunate to have great wealth in these areas, and while it is easy for me to get lost in my work responsibilities, having them to compel me toward other adventures, whether it is moments or days, has been a saving grace.

What is something the industry may not know about you? My father was a minister who was authentically committed to grace and gratitude. Both of my parents engaged in hospitality by inviting people of all interests, cultures, religions and race into our home, always making them feel welcome and comfortable without effort or distinction. I was 20 years into the hospitality industry before I realized this fundamental link to my professional pursuits.

What challenges is the hotel industry currently facing? How do you/your company plan on overcoming those? There are two converging forces that are challenging our industry: the cost of labor and the charge to earn quick and high returns.
We have always been a business that relied on people to fulfill the essence of our product. I have witnessed strategies that yielded short-term gains by breaking from this promise and simply cutting labor, without any other product strategy. These reactionary shortcuts do not always fail quickly, but they do fail.

The cost of labor will continue to rise, whether through scarcity, employment protections, collective bargaining agreements and opportunities to earn more in other industries. Investor demands will continue to drive decisions.
While it is easier said than done, we develop our strategies with a product plan based on realistic labor expectations, an understanding of the guest expectations and a laser focus on our investment returns.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received and what piece of advice would you give to young hoteliers? My first management job out of college was at a theme restaurant and night club at the gate of a local tourist attraction. We would do over 3,000 meal covers and another 1, 000 bar covers in a day. I was fortunate to have been taken under the wing of a veteran general manager. His first words of advice to me were, “Never appear to be reacting.” He explained that change, disruption, course correction and interruptions are built-in to the hospitality business. If you appear to be reacting, you clearly do not know your business. Rather, he advised, “Expect it.”

My advice to young hoteliers would be to understand the difference between the hotel business and the business of hotels. Plan your career path according to where you want to be.

What’s your five/10-year plan? My five-year plan is to complete the transactional cycle of investment to disposition of our portfolio target. In 10 years, we just might complete the cycle twice.

Without getting into granular detail, the pathway to effective execution of our investment plan is the alignment of people, product and profit that I referenced earlier as employees, customers and investors. We have opportunities now to begin our investment at an attractive basis, but the effective outcome will require the ability to identify opportunities and effect change in the business plan.