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Wyndham’s Pierce to set Hotel Group strategy

Tuesday October 21st, 2008 - 2:50PM

PARSIPPANY, NJ—Wyndham Hotel Group has seen a number of changes on its executive roster over the past several weeks. While the departure of CEO Steve Rudnitsky has been the most publicized of those changes, the company has also done a bit of reshuffling to better prepare it for the years ahead, including the promotion of Keith Pierce from group president to president of brand operations for the Americas. Now responsible for Wyndham Hotel Group’s overall strategy and revenue growth as well as overseeing product quality, global brand standards and customer satisfaction, Pierce sees his new post as an extension of his previous position. “For me, it’s really an expansion of my role as group president and builds on my previous responsibilities,” he said. After being central to the advancement of Wyndham’s Ramada, Knight’s Inn and Baymont brands, Pierce is now looking forward to playing a role in all of the company’s nine brands. “It’s a great new opportunity to help grow our core brands. Things have been good in the past, but now we are really focusing our expansion efforts and giving great depth to our brands,” Pierce said, adding that a key component of that growth are Wyndham Hotel Group’s two newest brands gained from its acquisition of U.S. Franchise Systems—Microtel Inn & Suites and Hawthorn Suites. “I played a role in the USFS acquisition, so it’s great to now be able to see things through with the two brands,” he said. The company’s executive reorganization also included the promotion of Duane Elledge, the former senior vp of group operations in North America, to the position of executive vp of brand services, as well as the consolidation of its distribution, channel management and reservation functions under Jeff Edwards, Wyndham Hotel Group’s chief information office and executive vp of revenue services. “We’re excited about the future. This realignment has made us more nimble and more focused going forward,” Pierce said. Pierce explained that the reorganization of Wyndham Hotel Group’s executive team was designed to further three main goals. “While we basically have the same senior team in place, our recent realignment is first and foremost driven by our commitment as a company to continue our rooms growth by acquisitions. We also want to continue to drive RevPAR growth brand-wide,” he said. The third component is centered on improving better service. “We are focused on continuing to improve customer service for our licensees and also for our consumers,” Pierce said. “We are addressing that immediately in order to get us through and out of 2009.” Pierce explained the changes Wyndham Hotel Group is making help its licensees by reducing the number of touch points within the company, making operations more efficient. But while its top team is solid, Pierce did comment on the absence of Rudnitsky and noted the company is looking for “most likely someone with experience in the hospitality business” to fill the vacant CEO position at Wyndham. “Steve is a very talented individual. He was a great leader and brought a lot of strategic thinking to the company, particularly when it came to international expansion. We were very fortunate to have him,” he said. “But we have to press on and our team is committed to our brands moving forward.” In the midst of Wyndham’s executive realignment and Rudnitsky’s departure exists the challenge of the current economic situation, and particularly the recent crisis in the financial market. However, Pierce stressed the company has done its due diligence to anticipate the downturn. “It’s been a tough year so far for everyone. But I think our hotel group really has gotten ahead of the downturn. We ‘read the tea leaves’ so to speak and took precautions as best we could by working with our properties,” Pierce said. Pierce said that included working with franchisees “early on to make sure they were prepared. We made sure properties were being priced correctly for their respective markets and that they were using appropriate customer service techniques.” Overall, Pierce is confident Wyndham Hotel Group will be able to weather the down cycle in the market because of the stability of its franchising business. “We have a very strong model in place in the event we run into a tough time. We will continue to sell our franchises aggressively because in a downturn it is often the independent properties out there than need that advantage,” he commented. “Our goal is to drive performance through RevPAR and rooms growth.” Despite preparations, Wyndham is feeling some pressure, but Pierce stressed projects are still moving forward, and particularly for the brands that traditionally are made up of smaller hotels, such as Microtel. “Our strategy is to continue to grow Microtel the same way USFS did through new construction,” Pierce said, adding he expects the downturn to last into 2010. “The big new construction deals that have not yet secured financing are very challenging right now. That is the case for everyone. But if you have the financing and the commitment is there, things are still OK.” While Wyndham continues to move forward with plans for Microtel, the company is still evaluating the future of the Hawthorn brand. “We’re examining the best way to grow through a mix of new construction and conversions,” Pierce said, adding he is working with Roy Flora, group president of the Microtel, Hawthorn and, most recently, Baymont brands, to develop a plan, but Hawthorn will remain a pure extended-stay product. As of Nov. 1, Wyndham Hotel Group will have both new brands assimilated into its central reservations system.

—Lauren Esposito