Ledsinger Looks Back At His First Year With Choice

SILVER SPRING, MD? When Charles Ledsinger arrived at Choice Hotels International as president/CEO in August 1998, some franchisees approached him with a singular concern. ?Are you going to sell the company?? they asked. It?s no wonder the question came up. Ledsinger has a heavy financial background, having served as senior vp/CFO of both The Promus Companies and then for Harrah?s Entertainment after it was spun off by Promus. And Choice? which has more than 5,000 hotels in its franchise system? had recently become a freestanding publicly-held company, having been spun off by Manor Care. Franchisees had another comment for Ledsinger. ?I was greeted with, ?Well, you?re the fourth or fifth CEO since I?ve been here,?? said Ledsinger. ?My response was ?Well, I can?t do anything about that. I?m here to make things better and let?s get on with it. I can?t help what happened before I arrived. We?re going to get it on the right track.?? Ledsinger had, indeed, arrived at Choice at a tumultuous time, thanks to a virtual revolving door in the top post of the Silver Spring, MD-based company. It started in 1995 with the departure of Bob Hazard, who at that point had held the title of president/CEO for many years. Don Landry was named president next, but he left quickly to head up Sunburst Hospitality. Bill Floyd then joined Choice from Pepsi in 1996 as president/CEO, but after a brief tenure, he left abruptly in 1998. When Ledsinger arrived that summer, the new CEO was faced with the task of reshaping a corporation on which its former leaders had left a deep imprint. Hazard was a tough act for anyone to follow; he is considered by many to be an innovative industry icon who helped build Choice Hotels into the network it is today. Hazard is also known to be rather outgoing. And while Floyd, another strong personality, is credited with having put many of Choice?s existing strategies in place, his abrupt departure left behind a corporation and franchise system wondering what was going on at the top. ?Bob Hazard is flamboyant and outspoken,? said Ledsinger, who conveys a thoughtful, focused and direct style. ?In many ways he built the system. I think for the time he was here he did a wonderful job. Bill Floyd was here for a much shorter period of time, but he made some changes that needed to be made,? he added. ?So when I arrived, there was a lot of turmoil. You had a company that had been under fairly paternalistic leadership with Bob, and Gerry Petitt and I don?t mean that in a negative sense. Bob was a very good marketing kind of guy and was certainly a presence,? he added. Ledsinger over the past year has steered through that turmoil. Internally, he has restructured Choice?s corporate culture, having found it to be largely a product of its predecessors? personalities. ?The company [over the past year]has changed a great deal. There were some strong personalities historically at the top, and those strong personalities were making all the decisions. That?s not how I operate,? said Ledsinger. ?What I do is to hire quality people and push decisions down to the people who are closer to the customers.? Choice?s internal structure has also changed to one that is much more performance-oriented, said Ledsinger. ?We had to redo a lot in terms of the human resources systems and the performance review systems, like initiating 360-degree feedback. That is something that frankly had never happened,? he said. Ledsinger said his way of providing leadership is to say ??Let me explain this to you so that we both understand what my expectation is of you on this job so that at the end of the year we can say, there?s been a change.? ?There are a lot of people here that were wired up that way anyway,? said Ledsinger. ?There were also some people who aren?t here who weren?t wired up that way. Now it?s a healthier environment.? Ledsinger said his style is one that works for Choice employees and franchisees alike. ?I feel I?ve made some real progress with th