Radisson announced your hiring on March 16—just as the COVID-19 situation was reaching a critical point in the U.S. How would you describe your first two months on the job?
Given the rapidly developing pandemic hitting so many countries including the Americas, I engaged earlier than planned. By March 14 we made the decision to close the Minneapolis offices, softly on the 16th and 17th, and fully by Wednesday the 18th. That was difficult for me because I wanted to meet everyone. We cancelled a Town Hall where our global CEO, Federico González was scheduled to make my introduction (all flights from Europe were cancelled that weekend), and I hunkered down with our Americas Executive Committee so we could make plans to carry out business as usual on behalf of our owners and franchisees. I was very fortunate to join a truly global organization with deep resources within my own team with our Americas COO, Aly El-Bassuni, our Americas CCO, Kristen Richter, and our Americas CFO, Amber Thiel. Along with the global team we were ready to be there on behalf of our guests and owners.

How do you see the next 12 months unfolding for Radisson and all its brands?
We need to get back on a steady glide-path to our existing 5-year plan. That means three things to me: growth, cost control, and revenue generation. In the Americas, we have a roadmap for success laid out by Federico based on the success throughout the rest of the world. As we all emerge from this pandemic, there will be opportunity for us to present RHG to market the benefits of scale at a manageable level. We have a streamlined strategy of one brand per segment. Our commercial engine and development efforts are focused on an owner’s asset specifically in their market segment. We don’t offer multiple brands competing at their same target ADR or +/- $5-10. The hotel business will be commoditized for a while as travelers won’t always distinguish between limited and full service, as full-service hotels will operate more like limited service. Some brand families could be feeding too many brands from the same engine. We have real separation to offer.

What’s the key to recovery for the U.S. hotel industry?
It will take a full airline schedule and lifting of international travel restrictions to bring back the U.S. hotel industry. That is the hard truth. The predicate to this is quite complex as you can imagine. Certainly, a vaccine and reliable therapeutics for COVID-19 will be a game-changer, but we cannot rely on this today. The next key is confidence from the traveling public that we, as hotel operators and brands have developed new protocols and procedures to increase safety from COVID-19 for our guests and employees. There are two more aspects to safety and those are owner focused. The first being a limit to or exclusion of liability from legal action against our owners and us as a franchisor from litigation arising from anyone claiming they contracted COVID-19 from our hotels. The second is financial security for hotel owners. There is going to have to be wholesale changes or at least short-term modifications in a lender’s ability to force hotels into a lock-box situation or worse yet, initiate default and foreclosure activities against owners for what is a truly global problem. We cannot have a culture of only the strong survive or a huge percentage of our U.S. hotel stock will be owned by less than 12 private equity groups.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your nearly 35-year career in the hotel industry?
Stay in touch with your mentors and past colleagues. In 35 years, this is my fifteenth position in either real estate or hospitality. In over half of the instances I moved to a new position to work for/with a former colleague. Work and personal life merged so long ago that I could not even remember when it happened. My colleagues are my friends and friends are colleagues. When you work for some of the hard-driving people I have worked for, your personal life gets seconded to your professional life. I think most of my development and executive peers have almost all inspected properties while on vacation or started a vacation while on a business trip. I used to use an old-fashioned Rolodex and gave it up, reluctantly just a few short years ago – but each had multiple entries. The biggest lesson is to ‘stay in touch’, it pays off.

You have a lot of franchising and development experience in your background. How would you describe your role in those two disciplines in your new job?
Our 5-year plan built by Federico González and executed by our global teams is our path to success. That plan in the U.S. had only one opportunity which I am keenly focused on and that’s the growth of the system. Without growth, you have no basis to drive synergy in a franchise-centric organization. I have been fortunate to be part of building great teams at many different organizations for owned, managed, and franchised systems. Federico and our ownership did not select a CEO for this region with a predominantly development background by accident. Everything else in the Americas was working as planned. We plan to grow our business in the Americas substantially over the next few years. My background allows me to assist our owners with a variety of issues. I have helped take brands to new levels, with help, back to the Starwood days. We intend to do the same here for all seven of our brands.

Choose one word to describe today’s lending environment. Why did you choose that word?
That word is consternation. As a lender your actions are governed in a highly regulated environment. Specifically, with CMBS, a huge number of hotels are technically in default and should be in special servicing. Typically, it doesn’t happen to a massive percentage of the entire books of these loans all at one time for the same reason. Technically, they know what they are supposed to do, but practically, the system cannot even handle this volume, nor should they. There needs to be some global thinking or omnibus action to protect borrowers. Community bankers have more latitude, but it is not like they are Bailey Building & Loan from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” They are regulated too, but they are also relationship lenders. The word is consternation. They have obligations to get that debt service coming in, but they also know exactly why it cannot happen.

What’s the one takeaway people should know about Jim Alderman?
I am a better singer than a guitar player. More related to this line of questioning though, I build successful teams. My colleagues succeed in their positions, they grow, they migrate to higher posts with more responsibilities and they go on to do great things. I cannot even count the number of people from former assistants that are now Senior Vice Presidents in our industry to first year analysts that are now in C-Suites or have their own Private Equity funds that were all formerly players on my teams. I am not claiming to be the solely responsible party, but I draft well. I was raised by two parents who were coaches, and that is what we do.