Appointed CEO of Standard International in fall of 2021, Amber Asher now leads the charge for the company, where she’s worked for nearly 12 years, and its three global brands: Standard Hotels, Bunkhouse, and Peri Hotels. Asher marries years of experience as an attorney with her deep appreciation for hospitality to drive all facets of Standard International—the team, the properties, and its partners—forward.
Hospitality Design: What is your background?
Amber Asher: I started my career as a real estate and finance lawyer in New York when I was 25. In 2008, I went in-house to Morgans Hotel Group as associate general counsel and spent about four years navigating a newly public company through the global recession and its aftermath.
In 2011, I was on maternity leave with my first daughter, Bryce, when I was recruited to become general counsel and EVP for André Balazs Properties. At the time, André owned the Standard brand and his luxury properties: Chateau Marmont, the Mercer, Sunset Beach, and Chiltern Firehouse. Two years later, I represented André in the sale of the majority stake of the Standard to a group led by Amar Lalvani, our current executive chairman and former CEO. The day after the deal closed, I, along with most of the team, started working for Standard International—the new company Amar created to grow the Standard brand globally.
What did you learn from your time working at André Balazs Properties?
Andre is a perfectionist. It is all about the details—from the font of a name on an invitation to the Boom Boom Room to the size of an ice cube, the hue of lightbulb, and the shape of a wine glass. No detail was too small. It all formed part of the narrative he was telling and the scene he was setting in his spaces. I learned that delivering a memorable guest experience is all in the details—and that we must continue pushing boundaries to stay relevant.
What were those early days like at Standard International?
Standard International was formed in 2013, and that was such an exciting time. It marked the end of an important era for the Standard and the beginning of something new, full of ideas and energy. Under Amar’s leadership we got very serious about pursuing international expansion and delving into the tech space. We felt empowered to create and acquire additional brands, which represent an important part of our portfolio today. At the time, we all had a sense that the sky was the limit, and 10 years later we’re still thinking big.
How have you seen the Standard brand evolve since you joined?
When I joined the company in 2011, the Standard was known as a sexy, provocative, culture-oriented American brand with hotels in New York, LA, and Miami Beach. Expanding to Europe and Asia has allowed us to explore new dimensions of the brand that wouldn’t have resonated 10 or 20 years ago.
Today, we’re less about the velvet rope and more about creating an atmosphere where our guests feel respected and included. We often say, “We’re not for everyone, but everyone is welcome.” It’s easy to focus on the first half of that sentence. But the second half really makes the difference and informs everything we do.
We’re true to who we are and the original meaning of the brand, but we don’t get stuck in old ways of doing things. Our approach is more multicultural and international than ever before. When we introduce ourselves—to new neighborhoods, countries, and capital partners—we lead with respect and openness. The relationships we build are based on long-term shared goals, not just in established markets but up-and-coming locations.
What did you learn from your decade working alongside Amar Lalvani?
I learned so much from Amar from a business standpoint, he has a brilliant business mind and can distill complex issues into succinct ideas. He is also a visionary in our industry and has pushed Standard and Bunkhouse to carry on their legacies while evolving to meet the needs and desires of the next generation in an ever-changing landscape. But more importantly, I learned how to be a kind and compassionate leader even in the face of adversity. Our decade together was not an easy one, but we persevered through some of the most challenging times in my career with many laughs and a lot of wine.
What are the challenges in growing a hotel brand?
Scale is so critical to stabilize a hotel brand. Many brands, such as ours, are asset light. Our brands, contracts, and teams are our assets. To be profitable, you need scale and a strong, ever-growing pipeline. This takes time and patience, since as we know, hotel projects can take five to seven years from inception to opening in some cases. Scaling with creativity and brand integrity is equally important, and this comes down to the team you choose and our commitment to their development and growth as the company develops and grows. On the flip side, we can never become complacent. Continuous evolution and the questioning of the status quo is essential.
How has your past as an attorney informed your new role?
The lessons learned during my years as an in-house counsel were, without a doubt, my most formative, and prepared me, not only for this role as CEO, but for industry upending events like a global pandemic. As a general counsel, you deal with the biggest crisis a company can face, but you also drive the business forward through strategy and deal making. You touch every discipline. I was certainly someone who kept taking on more in areas outside of my scope, which gave me a great foundation for my previous position as president of Standard International. Amar and I worked hand in hand during those four years, so stepping into the role as CEO felt like a natural progression.
How do you see the industry evolving?
The industry is pulling back from some of the assumptions we made in recent years. For example, the idea that work and free time would be forever blurred. The world has certainly changed, but some of those old lines are sharpening again. People turn to travel and hospitality to take a break from life stress, home stress, work stress. We’re not taking those things on vacation with us, if we can help it.
By resetting those boundaries, leisure time can just be leisure time again—not a mixture of everything. There will always be business travelers and digital nomads, but so many guests want to unplug and escape when they travel, to be wowed and disconnected from the everyday. That’s what our hotels do best, so it’s a welcome shift. In a way, the industry is returning to what it’s supposed to be.
You’ve worked with a lot of notable design collaborators. What do you look for in those partnerships?
We’ve been blessed with top-tier design collaborators to help us make our visions a reality. Our in-house design team identifies the dream partnership for each project, nurtures these relationships, and works alongside our designers throughout the process to create the rich and distinctive design experience that our hotels are known for.
Where would you like to plant Standard’s flag next?
Our list is long, but we definitely have our sights set on certain key cities. We have a strong development pipeline and will be opening in Singapore, Melbourne, Lisbon, Dublin, Dubai, Austin, Mexico, Brussels, and many more. We are also determined to open Standards in Paris, Milan, Sydney, Mexico City, Bali, and Los Angeles (back by popular demand). We used to only look at gateway urban markets, but now, with our increased footprint, capabilities, distribution, and growing global team—not to mention the exodus of many city dwellers to new, less populated markets—our wish list continues to grow. It’s expanded into areas like island resorts (take the Maldives, for example), ski resorts, and secondary cities like Nashville or Detroit.
You also have residences in your portfolio. Why was that a natural extension for the Standard?
For the Standard, branded residences are a natural extension of what we already offer through our hotels: great design, compelling cultural programming, innovative culinary experiences, and fun. In this post-pandemic era, people may opt to spend more time at home but still crave community and want more out of their personal spaces. Our residences reflect a known brand aesthetic, personality, sense of humor, and distinctive approach to life. Interiors that evoke our unique design philosophy provide a private experience of these concepts. We have been inspired by the development of our Standard residences in Midtown Miami, which we are developing in partnership with Rosso Development, and in Lisbon, Portugal, and have more exciting residential and mixed-use projects on the horizon.
How are you planning to expand other brands like Bunkhouse and Peri?
Bunkhouse and Peri are built for growth, thanks to the smaller scale of those hotels. One of our priorities is finding ways to align with individual capital partners on multiple projects. Often, a partner will have several assets in need of management, some of which are right for the Standard but others that may be better suited to another of our brands. Our development team walks those partners through lots of options and configurations (including residences) that best match a particular asset.
Did the pandemic slow down your plans or rethink Standard’s growth strategy?
If anything, it accelerated our growth. For Bunkhouse, we were able to capitalize on conversion opportunities and smaller hotels that could not survive the pandemic. For Standard, we intensified our focus on business development and closing deals. We signed a record number of deals during COVID and in the last 12 months. The shift of city dwellers to new places to live and play created new opportunities and markets for us to explore.
What keeps you passionate about hospitality?
To be in hospitality, you must truly love taking care of people. You must be able to approach collaboration with an open heart and determination to solve any challenge that comes your way. I love working with our team and finding new ways to overcome, surprise, and delight. This business isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.