Jun 28, 2023

Episode 111

Roger Hill + Andrew Fay

Andrew Fay and Roger Hill Gettys Group headshot


Roger Hill and Andrew Fay met at Cornell University and became fast friends bonding over their shared passion for hospitality. In 1988, they took a leap of faith and founded the Gettys Group. It was a big risk at the time, but one that has paid off in the three-plus decades they’ve run the Chicago-based company as CEO and president, respectively. Their work speaks for itself. Consider the Farnam hotel‘s vibrant interiors, which have reinvigorated Omaha, Nebraska, or Grand Bohemian Orlando’s lush designs.

Today, the 70-person firm is made up of experts in everything from interiors and development to branding and procurement. This collaborative spirit has allowed the Gettys Group to offer a truly holistic approach to design, ensuring that each project is as unique and memorable as the next.


Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: Hi. I’m here with Andrew Fay and Roger Hill of the Gettys Group. Thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Roger Hill: Great.

Andrew Fay: Very well. Very well. Lovely to be here.

SSR: We always start at the beginning. So Roger, let’s start with you. Where did you grow up?

RH: I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, right across the border here, Illinois. It’s a wonderful place to grow up. Smaller town, a hundred thousand people and very different from raising a family here in Chicago. But I’m a Cheesehead still, loyalist, diehard Green Bay Packer fan. We’re doing some really interesting work up there right now, so love growing up there. And Chicago was just a place I spent a lot of time in my youth. So fun to be here and having started this great company.

SSR: Were you creative as a kid? What were you like as a kid?

RH: I did. My mom and dad really encouraged us to do creative play and from an imagination perspective. So I played with a lot of boxes and built things. And then I got really interested in theater and did stage production and also did a little acting myself. And then my sister was a really world claimed opera singer, so I got the chance to see her singing all over the world. And I think that certainly inspired me to understand how interesting it was to be part of creating unique experiences. And then without a doubt, all the stage management work I did and set building got me interested in development and design. And here we are.

SSR: Wait, your sister was a really acclaimed opera singer. I didn’t know that. That’s amazing.

RH: She still is, yeah. But not as active, but she sang all over the world and then there’s a big age difference between the two of us. So my parents, when she was going to school in Milwaukee and performing there, I would go at a very young age. And what I think incited me about the theater, I liked the production, but I love being behind the sets and climbing up in the rafters. And of course that was well before OSHA was around so I could just climb all around these production facilities, never be allowed to do that today. But it was really fun a lot of years ago.

SSR: Amazing. Were your parents in the creative field?

RH: Actually, my mom was one of the first female graduates at Northwestern. She’s no longer with us and makes my heart warm that you had the pleasure of meeting my mom and dad on a number of occasions. And she was a theater major and communications major at Northwestern and was really going down that path when she fell in love with my dad and my sister then I think really took to the passion even though my mom was working, she taught a lot of creative dramatics in our hometown. So my sister would go to those classes and next thing you know she became an actress and an opera singer.

SSR: Amazing. AndI went to Northwestern, so that warms my heart that she also went there. I was not at theater school though. I’m not a good actor. Okay, so we’ll get back to you in a minute, Roger. Andrew, let’s go over to you. Where did you grow up?

AF: Well, I like to say I grew up in the deep, deep, deep, deep, deep south in Tasmania, which is a little island state south of mainland Australia. It’s actually basically the last stop before Antarctica. I mean it’s steeped in natural beauty and it’s lovely rural, pastoral, ocean, super sleepy kind of quiet place. My mother had a horse farm and so our little farm was outside of the main city there in a little town called Campania. And unlike the megalopolis of Racine, our population was 28. There was a little sign when you came into town, population 28. So we had a gas station, a convenience store, and a few farms. And our big claim to fame was that our next door neighbor was Rodney Bevin, who was the state plowing champion.

SSR: I am dying. That’s amazing.

AF: Yeah. So that’s where I started out. And then I left, I went to boarding school at age 11 in Melbourne. I have two brothers and my mother was like, this is a great place to grow up and you really probably shouldn’t stay here for the rest of your life. So she quickly sent us off to boarding school to start to learn about the big wide world outside of 28 people in Campania.

SSR: Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. So what were you like as a kid? Were you creative as well?

AF:I’m mean a little bit creative. I’ve been very interested in the arts. I played a lot of piano as a small fellow. I had started I think piano lessons when I was three or four and then did that all the way until we started our business. And then I don’t think I’ve played the piano since we started the business. So I’m actually thinking that could be a fun thing to do later in life is actually sit back down at the keyboard and have a few lessons because it’s not like riding a bike. You really lose that skill if you don’t do it pretty much every day. So that’s something I’m looking forward to at some point.

SSR:  I learned that the hard way as well. You go off to boarding school. What was leaving 28 people and going to such an amazing city like Melbourne like?

AF: Yeah, I mean eye opening really. And I went to a fabulous school and people from all around the world were there and some people really raised their eyebrows and they’re like, oh my god, you were kicked out of the house at age 11. What terrible parents. But I mean it was a really amazing experience. And I think when you leave home at that early age, I mean leave a loving home and we saw a lot of our parents during that period, but it was a plane ride away. And so you really had to learn how to make your own way in the world particularly ’cause we were the youngest kids. I was at age 11, you’re the very bottom rung of a very hierarchical, old-fashioned British boarding school. In fact, I was there with my brothers Richard and Tony, and we were known as Fay Major, Fay Minor, and Fay Minimus. I was Fay Minimus.

Rand Tower Hotel, Minneapolis, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio Hotel

Rand Tower Hotel, Minneapolis, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio Hotel; photo by Brandon Barré

SSR: You both met at Cornell, right?  Andrew, let’s stick with you. What drove you to go to Cornell from Melbourne? 

AF: I was meant to be going to law school and I’d been accepted at law school at Melbourne University and was like, oh, I should take a year off and do something different. And so I went back to Tasmania and went to the hotel school there for a year. I thought I’d just go for a year, learn a few skills and then I could pay for my way as a waiter or whatever going through university and ended up staying and then joined Regent Hotels in a management training program. And so I worked for Regent for a couple of years in Melbourne and then I went to the general manager one day and I said, “Mr. Nitschke, I think I’m ready to become the assistant manager or maybe your job in a year or two.” And he was like, “I think that’ll be in about 15 or 20 years.” I said, “well that doesn’t really work for me.” And so he said, “You should go to hotel school in the States.” At the hotel school I went to in Tasmania, Cornell was kind of like the preeminent school and a lot of the research that we worked on and study was coming out of Cornell. So I applied to go to Cornell and was accepted. And so marched off there and it was literally on day one that I bumped into one Roger Hill. We were in line queuing up, registering for classes. That was kind of the old-fashioned way you did things and we became fast friends. And you know what? Pretty much here we are nearly 40 years later, we’ve been in each other’s lives daily for the last 40 years. We just went on vacation together last week. People were like, what’s wrong with you? You work together and you go on vacation together. Well, yeah, seriously, get a life.

SSR: So Roger, how did you end up at Cornell?

RH: Similar kind of experience in the sense of a career counselor guiding me there, but as a little guy, and for the listeners out there that are obviously much younger than me, when Holiday Inn started, there was a thing called the Holidome. And growing up in the Midwest, you’d get loaded up in the car, we’d go to Springfield to learn about Abraham Lincoln and you’d stay in a Holidome. And I was like, wow, this Holidome’s kind of a cool thing. And fast-forward to high school, talking to the college counselor, “I really like hospitality, where should I go to school?” And they were like, “If you go to Cornell, it’d be a great place for you to go.” So I always had a desire to do something in the hospitality industry because it looked like just a great career path and I love people and I love being around interesting people that I can learn from. And that’s how I ended up there. I was fortunate enough to get in and as Andrew said, I just literally met Andrew the first day and he’s godfather to our daughter Madeline. And I met my wife because of him so super close.

SSR: All right. So you go to hotel school, but how did Gettys come about out of that?

AF: There were four of us originally. So Ari and Julius and Roger and I were all at college together and graduated, we went our own separate ways for a little while, and then decided to get back together and start the company. And that was in 1988. And a lot of people are like, oh my God, what was the plan and did you think that you’d be doing this and that? Now Roger will probably give you a different version of this, but I’ll tell you, there was really no grand plan. I always say for me personally, I was at the height of my professional naivety and it was like, let’s start a business and see how it goes. And if it doesn’t work out, you can get another job. Now the reality is today, 40 years later, we need to make this work because I think we’re unemployable. We basically never worked anywhere else, so I’m not sure we could get a job anywhere else. And so thank heavens it is still working out after all these years. I know, Rog, you have a slightly different take on that.

RH: I would just layer onto it that what was wonderful and still is today about the Cornell Hotel Schools is there were a lot of case study learning. So Andrew and I, because we were friends and Julius and Ari, we did projects, classes together where you got to work together. As we know the industry goes through cycles, and it was just coming out of a cycle where there were a lot of hotels that were built for the wrong reasons that we were talking about in our economics classes or whatever. And we were seeing, hey, this is really amazing design, doesn’t make any economic sense. Hey, maybe that’s an opportunity for us someday after we go work someplace. So we were definitely cooking up an idea like, hey, it would be interesting to work together. But to Andrew’s point, we didn’t have a vision like, Hey, let’s go work for other firms and start this business at a particular time. But we certainly liked one another’s company and sort of saw that maybe there was an opportunity to do something unique in the market that didn’t already exist.

AF: Originally, we were in the design and procurement business and what we saw a lot when we were doing some noodling and figuring out a niche for the business that we wanted to be in the hospitality and in the design and procurement space. But a lot of great design firms did not necessarily at that time have the, I guess the professional rigor, the focus on the business of design versus just the creative piece. And I think from day one, that’s something that we brought to it and continue to do to this day.

SSR: And so there wasn’t a master plan, but what did the four of you say? Gettys is going to be X? What was that initial idea?

RH: Well, Ari and Julius and I were working together at another design firm that a professor of ours from Cornell had started. So we’d been working together for a little over a year and super talented individual. But there were other areas that we thought that, to Andrew’s point being naive, hey, there is an opportunity that we could do things differently and great creative person, but from a perspective of just human resource expertise, not great. So we saw an opportunity to take some of the stuff that we’d learned and talked about starting this business. Andrew was working at L&H at a consulting firm specializing in hospitality consulting. And we then were like, Hey, maybe there is an opportunity. And as Andrew said, there was not a lot of risk we were taking, we didn’t have a lot of obligations. And we ended up finding a very friendly landlord who basically bankrolled the starting of our business, signed a couple year lease and in return, we just had to pay for operating expenses. They built out our space and we had to do space planning for other tenants. So we were scrappy in that regard and said, Hey, let’s go out and try to make this happen. So that’s basically how it all started.

AF: When you think about it now, it was fun kind of reflecting on all of this all these years later, Stacy, but it was kind of brazen for four people with no design background or no professional design training who never really procured anything to start a hospitality design and procurement firm. It was a bit scrappy at the beginning. A handful of people initially took a big risk on hiring us and then we started delivering. And so the business really started to take off. And then hiring some great people that had amazing design cred as well.

RH: To Andrew’s earlier point about just that we were new enough from our Cornell experience that we could combine this pragmatism along with creativity. And we were coming out this time where all these hotels had been built for the wrong reasons and they were being returned to lenders even though we didn’t have a lot of experience, we didn’t have a blemished track record, so we knocked on the doors of MetLife and Prudential and all these big institutions. They’re like, well, these guys don’t have a lot of experience, but they went to Cornell and we got a hotel, we’re not sure what we’re going to do with it. We can’t sell it right now ’cause we’re in the midst of a recession and it needs repair. These guys can help us. So that was a very unique window for us, even lacking the expertise. We had a good business thesis, which people really appreciated.

AF: We were enthusiastic. But I would say too, I mean that’s one of the reasons I think the business has been successful overall too, because it says the name isn’t Andrew and Roger’s design firm, or it’s not just about a couple of key people. It’s about the entire team at the Gettys Group companies. And I think the fact that we did bring all of that business process and approach and rigor and systems mean that the company continues to roll today and could easily do without us ultimately as well because it’s not reliant on us for everything.

RH: Over the years, we added branding and development and now we saw just a really beautiful opportunity to vertically integrate all those things and offer people a full bundle. And obviously from a consumer’s perspective, we all are accustomed to a B2C bundled solution when we’re shopping on Amazon, but for our clients now pre-pandemic, there were certainly a portion of people that loved being able to bundle this service. But post pandemic, because companies are lean and mean, they’re really loving our ability to look through this lens of being able to offer a total solution, which to your point and Andrew’s point, we can do because of the great team that we have here. We surrounded ourselves with really talented people and partners.

Bar Rufus Minneapolis Minnesota Rand Tower Hotel

Bar Rufus at Minneapolis’ Rand Tower Hotel; photo by Brandon Barré

SSR:What was your first real job? What was one of your first gigs? 

AF: We were engaged by a Hyatt hotel in the suburbs of Chicago to recolor the toilet partitions in the public restrooms. And so did an incredible job with that clearly. That hotel has subsequently been demolished. It had nothing to do with our work in the public restrooms, but I think the fact that we actually took that job on gave us a little bit of credibility with Hyatt. The big one that made the difference for us, Stacy, was the Hyatt Regency Chicago where we were engaged to renovate a couple of thousand hotel rooms and then several of their ballrooms and banquet rooms and meeting spaces. That was a bit of a gamechanger for us and really set us up for a lot more work with Hyatt. It was also a really interesting project because a massive project at the time. And so the renovation machine starts at the top and then we’ve got a couple of floors and a couple of buffer floors and guests, and the machine just rolls all the way down. And it’s kind of a funny Chicago story because the people that were meant to haul away all the gear that was taken out of the guestrooms went on strike or didn’t turn up. I can’t remember all the details. And so all of those pieces, like Armoires and such, were all stacking up on lower Wacker Drive. And a very Chicago solution to a problem, you just got the word out on the street and before you know it, terribly efficient ambulances had credenzas on top of them. Police cars had mini bars attached. I mean, people were just coming to lower Wacker Drive and just cleaned out all of the stuff that was coming down through this renovation.

SSR: What was it like in the early days trying to grow this business and is there something you wish you had known then that you know now or knew a little bit later? Or was ignorance a little bit of bliss?

RH: There’s plenty that we wish we’d known today what we learned back then, that’s for sure. I mean, it definitely was a real eye-opening experience. But I think to Andrew’s earlier point, that’s one of the interesting things about starting when there’s low risks. But I think from our perspective, having that green pasture also allowed us to have a bit of that gravitas and relationship to taking on things that probably initially we weren’t the right people for, but we were a fast study. So back to again, all these lenders, we early on were not only doing design work, but we were doing consulting work for them in the sense of, hey, we only have a certain amount of money to spend, help us work with the brands to spend this money in the right places. So we were empowered in a way that traditionally design firms aren’t, because there wasn’t a formal RFP process, we just were knocking on the doors of these reluctant owners we’re like, Hey, we need your help. And we worked together to come up with a solution that would keep the hotel companies happy. And that was a really interesting way for us to show early on our ability to problem solve and create value in ways that our competitors were not thinking. We were really balancing true guests understanding of like, Hey, how is this insurance company going to make money? Not how are we going to build something that’s a monument to ourselves?

AF: We were really good salespeople, I’ll tell you that. We could go out there and sell it. And then we’d come back to the office and go, God, how are we going to do that? And so generally speaking, I think we figured it out as we went along. And then I think really being honest with yourself and understanding your shortcomings, I mean, know what you don’t know and seek help, I think is something that I would pass along to people because we pretty much didn’t know a lot at all, but we certainly dug deep to find people that could help us. And people, particularly in our industry, the hospitality industry and the design sector are so gracious with their desire to help and particularly young people starting out. And we do that a lot today as well.

When people call us and ask for a bit of advice, they’re like, oh God, I’m going to have to try and get off the phone this guy’s not going to shut up. But I mean, there’s so much that people want to help and people want you to be successful. And we really feel that way about it today. And I would say even our vendor partners that we work with forever, I always laugh with the Dobins, Dan and Judy is like, you had no business giving us credit when you did. I mean, you had no idea if we’d be able to pay our bills. And that worked out too. And then we’ve been together with Dan and Judy and the whole Valley Forge clan for 35 years. But I mean, seeking help from people and not being afraid to ask for help or not being afraid to tell them what your challenge is or what you don’t know, I think is a really good thing for people to do.

SSR: How big is your firm now? Can you talk too a little bit of how you’ve diversified over the last few years?

AF: Well, we’re about 70 people altogether right now. And then Rog, do you want to just talk a little bit about what we’ve been up to in the diversification phase? Maybe I can just say the original business was interiors and procurement of FF&E. So both of those things we’ve been doing for a long time now. And then within the interiors business, we started Gettys One probably 12, 15 years ago now as a business that focused solely on providing fabulous select service design services. That was a part of the industry that had been somewhat overlooked. It was a burgeoning part of the industry and everybody in whatever level of the industry, it deserves fabulous design. It doesn’t matter if you’re six star, seven star Dubai, or two, three star in Dubuque or wherever it is. And so we developed a very specialized team to just focus on select service because it’s a very different approach and mindset to the design in that sector.

And then we started our branding business, Gettys branding also probably 10, 12 years ago because the notion that branding and interiors were inextricably linked was becoming very apparent to us, particularly in the lifestyle sector where we had to write the script and tell the story and bring the story to life in the built environment. And then the cast and crew arrive and the curtain goes up and the hotel operates or that whole analogy. And so that was a very important part of the business too. And then Hotel of Tomorrow is a global think tank, which we particularly, we’ve had also for many years now, but reinvigorated during the pandemic for a place that people come and really for some blue sky thinking about the possibilities of what the hotel industry might be like in the future. We also have Gettys Blue Business, which is the platform that we use to deliver our services in the Middle East. So those are all of the services that we provide to others. And then we got into the development business as well, which Roger can tell you all about.

RH: We love being in that business and it’s actually turned out to be a great way for us to bond with our clients because they really appreciate the personal guarantees that we’ve had to sign when we’re getting loans. But we, during the pandemic developed three hotels, co-developed with a series of Partners, TownePlace Suites in Nashville that was 204 keys and proud to say one of the second most successful TownePlace Suites in the Marriott system in 2022. And then we also did a Shut and Gut, as Andrew describes it, bought a Holiday Inn in San Antonio and gutted it and turned it into a Marriott full service property, which they use today when they are talking about conversions. And last year was awarded at the MINA Conference, Marriott’s owners conference, one of their best full service opening hotels in North America.

And then we co-developed a hotel in Minneapolis, a beautiful historic hotel that was an office building that we redeveloped into a hotel and into a tribute collection. So the development side of our business goes through our own account, and then we also provide development services for others, has really grown. And it’s been an exciting place. When Andrew was talking about the Hyatt, Jerry Zeitner, who runs our development group, ran that project for us. He joined us 27 years ago and now runs Ridgeline Development. So we have a broad spectrum of services that we can provide and offerings and love putting our money where our mouth is as it relates to development projects that we’ve been a part of.

AF: We have a couple of big developments in the works right now as well, a second phase in Nashville, and then another project in Indianapolis. And I continue to look for opportunities there. And I think that whole approach, as Roger was saying, has worked well with our service clients too, because the fact that we have skin in the game, we understand development, and we bring a very pragmatic approach to that, combined with all the creativity that goes into our design and other businesses, I think is one of the reasons that it’s been successful over the years. And it’s funny when you mentioned that Jerry’s been here for 27 years, team member number one was Ronald Scott Swidler, our chief innovation officer. And so we were having lunch at a restaurant in Chicago talking about the need to hire somebody. And the waiter, Ron Swidler said, hang on, I’ve got a design degree. I think I’d be a pretty good addition to the team.

RH: From a team perspective, too, and I appreciate you asking Andrew and I to be part of this, but if ideally we’d have all 70 people, I’d be a part of it. And all the rest of the people that have helped us become successful because we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t, not only for the people that are here, but literally the hundreds and hundreds, probably thousand plus Gettys alumni, that is … you asked me some of the things that we’re most proud of is helping all those people with their careers, pay for their mortgages, send kids to college. I mean, we’re both extremely proud of what we’ve done in relationship to the greater community. And obviously a lot of the alumni have gone on to do wonderful things. And I could not think of something that really just could possibly describe that warms my heart more than all the great people that have helped us be successful and thank all of them for giving Andrew and I an opportunity to spend this time with you.

AF: Well, I think too that the alumni association’s strong. And so at HD in Vegas, I walked into a restaurant and bumped into one of our colleagues from 10, 15 years ago and she was like, “oh my God, how great it is to see you. And by the way, I was just thinking about the company, the Gettys Group,” and she’s like, “I’m just trying to put my finger on it because some of my lifelong friends I made when I worked at the Gettys Group, my bridesmaid and the godparents to my children were Gettys Group people.” And I think that has a lot to do with the culture that we have developed and imbued into the organization and really making sure that we’ve spent a lot of time working on that. And then all these people that worked in the company that have gone off and started their own businesses that we have mentored and got involved with and are always on the phone for a bit of advice if they want it as well and vice versa. I think that’s another really cool thing about the company because there’s 70 people working here today, the thousand plus that have worked here before and gone on to do really amazing things, and several of whom, well, actually many of whom are now clients. We had an intern once who then ended up hiring us to do two hotels for him and his family. And so that became the new standard when we were interviewing interns. Just by the way, we’re happy for you to come and do your internship, but our expectation is we are probably within a year or two of completing your internship, you’ll become a client.

Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, Autograph Collection Lounge

The lounge at the Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, Autograph Collection

SSR: As you grow, how do you keep that culture and I mean something you have to work at so that way you don’t lose it as you get bigger. And how are you as leaders to make sure that culture continues?

RH: I think it starts by leading by example. I recently was on a trip with a couple of colleagues and we had a long day and we’re sitting at a table with our clients, and the guy that runs this very large portfolio of real estate said to me, he said, “I learned a lot today just watching how you interact with people.” And I think from a service culture perspective, Andrew and I treat everybody the way that we’d want to be treated. And we hope that by doing that to everyone that others see that, that we really honestly care and we’re sincere about people’s personal success and happiness, et cetera. And it made me feel so good, it’s unexpected that this gentleman who had hired us do this giant project, that’s what he was focusing on at dinner. And I was like, wow. But to me, that’s what it’s all about. You can have great mission statements, et cetera, but if the people that are the leaders of your company are not inculcating that culture and actually living it, then it’s just talk. So I believe that we’re great examples and all of our executive team and directors live and breathe by that. So that’s a great place for it to start.

AF: It is something you have to work on every single day. And I’ve forgotten what that expression is, something like, “culture eats strategy for breakfast every morning” or whatever that expression is. Just working on our culture constantly is a big part of it. And I think as Rog said, and this leadership by example thing, that we would never ask anybody to do anything that we would not do ourselves. I remember some years ago I was in India and we were just being hired to do a big hotel there. And I went out to lunch with the client and he brought a whole entourage with him, and we went to his favorite restaurant, which was actually a TGI Fridays in India. And I said, “what’s your favorite dish?” He said, “it’s the corn soup.” And so I said, “well, let’s have that.” And so he ordered 12 bowls of corn soup and one empty bowl. And then the empty bowl came and was put in front of one of his colleagues. And we all had to spoon a little bit of our soup in because soup’s really expensive. So why pay for 13 when you can only pay for 12? And I got back in the car with him, his Rolls-Royce Phantom, and we drove across town and I said, “let’s not work together. Let’s just be friends.” Because I mean, you can’t be with people that your values are not aligned to that extent, if there’s that big a gap. And I think that also relates to the cultural piece of people who you hire. We think we’re a pretty good assessor of talent, but we want to bring really talented, skillful, experienced people in, but the chemistry’s got to be right. So I think because bringing those people in, if you bring the people in that the chemistry’s not right, or they have a very different view of … our view is we’re all in this together, but if someone’s view is it’s all about me, it’s never going to work.

So I think from the client side, we have to pay very careful attention to it. From the team side, we have to pay very careful attention to it. And then I think also we have an obligation. I mean, team members who join us are entrusting their careers to us. And so we have an obligation, and this is part of our culture, to really develop careers. We’ve got a lot of people that have been here for a long time, but we’ve got to keep it interesting for them. We’ve got to make them want to come here every day and want to work on these projects every day. And so I think that’s been a big part of our success. But that is something, again, we have to work on that every single day and making sure that in our hierarchy, it’s always team members first, client second, project third.

From a client perspective, Stacy, as Andrew mentioned, we are always thoughtfully interviewing our clients. Because you know to obviously publish so many magnificent projects, these are journeys. I mean, sometimes it’s not just a marathon, it’s an Ironman. So if you’re going to get into a project with someone, you got to make sure you enjoy spending time with them. If you’re spending time away from your partner, your loved ones. So we are very thoughtful in the mutual courtship when we’re being interviewed to make sure we really get to know the people that we are going to potentially work with. Because to Andrew’s point, we wouldn’t ask anybody to work with anyone that we wouldn’t enjoy breaking bread with, making memories with, because as I said, we’re away from the people we love. So let’s spend that time wisely.

When you’re doing the chemistry check, when you say breaking bread, breaking bread is a really great way to just see how people behave and in a certain environment or how they treat service personnel and all those little touch points during particularly the candidate journey when they’re applying for jobs with the company. And we are all trying to take a good look at each other. That’s a good way to take people out for a bit of a test as well.

SSR: So how do you two work so well together and throughout all these years, can you Roger, tell me one of Andrew’s strengths and vice versa?

RH: I think it starts with an amazing foundation, and Andrew and I were mentioning how we met at Cornell. We ultimately were roommates and just fast friends. So by no means am I perfect, but Andrew certainly knew long before we even started thinking about starting a business together, my personal strengths and my weakness. And then I think in relationship to the Venn diagram that makes us special is that Andrew, we were talking about the pragmatism, he’s very much a realist. And it’s kept me grounded as I sort of strive for things that are swinging, putting the fences. So we meet nicely in the center of that Venn diagram as we’ve continued to innovate our firm and try to stay and be relevant now almost 35 years later. So that’s where we’re great business partners in that regard.

And then during a crisis at which sadly we’ve had many just throughout the industry over these past 35 years, we’ve really supported one another well in that regard. So he is really good in a challenging situation and gives me a lot of energy to be able to support him and our organization in that way. And he’s very supportive of me as I sort of consider, Hey, we should pursue this as a new line of business. What do you think? So that’s where we’ve been very positive and a good yin and yang.

AF: Yeah, no, very yin and yang-ish. Look, I would say as I think about all of this, our relationship, our personal relationship, our friendship, our love of each other has really been an extraordinary relationship and I think has enriched my life in ways that I could really never have imagined. And so to have spent all of these years working together and hanging out together and being part of each other’s lives, I think is a big part of it. And as I look at Rog, I mean, one of the great things that he brings to our table is vision and really looking into the future and thinking about what could be. And I think my yang to that is, okay, oh God, how are we going to do that? Which was basically what we talked about at the very beginning. And we go out there and tell people this stuff, but then we figure out how to do it. And so I think that’s been a big part of it.

And I think we’ve been very good at supporting each other along the way, but also holding each other accountable and making sure that we are doing the right things in the right way. And I think just in terms of advice for people starting out, I mean the most important thing you can do is pick the right partner, whether it’s in life or in business. And this turns out to have been kind of an extraordinary partnership because it’s lasted a lot longer than many marriages and continues to evolve and grow and be interesting and fun to this very day. And I think too, if we think about our roles in the business, Raj is a lot more outward facing. Probably 80% of his time is outward, 20% inward. Mine is probably 50% in the operations of the business and 50% out outward facing in business development or other areas. So I think having that ability to bounce backwards and forth between those two is good as well.

SSR: Roger, what would be that piece of advice for somebody starting out?

RH: I’ll layer on to Andrew’s point about partnership, because there’s always good and then there’s going to be some bad. Picking the right partners and obviously started by picking an amazing partner. And as Andrew said, one of my best friends. Never had a brother, so a brother that I wished I’d had that I love. And then doing that throughout your business, you want to pick people that you’re going to do business with that you can really trust. And that is such an important thing to success because again, you know with all your years of experience, what we collectively do in this industry is incredibly complicated. And it’s easy to deal with situations when things are all going well, but when there’s a problem, that’s when you really want to make sure you pick the right partner, whether it be a vendor partner, a builder, a lawyer, accountant or whatever.

When things are tough, everybody needs to rally together and not run for the hills and have a rep say, Hey, I’m just the rep, that’s the manufacturer, whatever. So we’ve been super thoughtful in the partners we’ve picked, and there was one takeaway from our wonderful time chatting with you today is just make sure you’re very thoughtful and you pick the right people to do business with and the right people to support you to be successful. Because we’re a collection of many things that come together to make our company, the Gettys Group company successful and these projects successful. So partner selection is incredibly important. And then I talk about when I’m helping people on their personal journey, if you want to be successful at home, a lot of it applies to the way I want to do business with people, treat the people you love with the same respect that you treat the people you work with. So I would say, partner selection and then just live your own life purpose and relationship the way that you practice what you preach is really important. You can’t have a split personality.

Reikart House, Buffalo, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel New York

Reikart House, Buffalo, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel in New York; photo by Corey Stovin @ VRX Studios

SSR: What still drives you daily? Is there something about what you do or the process that you love that gets you up every day or keeps you inspired? 

AF: I think it is the desire to evolve and change. So it’s never been stagnant because if we were doing the same stuff today as we were doing 10 years ago, I’d be like, why bother? I mean, I wouldn’t want to get up to do that, but to get up and know that we are going to have a business that is in a perpetual state of evolution and needs to do that in order to remain relevant and at the forefront of what it does, that I think is really what gets me up every day. And then I think the other thing is our team and we have an incredible team, and the extraordinary creativity and energy and collaborative spirit that they bring to the table every day creates energy for us. I was like, if people are sucking energy out of the room, I don’t want to be around it, but when we’re in energy creating environments and a business that’s evolving and in an industry that’s booming, I mean, thank heavens, right? I mean, we wouldn’t have said that three years ago, but the hospitality sector is just doing amazing things right now. So oodles of opportunity is what gets me up every day as well because … and I think the amazing opportunities are really yet to come?

RH: Yeah. And just to layer onto that, as the industry evolves, and I saw this morning ADP brought up their job numbers, 276,000 or something, and 200,000 of them were people coming into the hospitality industry. So really exciting for all of us, the growth trajectory even with whatever mild recession we’re going to have. But the changing real estate landscape really excites us because we probably are one of the most qualified firms to look at adapting office buildings to alternative uses. So this project I was mentioning that I was out last week on was a 400,000 square foot office building. And the owners who come to us and said, “Hey, prior to the pandemic, we had almost 1,350 people come to this building every day. Now we have just over a hundred. What can we do with it?” So it excites me when I can work with our team to come up with great practical solutions to help people do the right thing as they’re evaluating how to approach a real estate investment. And that will continue to always excite me because those opportunities are going to be out there.

And then as Andrew mentioned, the state of innovation. We can’t pick up a paper or return on a television or listen to a podcast and not have people talk about ChatGPT. What is going to go on with AI we think is going to be incredibly transformative to the hospitality industry and the design procurement branding industry. And can’t wait to start applying some of that thinking to what we do, not to eliminate jobs, but to help people in their jobs even have more fun doing those jobs. I mean, there are going to be some exciting applications there, and I really hope as we continue to grow the firm forward, we’ll be able to be at the cost of that in relationship to adapting and embracing that technology to help all of us enjoy work in a better way and also do better work for our clients and ourselves and our own development projects.

SSR: And how are you even staying on top of that? Are you bringing people in to teach your team? Are you guys just talking to people? I mean, I feel like it seems so big that people don’t even know where to start, right? So how are you even starting that, I guess is the question?

RH: Well, I think part of it, and then Andrew can layer on, just comes from personal curiosity and relationship. I love telling the story and we shared with you some fun stories. When Vice President Gore invented the internet, came to work the next day, and Andrew was like, “Hey, we should get a website.” And I was like, “really?” Fast-forward, that website has been one of our best salespeople 20 years later. So it’s the same kind of thing as this started to really explode, we’ve all just started to use it. I’ve been using it personally myself and others have. And then Andrew can talk to you about a new position we recently created where someone’s sort of championing that for us. But I just think it’s a really exciting thing. And again, I’m old enough to remember when Al Gore did invent the internet and everybody freaking out about what Google’s going to do to education. And you go back to our alma mater now to the hotel school, there’s not even a library in the hotel school anymore because everybody sources everything from the internet. So I think ChatGPT and now ChatGPT-4 and Midjourney, and Midjourney is really the design platform. Those are all tools that people are going to be using and embracing, and I think are going to do many more good things for mankind than people are worrying about on the negatives.

AF: Yeah, because this is the whole bit too. Here’s a whole bunch of stuff that we don’t know what we don’t know. So we have a very talented chap in the company that’s going to lead up that initiative for us. And then we’re also in the process of bringing some new people onto our board of directors. And one of the things that we’re looking for is somebody that has some real experience and skill in the technology space that can help us out with that, because I think there’s just enormous opportunity there, but it’s just so big. How do you harness and what do you do and how do you bring that into our daily lives, our daily business, all of these interactions that we’re having.

SSR: I know it’s hard to pick a favorite, but you can, you can pick a favorite or one that you think really defines what Gettys is that you’ve recently done, or that’s about to open more probably in the interior space. I know you could probably pick a couple of development or branding, but one more on the design side.

RH: I’m happy to start there, maybe it’s a fun place to go ’cause it’s kind of where it began. Talking about my hometown in Racine, we’re part of an incredibly exciting project there where they’re building and we’re designing and branding and doing the procurement for which will be the first lead platinum certified hotel in downtown Racine in a little historic department store that when I was a kid, I’d go with my mom and dad to shop and it’s going to really transform the downtown and tells a really rich story. And two wonderful developers that predominantly have been in the apartment business and came to us to help them get through the process. So we’ve been a coach for them along the way, in addition to providing all the services that we’ve been doing. And I think it’s going to be extremely transformative project in the community. And when you think about the pebbles that we dropped in different places around the world, and we’ve been fortunate enough, Andrew can talk about some of the amazing iconic design projects we’ve done around the world. It does make me proud to have had a chance to do something in our hometown that will have such a impact on downtown in a way that it wouldn’t be possible if that kind of hotel was not built there. So that would be something that I’m … I know collectively we’re all really proud of, but I’m personally proud of. And they didn’t even know when they came in the interview with us, they didn’t even know I grew up there. So that was kind of fun.

AF: It’s hard to pick favorites. There are a lot of projects that are going on. I mean, we are doing a really interesting grand creation job for outbound hotels, which is really hotels next to national parks and outdoor destinations and combining alternative accommodation and lifestyle and cabins and outdoor adventures so that Ron and his team are leading that. We’re doing an amazing Curio in San Antonio at Hemisphere Park, which will be a little transform downtown San Antonio. So we’re doing projects like that around the country. And then we’re also doing lots of interesting things, I think also in the select service sector. So it’s kind of across the board. And it is also remarkable.

I know we’ve talked about this before when we’ve been together, but when you add up all those projects, there’s probably 300,000 people today checking into a hotel room somewhere in the world that we have designed. And so that’s kind of a fun thing to just think about the impact that you have on people’s lives through these projects. And if we go back to the underlying thesis of making people feel great, I mean, hopefully that’s what we are doing in a lot of these projects. But yeah, I think you’ll be very interested, particularly in outbound and Curio San Antonio coming up in the near future.

RH: On the development front we are kicking off the next phase of our project in Nashville, which will be another hotel and 262 apartments and some retail. And that whole project will ultimately be three acres. And we’re super proud of the fact that … and I guess this gets back to what we’ve been chatting about when we bought that land with our partners 10 years ago, a lot of people that we respect were like, “oh, no one’s ever going to go to that part of Nashville. And as I said earlier, one of the most successful TownePlace Suites in North America.

AF: Turns out it was like a fine wine improving with age.

RH: So really excited about the next phase of that project.

Tribune Tower Residences Chicago

The Tribune Tower Residences in Chicago

SSR: What was Roger like in college? And Roger, what was Andrew like? Have you guys changed dramatically? Are you still pretty much the same, but you have to answer it for each other?

AF: No, he was a party animal, so yeah, he’s changed dramatically. No, you weren’t that much of a party animal. Very studious, abided by all of the rules. Well behaved, polite.

RH: I was going to say, Andrew was very polite and of course had such a beautiful accent that everybody loved hearing him speak. And I mean, obviously we look different, but I would say from a DNA perspective, what attracted us to one another and like the wine comment, it’s just gotten better. I feel so fortunate. And to your point, the relationship that we’ve had is just incredibly special. And I don’t take that for granted at all. And I wish other people the opportunity, but I know it’s rare to do what we’ve done because our lives are so intertwined and our kids, Getty and Madeline are going to do great things. And Andrew certainly had a huge impact of who they’ve turned out to be. And then, as I mentioned, I wouldn’t even have met my wife if it hadn’t been for Andrew. So there’s a lot that he’s had to do with my life. So he’s always been a good caring man.

SSR: You’re so talented. I mean, obviously. All right, so I can talk to you guys forever. But for the sake of time, we always end this podcast with the question that is the title of the podcast. What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned along the way?

RH: I’d say, acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them. Creativity is not a science. Get comfortable with failure ’cause we certainly had some of those, not from a lack of effort, but just things that just happen to you that are out of your control. Tell people it’s okay to make a mistake, but we prefer for them not to make it multiple times that’s when HR gets involved. Trust your gut, and I think that’s one of the things that does come from age. We do have pretty smart guts and if it doesn’t feel great, you certainly shouldn’t be doing it. And then client selection and team selection really important. So I know that’s a lot of answers to your question, but those are all things that would come to mind to me.

SSR: Andrew, you get the last word.

AF: You know what, I mean, probably to recap a lot of what we’ve said, but I mean just focus on enduring relationships and relationships that are built on honesty, integrity, trust, reliability. If you surround yourself with people like that within your organization, with your partners outside the organization, clients, then you’re going to be really successful. And then I think also in our business, don’t lose sight of the prize and the prize is focus on the guest. This is what it’s all about. We are creating experiences for guests. If you’re thinking you’re creating something that can be published in the magazine, that the guest looks great in a photo but doesn’t work for the guest, we’re in the wrong business. And so, focus on the end user of whatever the use of the real estate is and you will ultimately be successful, particularly if you surround yourself with the right people.

SSR: I love it. Love it. Has there been one mistake that has stuck with you, Roger, going back? ‘Cause I think you learn more from your mistakes than you do your successes.

RH: I will tell you what gives me a lot of stress and there’s still plenty of stress that we all deal with every day, it’s when you don’t necessarily … it’s not necessarily a mistake, but when a series of a circumstances are put in front of you, that just makes the outcome really challenging. So I mentioned the project that we did up in Minneapolis, a fantastic hotel and office building conversion where we have, prior to the pandemic, almost 12,000 people a day would walk through this office building. Now we’re lucky to get barely 2000. So you build a great hotel and then you unfortunately have all the social unrest that was driven around George Floyd. Then you have a pandemic and then you have terrible political leadership. It’s very frustrating to me as a mistake. I feel bad about the outcome of that, but I know it was totally out of our control, but I still beat myself up over it. So I think a mistake to make is like, if things are outside of your control, you got to let it go. And as disappointed as I am about the situation we’re in, there’s nothing that we could have done differently. So I think that’s something, one can learn from mistakes that you have to learn from, but then you have to sort of say, Hey, there’s nothing you could have done differently. And that was just obviously a crazy set the circumstances that no one could have predicted.

AF: Yeah, I think on the mistake front, I mean just underlying philosophy is like, failure really is the best teacher. And these projects are so complicated and there are so many moving parts and they go on for so long. There’s always errors along the way, whether that’s us or partners or clients or whatever. But just being able to learn from that. And if you have those relationships in place, you can easily solve the problems. But if you don’t have that in place, then it’s a lot more painful.

Viewline Snowmass, Autograph Collection Colorado

The Viewline Snowmass, Autograph Collection in Colorado

SSR:  Well, thank you both so much for spending the last hour with me. It’s always a pleasure to catch up with you both. And I think I learned something new about both of you today that I didn’t know. That Andrew came from a town of 28 people and Roger’s sister is an opera singer. But yes, after knowing you all these years. But thank you so much, it was such a pleasure. Hopefully I get to see you both soon.

AF: No, absolutely. And thank you Stacy and Rachel and your entire team for everything that you do for our industry, it’s priceless. And I just felt the same … I feel that all over again when I was leaving HD the other day. What a great job. And listen, thanks for what you do.

RH: I’ll echo that and really appreciate it. And I know we talked about this earlier, the people you get to know, the friendships that we’ve developed and you’re one of the friends we’ve developed in our multiple decades of being in this business and that’s a real gift too. So thanks for just being the great person that you are.

SSR: Oh, thanks. Well, right back at you. Well hopefully we’ll have a cheers sometime soon. But thanks so much. Have a great rest of the day. Beautiful view behind you, by the way, Andrew.