JIM TREADWAY, Bardessonno Inn & Benchmark Hospitality International
Interviewed Dec. 9, 2011
: When I have an opportunity to teach, I have my students do the Tombstone exercise. I ask them what do you want on your Tombstone? In 10 words or less you have to write your epitaph. What do you want to be remembered for?
And then I share mine. And it hasn’t changed in the last 30 years. “He walked his talk and he made a difference.”
[This interview includes a lot about how the Bardessono is run because as CANVAS is a Hospitality organization I think there is a lot of interesting information. Do take the time to read to the end. It was a real pleasure learning about the personal side of Jim, too.]
Colby: How did you get into the hotel business?
: Born into it. Born and raised hotelier. My father and his father were Inn Keepers in New England. They had a company called Treadway Inns. It started in 1913. They were prominent in New England and New York State. They were college campus inns primarily. There were about 40 of them. My father’s company was a management company, none of them were owned by our family. So by the time I was six I was actually working in the industry. At six I was picking up litter and cigarette butts in the parking lot. And at 10 I was a pantry boy, dish washer and by 13 – 14 I was a line cook. I’d also been a busboy, and a waiter, restaurant host, front desk person, housekeeper. So I just grew up in the business and as a result, I’ve done every job there is to do in a hotel, except for IT person because in those days we didn’t have IT. I’m really 58 years in the business.
At the age of 16, when I could work “legally”. My father said you’re no longer going to work for our business, you’re going to go out on your own and do your own thing. And for awhile I worked for other people. I went to Dartmouth for college. I played two sports there (Hockey & Soccer) and by the time I was a Junior the sports got the better of me and my academics suffered and they suggested I take a break.
So I went into the Marine Corp. Everybody did in my generation, went into the military. And after I got out of the Marines, two guys in Boston asked me to help them open a complex of restaurants and guest rooms in an old town house in Boston. I did that for about a year before continuing college. In that year we had an unused basement and we agreed that we should open an English Pub. The two owners went to England and bought a pub that had gone out of business, had it disassembled, shipped and we stuck it in the basement at 84 Beacon Street in Boston and opened it as the Bull & Finch Pub. That pub became the model for the TV show CHEERS and was recreated in Hollywood. And to this day that pub in Boston is known as the home of CHEERS. And I got to participate in that before it was discovered.
I was 22 when I went back to college. I went off to Cornell on the GI Bill and got a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration. And then I joined Westin Hotels. I worked for them for 23 years. I started out ordering furniture and installing it in a hotel in South Africa, and the last 5 years I was President of Westin. We were Japanese owned and I was the most senior non-Japanese person in Westin Hotels & Resorts. When Starwood bought Westin in 1995 I left and started my own Hotel Management company, MTM Luxury Lodging in 1996. Bardessono was part of that company. I sold MTM in June of this year to Benchmark Hospitality in Houston. So we’re now part of Benchmark. After 2009 being a very tough year, I was part of the refinancing of Bardessono and in May of 2010 as part of that refinancing I had to agree to come here and run it myself. And I’ve been here since May of 2010. I’m the Vice Chairman of Benchmark, and I’m also the General Manager of Bardessono. So I wear two hats.
I was supposed to be here in March but I got Cancer. It was a very bad Cancer, stage 4 Urothelial. That cancer spread up into my kidney and basically exploded it. I had a number of parts taken out and then I spent most of last year on Chemo therapy while I was here working. I was really sick last year. My last chemo was in July and it took me until Nov. of last year to feel healthy.
The vision of the Bardessono Hotel is really simple. It’s to be the best hotel in the world. It was developed with that stated objective at $1 million a key (a room). Most luxury hotels are developed at a cost of between $300,000 to $600,000 a key. Our hotel is 62 rooms and developed at $62 million. There’s no hotel in the world better physically. What sets hotels apart is service, amenities, reputation and the clientele. We are building and working on those. But there’s no equivocation, no hesitancy, no ambiguity whatsoever, “best in the world” was always, always the objective. And you don’t build a really great hotel in a location that isn’t really great, like Malibu, Santa Barbara, Paris, or Juan le pins, or the Italian Rivera. And Yountville is one of them. We wanted a world-class site. Being in the town of Yountville makes us a sort of Urban/Suburban hotel as opposed to a pure resort. It’s actually a very strong advantage because we’re within walking distance of the coolest town in the Valley. The disadvantage is some of our guests expect seclusion, and isolation. And they expect an ambiance like Auberge or Calistoga Ranch or Meadowood. And we can’t offer that ambiance just because we’re in the center of town. But everything was developed to inwardly focus, making it pretty protected from feeling too urban or suburban.
The vision was also to be the greenest hotel in the world. And that vision has already been achieved. There are now 3 “Leed Platinum” hotels in the U.S. There’s no certification higher than Leed Platinim. There are four Leed Platinum hotels in India. There are none in the rest of the world. So there are 7 of us all together. And Bardessono is the most luxurious, so, yes our mission is to be the best hotel in the world. Are we there yet, no. Are we the greenest Luxury hotel in the world, yes we are. Pure & Simple.
Colby: Is it a challenge? Is it difficult to be luxurious and green?
: Yes, it is extremely difficult! That is the challenge. Because greenness is about minimalism. It’s about not using a lot of water. Its about not using disposable things. It’s about not having a lot of consumables. It’s about extreme sensitivity to the environment. We clean with water. But we take electronics and rearrange the ions in the water to create lye to kill bacteria. Lye is just a different arrangement of hydrogen and oxygen. Normal water is H2O. Lye is NaOH. So we have 50 water bottles and we pour water in them. And there is a battery pack attached to each water bottle that rearranges the ions in the water to create lye, a very powerful cleaning agent that is also non-toxic. Lysol cleans about 95% of bacteria. Lye cleans 99.9%. So how we clean, how we operate the hotel itself is all like that. That’s one of about 2000 details that we operate through that nobody knows about.
Nothing comes into our kitchen that isn’t raw product. We don’t buy ketchup. Tomatoes come in and we make ketchup. We don’t buy mayonnaise. Eggs come in that are less than 24 hours old and we make mayonnaise from that and oil. There is nothing prepackaged, premade. Our liquors are all boutique distilleries. They are all sustainable organizations. Instead of Coke & Pepsi. We buy Empire cola, we buy Fever tree soda & tonic. They care about the environment. All of these things we do, whatever we have, is with the environment in mind. So is it challenging? You bet.
We don’t promote ourselves to the public that much as Leed certified because people conjure up images of cold showers, or a shower head dripping three or four drops on you. They think of everything as minimalist. The sheets are going to be organic and uncomfortable, everything is going to be like burlap. There’s going to be no heating , no air conditioning, because environmentalism is perceived as the opposite of luxury. So we’re the first hotel to ever marry luxury with sustainability to this degree. We are found by companies who are environmentally conscious and want to align their choices. And sometimes individual people who are really into the environment find us. Julia Roberts was a good example. With the launch of her movie, Eat, Pray, Love. We were competing with Auberge and Meadowood. And when she heard we were Leed Platinum she said, “Oh we’re going to the Leed Platinum place.”
Colby: What’s a typical day for you?
: My time divides up into three major missions, if you will. So one third of my time is taking care of the employees, making them happy, keeping them happy, motivated, energized, uplifted, positive, upbeat, whatever word you want to apply. That takes some doing. We’re right at the top of the market, right up there with Meadowood, Calistoga Ranch, Auberge. If our employees are not just phenomenal then the guest experience suffers. The guest experience follows the employee experience. So the next third of my emphasis is doing things that are right for the guest. Making sure that our guests and our diners just love us. And the last third is the owner experience, numbers and efficiencies, cost controls, revenue generation. All those things that go into running a business.
So how do I spend my day, I get in about 8:30 and the first 30 minutes is organizing my day, and dealing with the email that has come my way since I went to bed the night before. I’m dealing with Benchmark, multiple hotels and multiple time zones.
At 9:00 my focus goes 100% to the guest. Every morning, 7 days a week we go over what happened yesterday, do we have anyone in the hotel that might be unhappy. If so what are we going to do about it before they leave. What were yesterday’s numbers. And then the bulk of this 9:00 meeting is to go over arriving guests. We go over what we know about them. What are we are going to do to delight them. We do it by name. So we go over the arrivals list everyday where we talk about what do we know about “Mary”. The night crew does the research, then sets us up in the morning for the arrival. We googled her. We’ve been on her facebook page and we looked at her on linked in. And “Mary” belongs to a wine club, she belongs to Fantesca, good to know. She’s a former athlete, she went to Yale. Most of our guests, (not all, but most) are highly accomplished people. Mary is an avid runner. We have a staff member go to Ranch Market and buy a copy of “Runners Magazine” and put it in the room. And we make sure there’s a jogging map waiting for her when she arrives. We do this better than any hotel in the world as far as I’m concerned. I know what Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton do and we blow them away. We try to personalize every single guest experience. It’s not a fruit basket for everybody. The guest list has the arrival time so that we can greet them by name when they arrive.
Then after that I have a couple of one on one’s with my direct reports. I can have a case meeting on our bookings, a revenue management meeting, meetings on our expenses, new initiatives meetings. Meetings and conversations. Then there’s the external stuff, Napa Valley issues, etc. Then I’ll usually have three or four conference calls a week regarding Benchmark.
At 5:00 we get our Food and Beverage staff together, everybody, and we talk about who’s coming to dinner. What do we know about the guest, what are we going to do special for them. We do the same thing for our restaurant guests as we do for our arriving hotel guests. We practice pronouncing their names. We have photographs of our hotel guests that we pull off google or facebook. We post those in the back so the day’s arrivals will be recognized.
The overall intent is that when a guest or diner arrives they feel we’ve been waiting for them. When you arrive, in theory, we’re supposed to know your name before you say a word. Everybody’s radioed. I have a radio at my desk so I listen to everything. So when you pull up we’ll notice your name on your luggage tag, or ask if necessary, and radio it to the front desk. The front desk person, Katie, will step out from behind the desk and walk to you. And say, “Ms. Smith we’ve been expecting you, so glad you’re here.” And they’re thinking, “How do they know my name?” To understand our rooms and the blinds, and the fireplace and the music and the lights and the TV it really requires “school”. And the Front Desk person personally escorts them to their room and delivers that school. Part of the process is that our Front Desk person will give you her card and say, “I’m going to be your contact while you’re here. Call me for anything. Anyone who is going to deal with a guest I think should have a business card, and should be able to develop a relationship with the guest. And so that arrival process sets the tone for the visit. The first 10 minutes you can get a guest really excited about you, or really not excited about you. We get really turned on by dazzling guests.
A guest was pulling up this afternoon and I saw a Brown Crew emblem on the car. So I walked up to them and said to them, “You folks must have a child rowing for Brown.” They lit up like light bulbs. “Yeah, our daughter. She just graduated, and she rowed for Brown.” I said, “How great. I’m Jim Treadway, I’m General Manager of the hotel and I’m here to welcome you”. I wasn’t really there to welcome them, I was there for another reason, but our employees see that. They watch that and they think, “Wow, Treadway really cares about the guest. He wants to meet them, and he talks to them. And then they want to show me how good they are at taking care of the guest. So there’s positive competition. We write shift reports at the end of a shift. There’s a section on “Wow, Whimsy & Fun/Be the difference.” That’s where our employees get to write what they did to dazzle a guest. And every day we celebrate those at the 9:00 meeting. So the employees get celebrated, and valued. The more you do for a guest, the higher your stock is at Bardessono, and it becomes fun. If it’s not fun it doesn’t happen.
I was General Manager at 4 hotels at the Westin. The smallest hotel I was ever GM of was 850 rooms. The largest was 1,500 rooms. So when I started my own company with a 76 room hotel I had to reinvent myself. I had to learn how to run a small hotel. And the light bulb went off and I thought, I can do all the things I dreamed of doing with Westin, that I couldn’t do at large hotels. I can personalize every guest experience and it’s a whole process to do that. Part of it is getting the information before they arrive. Back in 1996 when I did that first hotel, the Sorrento, the internet wasn’t available so we had to interview them. Questions like, “What brings you to Seattle?” And they might say, “Well my Aunt just died.” Or, “I have a job interview with Microsoft.” We’d make notes of that information. And when the guest checked in, someone they’d never met before would say, “Good luck with your interview at Microsoft.” Or there’d be a little bowl of flowers for the other person with “So sorry for your loss.” For me, running small hotels is much more exciting. At the big boxes you have smart people reporting to you. You rarely get to speak to the guest. Here, on any given day I’ve probably met a quarter of our guests. And I know every employee like a family member.
Colby: What’s your biggest challenge?
: We’ve got three revenue centers. We’ve got rooms, food and beverage and spa. Two of those three revenue centers at Bardessono are really doing well, rooms and spa. So food and beverage remains my challenge. We’re in the middle of reinventing our food and beverage program. The restaurant and the lounge are closed as we do a redesign. And we’re relocating the entrance. Wait until you see the lounge. We’re opening it up to the outdoors. And the restaurant is a box. So we’re breaking and softening up the restaurant box, and opening up the bar box to the outside.
The restaurant and lounge have not lived up to their potential. And the core reason for that is that when we were being built they were designed as places that could not take the public. So the restaurant ended up being a hotel dining room. But we petitioned and we won the right to open up to the public, the spa, restaurant, bar and the banquet space. But by then our foundation was poured and you get a little room in the back of the building as our restaurant. The restaurant should have been on the street, should have been a structure with a walk way to the hotel.
Colby: What are your other interests.
: Married with three kids. First and foremost family, my three kids. I just adore my kids. That is a lot of positive emotional energy. I’ve got a son 37, a daughter 32, and a daughter 22. If I had my life to live over I would have not been so ambitious and I would have spent more time with my kids when they were growing up. My two older kids just didn’t see much of me because I was climbing the corporate ladder at Westin and I just did not devote enough time and energy to my children. My 22 year old really got the benefit of me getting it right. Would I have given something up in my career to be a better Dad. It’s the balancing act between are you really good at your job or are you really a good Dad. Can you be both? And what’s the trade off analysis. I’m a good Dad to my children as adults, but as children I wasn’t.
Now after that because I’m a sports guy, I played two college sports. I’m a sports nut. I still play tennis and golf. I stopped playing hockey after I had two artificial hips, one kidney, both shoulders have been rebuilt.
I feel a very strong connection to Hawaii. Having lived and worked there in the ‘80’s and our home is there. If you asked me where I belong physically the answer is on the Island of Kauai.
You learn a big lesson from a near death experience where my prognosis wasn’t good. And that is about maximizing every day. Just do something good every day. Enjoy everyday. Because you don’t know how many you have left. The normal 60 year old man assumes he has 20 to 30 years left. And now I’m thinking I don’t know if I have 2 years or 20 years. So I’m going to adjust my lifestyle accordingly. I’m going to try, key word “try”, to be a better person and enjoy life more.
One thing about mortality, what’s really cool. I’ve said to myself, If I die soon at least I’ve had a really great life. There’s really not much I haven’t done. I’ve jumped out of airplanes. Most of the things on my bucket list are crossed off. I’ve never flown an airplane. I want to do that. I’ve never been to Paris. I’ve been to the South of France. I’ve lived in Europe, I’ve lived in Norway, I’ve lived in South Africa.
Colby: What’s an experience that you’re most proud of?
: My career experience would be getting promoted to the president of Westin. My life experience is attending my daughter’s college graduation. She went to Scripps College. She graduated toward the top of her class and she’s deaf. So my little one has made me so proud that she’s going through her life and has done really well. She’s going to med school. She’s on her way to becoming a doctor. My son lives in Berlin. He’s lived in Europe for 13 years. He’s Chief Technology Officer for a software company. And my first daughter lives in Portland, Oregon. And she designs and makes clothing.
When I have an opportunity to teach, which I’ve done quite a bit of, I have my students do the Tombstone exercise. I ask them what do you want on your Tombstone? In 10 words or less you have to write your epitaph. Write whatever you want. What do you want to be remembered for?
And then I share mine. And it hasn’t changed in the last 30 years. “He walked his talk and he made a difference.” In terms of my philosophy, make sure my actions are in line with my words. Because if you say one thing and do another, no one will trust you, no one will respect you. If your words and your actions are aligned, if you walk your talk, you really will make a difference. So that’s what I want to be remembered for. This was a guy who did what he said he was going to do. And he left the world somehow better. That would be my personal philosophy. I have to remind myself. I have to go back to that a lot. And say, “Jim, are you walking your talk? Did you just do something that was consistent with what you said you were going to do. Or did you say something that is inconsistent with what you do.” It’s sort of a self monitoring system.
Colby: Thanks Jim!