Like many people who find a career in hospitality, Simon Mendy’s journey began at the front desk. While attending college in Denver, he took a registration position at an Extended Stay America property “to a few dollars while I was pursuing my university degree, and honestly, to make ends meet,” Mendy said in a recent interview with HSMAI. “And before you know it, it became my career and I’m stuck — in a good way.”
Mendy was with Extended Stay America for nearly 20 years, moving into sales and revenue positions before switching to operations, where he eventually rose to become the company’s executive vice president of operations. Two years ago, he joined Aimbridge Hospitality — which manages a portfolio of more than 1,500 branded and independent properties — and was recently named the company’s executive vice president of operations for extended stay. “This job grows in you,” Mendy said. “First of all, it’s the love for people, wanting to interact with individuals from different backgrounds and many job experiences that attracted me. And as time went on, my skills continued to advance. I just loved what I did and never wanted to leave this industry.”
Was having a background in sales and revenue helpful when you moved into operations?
Absolutely. I could not have been as strong a leader today if I didn’t have that exposure. Over the course of my experiences, it matters when you have all three legs of hospitality — operations, sales, and revenue management — communicating and working in synergy. We call it the “triangle team,” where in every aspect of our strategy development, we’re cognizant of all three legs. We can’t ignore the value and impact of HR, finance, and other departments, but we see them as supporting roles. So, I’m glad that I had the exposure to sales and revenue, because I can speak their language and appreciate their perspective. It helps for quicker alignment, understanding their philosophy, how they look at things, and what are their priorities/goals.
What first interested you about operations, and what has kept you there as you’ve risen up through the ranks?
Really, as mentioned before, it’s the love for people. I love interacting with people, be it employees or customers. I feed off that energy. That’s my sweet spot. The aspect of managerial development spurred my interest in becoming a businessman and has driven me to succeed in hospitality. This industry allows me to continue to grow personally and professionally.
What are your priorities in your new position?
As an executive in the organization, my goal is to make sure that the priorities for Aimbridge are met — i.e., to be a first-in-class organization to work at or do business with, to ensure that we are adding value to our owners and that the benefits of our scale are maximized. Ultimately, how does it benefit our owners in terms of cost savings?
With COVID-19, it’s been about managing costs while seeking every demand out there. You give it your very best to win the business for your hotel. So, my core priority is delivering to our ownership groups the benefits of Aimbridge’s scale. In addition to sales and expenses, our focus is to be advocates for our owners to the brands, AHLA, government affairs, GBTA, etc.
How has Aimbridge been navigating the pandemic?
These have been unprecedented and challenging times for all of us. However, because of our scale, Aimbridge was able to act in a direct and comprehensive manner. We immediately rolled out our recovery plan, our own cleaning protocols (AIMClean), and our small meeting protocols (AIMConnect) — often before the brands were able to react. We remained focused on the future and we were able to maintain support of the properties because of our size. Our AIMClean program was an industry leader and is recognized by all the brands. Our teams were trained and certified in collaboration with some of the top, most reputable cleaning authorities in the industry.
Secondly, we placed a priority on how do we operate optimally by driving revenues while at the same time being very focused on expense management. One of the ways Aimbridge differentiates itself is with a focus on product categories, or verticals. This essentially ensures we have the focused expertise for best performance. For example, I am our designated expert for extended stay, and in this role I lead training, identify tools, and support recruiting, and I understand the nuances for this vertical.
We prepared our hotels to be ready as business rebounded, as we saw in parts of the country this past summer. Aimbridge did very well then.
A big part of our success is being able to bring the brands to the table. Recently, we invited the four big brands to talk about the future and optimize our partnerships. We worked to align with them on what they should be focused on or where we need their collaboration, so that we can continue to serve the interests of our owners.
How do you look out for your employees’ wellbeing during a crisis like this?
Aimbridge established Aimbridge Aid, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization we created that was meant to support our associates in times of need. Aimbridge Aid raises funds through donations from our associates, partners, and guests to help our associates who are now facing catastrophic financial impact.
Also, we didn’t stray away from our existing recognition programs. We conducted virtual awards in place of our usual annual conference to recognize our high performers. We took advantage of Housekeeping Week to make it All Associates Appreciation Week. This was in collaboration and with the full support of our ownership groups. They felt like it was important that we take care of our team members.
What are strategies for keeping the people who have been on the job throughout the pandemic positive and motivated?
We see our teams as frontline workers, because they are there interacting with our guests coming in and out of the hotels. Many of our guest have included workers in the medical field, in law enforcement, and the like. We were very deliberate to ensure our associates felt safe during this crisis. We’ve provided them the AIMClean training, so that they could stay safe and operate the hotels in a very safe and responsible way, and ensured that they had all the PPE and safety supplies that they needed to be able to do their jobs.
Secondly, we didn’t take our foot off the gas pedal when it came to employee welfare. With COVID, we were all limited to only essential travel. As an organization, we found it prudent to stay in close contact with our managers and hotels teams. We created a virtual property visit, which enabled our regional leaders to use their office time to provide reasonable support to the GMs, dig into the trends, and give our teams impactful direction/action items to help drive results. It also involved interacting with their teams through FaceTime to check on each one of them to make sure they are okay. We have been very close to the hotels, to make sure that things were done right and that the associates felt well cared for.
How are you feeling about the future of the industry and the prospect for a recovery?
There are several schools of thought on when the recovery will happen and what it will look like. For Aimbridge, we’re focused on addressing what’s much more pertinent. First of all, we are treating the current situation as the new normal and are continuing to sharpen our pencils on how we manage the P&L, from our expense decisions, to how we approach our revenue management and sales strategies to make sure that we’re driving top-line revenue.
As we look at 2021, we are very realistic about what could possibly happen given the different forecasts and models that are going on. We’ve been very realistic, and we understand it’s going to take time. Evidently, the second wave is affecting Q4, and will most likely have an impact on Q1. In Q2, depending on the vaccine, we’ll start to see a play between occupancy and slight upward movement in ADR. I would assume that the most likely promising quarter may be Q3 going into Q4. But again, it’s anyone’s guess and very dependent on a vaccine rollout.
But whatever the case may be, as an organization and myself as a leader, we are ready to execute and manage whatever the circumstance is. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we are ahead, we understand our trends, we’re making the right decisions for our business and our people, and we’re making sure that we’re doing right and taking care of our owners.