Opinion

Building a small hotel empire as a family business

Working with your family can forge a unique approach – but the path is not always straightforward. We learn from a father-and-son duo how their relationship influenced their business journey

CEO and Founder of Montage Hotels & Resorts and Pendry Hotels

Running a family business can be fraught with complications. The nature of your relationship can make some things much simpler, but it can also lead to some difficult conversations and tricky decisions. Father-and-son duo, Alan and Michael Fuerstman, have been working together for over a decade and now the pair have a small hotel empire with properties across the United States and Mexico. Here’s what they’ve learned after 10 years of collaboration.

Alan Fuerstman, CEO & Founder of Montage Hotels & Resorts and Pendry Hotels

My background was as a hotel operator. Earlier in my career, I started off as a doorman and a bellman, then went onto manage some amazing hotels. I eventually became General Manager / Managing Director of the amazing Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. But I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so I wanted to create a luxury brand that was a little different to the traditional luxury. I viewed this as a little too pretentious or stuffy, and felt the next generation of traveller was looking for a much more gracious and humble approach. And so, Montage is incredibly focused on craftsmanship and quality, but in a style of service that is far less scripted and is highly personalised.

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Alan Fuerstman
Alan Fuerstman, CEO and Founder of Montage Hotels & Resorts and Pendry Hotels

In 2013 we started working on the Pendry brand. It’s rooted in the service culture of Montage but is coupled with a more progressive design and a more energised environment. Michael is the driving force behind that.

I have great respect for his skills and abilities. That's the most important thing: you can't force-fit a family member into a position just because they happen to be your son and daughter. It just so happened he showed acumen for the things that he oversees and does in such a strong way it became a natural fit.

His role here is less about privilege and more about responsibility. Michael understands the difference and has done a good job of earning the respect of others in our organisation. I wanted to make sure that his success was something that he earned and that he got the respect based on what he was doing. Especially in a business of this scale and size, you should never give someone responsibility for things they're not ready for or that they aren’t capable of. In the early years, I paid a lot of attention to how he was being perceived in the organisation. Now, I couldn't be more proud of how he has worked hard to earn respect.

It’s no more or less challenging to work together because of our relationship. I view it as a partnership where we're collaborating more than anything else. So when we’re bouncing ideas back and forth he's not hesitant to push back if he doesn't think my ideas are right. And I'm not hesitant, either. We'll have some good debate from time to time. When I’m meeting with prospective hotel owners or developers that are considering a long-term management contract, maybe 35-50 years, I think it gives them confidence that we are a multigenerational business. They see the youthfulness of our company as well and it gives them confidence that we'll be able to have great continuity beyond the vision of an individual entrepreneur.

Michael Fuerstman, Co-founder & Creative Director, Pendry Hotels

I grew up around the hospitality industry, but it was never really planned for me to get into the industry or work alongside my dad. I went off to college in Boston, tried different things, worked on an internet start-up company, then ended up moving to LA and worked for a property developer. I really found my niche in hospitality and learned to love it from the development side of the business, so I naturally transitioned into working for Montage.

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Michael Fuerstman
Michael Fuerstman, Co-founder & Creative Director, Pendry Hotels

I worked in different departments, from residential sales to acquisitions and development. It wasn’t until we had the opportunity to form Pendry did my dad and I really start spending a lot of time together, thinking through larger issues pertaining to the company, growing the business, working alongside one another.

When I was younger, I certainly felt the pressure. There are not only expectations, but sometimes there’s a perception that I would be or act a certain way, or achieve a certain thing. I had to just put that stuff aside and be the best version of myself, keep my head down, work hard and be a good teammate.

As I’ve accomplished more in my own career and we’ve done more, I don’t really think about those things anymore. I’ve been able to build credibility. It’s great that my dad and I get to have so many different types of relationships. He’s my father, my mentor, my friend. The biggest downside is that it’s really hard to turn it off. During family time, even if I’m chatting about sports with one of my kids, the conversation will eventually veer back to one of our properties or someone we’re engaged with for example. That’s been the biggest challenge.

When you’re running a family business, communication is really key. Understanding roles and responsibilities, and not necessarily treating it like a family business, will help. Assume ownership of the business, but don’t take that for granted. Work as if you were trying to earn your keep elsewhere.

Our success has come because we know who we are and what we’re capable of and we’re very true to ourselves. We have two great brands and a very defined view about what works for each. We’re disciplined about where and how we’ll grow each brand, and about how we operate our hotels.

 

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Person using laptop
Hero image: credit to Pendry Hotels
Topics
Takeaway
  • Montage Hotels & Resorts was created by Alan Fuerstman, whose hands-on experience in the industry and entrepreneurial nous gave him the tools to start his own small hotel empire
  • Alan’s son, Michael, now heads up Montage’s sister brand, Pendry, which will have seven properties across the USA by the end of 2021
  • Their father-son relationship has helped them grow the business, as honesty and frankness come more easily. But switching off their ‘colleagues’ relationship can be difficult at family gatherings
  • The pair say communication and clear responsibilities are essential ingredients for a successful family business

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