New this year, “Male Ally of the Month,” a column that focuses on the men going out of their way to support women in the hospitality industry. While we all know they don’t have to help, these guys want to help, and this new column will take the time to find out how and why they are determined to help us reach gender equality.
This month's interview for Mr. November, Bill Reynolds, is written by accomplished hospitality industry leader, Andrea Foster, whose current roles include AHLA Foundation board member and luminary for She Has a Deal. Andrea has known Bill for years, he was instrumental in her successful career...and even introduced her to her significant other!
Bill Reynolds has been a dear friend for the better part of two decades and a supporter of women and women leaders for many more. We first met by way of my then-boss and mentor, the late Bruce Baltin of PKF Consulting, in Los Angeles - Bruce and Bill were friends and well-connected in the industry. For the last 11 years, Bill has been on the capital side (via the investment vehicle, MCS Capital) of Marcus Hotels & Resorts, following investment roles at Thayer Lodging, MeriStar, and CapStar Hotel Company.
Bill and I stayed in touch as our careers evolved and cities changed. When I ended up back at PKF Consulting (CBRE Hotels) in 2011, leading the New England practice, Bill would reach out whenever he was in Boston, and we would connect to discuss the industry and solve the problems of the world. In 2015, when Marcus was looking for an SVP of Development, he reached out to me. A few years later, Bill introduced me to my significant other, and the rest is history.
Your ability to connect and stay connected to people is something that I admire greatly. You have always been known to be a strong supporter of women leaders in our industry. And I've seen you demonstrate this over and over again in all the years I've known and worked with you, since the first time we met - about 20 years ago. What is it that drives you to be so actively and intentionally supportive?
My grandmother on my mother’s side was 34 years old, living in South Africa with her 54-year-old husband back in the 1930s. My mother was young, and her brother was three years older. And all of a sudden, my grandfather died at 54. He was working for Goodyear Rubber in South Africa – in the depression years. My 5-foot-tall grandmother had to get her two children out of South Africa and back through London to the United States. And darned if she didn't talk herself into a job as a serious executive in a typewriter company in Connecticut. This put her in a position to send her two children to boarding school. She was a character, and I grew up close to her. Having a grandmother with that kind of strong, female presence greatly impressed me.
In elementary school, there were 14 of us who were together from 1st through 6th grades, half women and half men. There was no question about who was smart and because we stayed connected through high school and college, it became apparent that guys have advantages that some of these super bright women didn't have, even if they went to places like Vassar or Cornell. I think that it has always struck me that there were many smart, positive women in my life when I was a boy, which carried forward rather naturally. When I went to law school, there might have been two women [in my class]; now, these schools are 50/50 or more [women]. It has changed over time. But that's the real foundation, the impression my grandmother made.
As an incredible ally to women and women leaders, what tips would you offer to men who want to be better allies at work?
Common sense things like being open, being a good listener, acting supportively, and being a team member like you would with anybody else. I think it's mostly about listening, being genuinely friendly, and not being presumptuous - which would apply to all of us, not only men trying to get along better with women teammates. And it's different today because it has evolved. Suddenly, you have younger people who report to female bosses, which might not have happened 30 or 40, or even 20 years ago.
I remember, specifically, a story from a woman in the hotel business who worked at one of the banks in New York in the 1980s. When I first met her, she said, “It's weird. I’m here at this bank, and I get to work on deals, but there are clubs I can't join in New York, where after-hours over cocktails or in the steam bath, guys are there, and they make deals.” That had never crossed my mind, and I remember thinking that's crazy.
It has taken a while to evolve, somewhat because you also have generational changes. Based on looking at my stepdaughter, son, and stepson - that generation now in their 30s - is differently acclimated to gender and racial relations. There are significant problems we're focused on in this society. Still, at the end of the day, it is evolving, and everything gets talked about in America - including sexism, racism, as well as ageism, and all the isms - and that’s healthier. If you’re a male and want to be a better team player, you’ve got to be sensitive to those things - and mean it. I think people of all ages can do that. But I think the younger generation is more used to engaging with each other in these contexts. It’s evolved over time versus, say, even when you started.
One would argue that it is not fast enough, but certainly, year by year, I think it gets a bit better. And representation matters.
On the fast enough - you know, these are long careers that people have. Some of it's that you're waiting in line, and it doesn't make life perfect for somebody who's 40 versus 60 today. But over time, it's changing. There are women in higher executive roles within companies like Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, Hilton, and so forth, but it's taken a long time. I remember Niki Leondakis showed that Kimpton was truly an exception at that time, and I think having her visibility helped to change. Adding in Castell (now under ForWard and AHLA Foundation) is another piece of the long-term solution, but it takes time.
How do you think women can better advocate for themselves today?
I had a Law School professor, Carol Weisbrod, who was one of two women - the other being Ruth Bader Ginsburg - who were at Columbia Law School back in the early 1950s. They were both about 5’2”, Jewish, from New York. Students had to stand to recite in class when they were called on. And she said it made them tough because every time they’d stand up, the boys would all think it was fun to tease them and say, “You're supposed to stand up.” One day, Professor Weisbrod literally got up on her desk and said, “Okay. Is this tall enough for you to see me?” I think about that. Only two people in the entire school were female. But, they had guts.
Today, some of the women's groups are effective because you get to talk amongst yourselves and sort of reinforce each other's strengths, and help each other overcome your weaknesses and fears. I think helping each other as a group goes a long way.
Advocating, in general, means you're proactive about yourself, both socially and marketing-wise, without being overbearing, but taking the lead in socializing - inviting people to events at conferences. Be the leader and pick out who you want to invite, so you get to know people through the industry.
I think another is being very candid and literal, in a matter-of-fact way, whether within a company or a circle of peers. Sometimes, people are too hesitant to describe in a matter-of-fact, collected manner, what they're feeling, what their needs are, and what their worries are. I realize that there are situations where you feel like you're exposing too much or you're going to look traditionally “weak“- the old characterization of women. But I think when you're at the level coming out of someplace like the Hotel School at Cornell or working for Marriott, and then moving on to a private equity firm in New York, I think the more candid, frank, and matter of fact you are, the better because people then see you as in control of yourself, thoughtful, not being antagonistic, but also being forceful in a kind of team-play way. And to me, that's part of it.
On the business side, study after study shows that diverse companies are more profitable. Why do you think the hotel industry still struggles with gender equality?
I think some of it is simply because it was a profession that traditionally attracted people who worked their way up from being a bellman to being an executive in a hotel, then maybe later being an executive in a hotel company. And I don't mean to overplay this, but I suspect many of those entry-level jobs, at 18 or 22, weren't terribly attractive to young women. The world was such that if you [as a woman] did take one of those jobs, you had to always be on guard that you might get hit on or something at work, so it never took root. I think it took a long time to start the changes you and I have alluded to here, but I think that reflects the nature of the jobs, where people used to start.
I don't know this, but I'm pretty sure that in the 1950s and '60s, the majority of hotel general managers and even company executives did not go to hotel schools at Cornell or Michigan State. They went to work in a hotel. You and I have certainly known people like that. Some of them rose to very prominent positions. I think that's part of it – it can still be a struggle, but it's not like it's not being addressed these days. And it's not like there aren't women now in serious positions within these companies who are very well respected. Look at Citicorp, outside our industry. But I think it's another one of these things that takes time.
I think there are also some efforts by companies to be sure that people get appropriate training on how to interact with others and how to treat and not treat others. It's a shame [that it is needed], but the fact is, it is happening, so those are good things, pointing in the right direction.
I think I can nail the history okay, but why it's still a struggle is a little bit beyond me. There are now more women on Boards, even in the hotel business, but often you’ll look at the credentials, and there’s an investment banker, a lawyer, or an academic - and what you want to see is when the head of one of these companies will be a woman. And there are a few, but not many yet.
Shifting back to you, what part of the legacy that you've created in the hospitality industry thus far are you most proud?
I am proudest of my contact base and friendships - especially among other principals, consultants, brokers, and people who've been on the other side of transactions with me or potential transactions. These are relationships based on integrity, and I am fortunate to receive trust from a lot of people - including competitors. I think that's my reputation - somebody skilled, but somebody who always shoots straight.
You’re being too humble. I think the number of connections and introductions that you've made, people whom you've brought together over the course of your life, is pretty profound - a lot more so than you're giving yourself credit for. If you could turn back the clock, what advice would you give your younger self?
Two things. One, spend more time working out. You don't have to be a workaholic - so if you can find an hour, three days a week you can probably find an hour, seven days a week. In my case, I enjoyed sports. I was a good athlete, but I wasn't religious about working out once I got into the hotel business and started traveling. Fortunately, my health is good these days, but there's certain things I probably can't do anymore.
Two, I would tell myself that sometimes in life - what you learn in retrospect - if you had gone slower about certain things, you might have ultimately been able to go faster. And that can apply to things that are emotional and it can apply to professional things. It’s not a “stop-and-smell-the-roses” message, but simply when you’re a development person, you tend to be driven and excited about deals, and sometimes you move too quickly and miss things. If you go a little slower, you may be surprised at how cumulatively you’ll wind up either going faster or amassing a bigger collection of hotels, or whatever.
I completely understand what you mean about “going slower so you can go faster” - take the time. I remember being in my 20s and thinking I have to do everything right now. And later you realize you can take the time to learn and grow and do the things that you need to in order to build that foundation.
Quickfire with Bill
What is your morning routine?
I am an early riser - 5/5:30 am. I like to have that time in the early morning when the world is quiet to drink coffee, read, do some word puzzles, then do my PT/workout routine. Then a nutrition-packed, smoothie that sustains me and cuts my appetite for a good portion of the day. If I can do all of these things, I feel like my day is under control - no matter what happens later.
What is your favorite restaurant dinner order and beverage?
Some sort of seafood and steamed broccoli, or good Italian food. And I haven’t had soda in years, so I’ll usually pair it with pomegranate or grapefruit juice, red wine, scotch, or vodka.
You have always embraced “bleisure” travel - that business-leisure blend. In fact, I may credit you with creating the concept long before it became post-pandemic popular. What is your favorite travel destination?
Domestically, there are two: San Diego and the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.
Internationally: London (influenced by my mother) and Paris (influenced by my father).
On my bucket list is the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.
What is your favorite hotel feature or amenity (in the room, or in the hotel overall)?
I tend to really like good spas. After the NYU conference this year, when there was all the smoke in the air from the Canadian fires, I checked into the Ritz Carlton in Nomad, which has a wonderful spa. If I can get a massage, a steam, or a sauna, that is an amenity I treasure and use. When you travel as much as we all do, anything that enables you to tune out for a while is wonderful.
Love that we are ending on the topic of wellness. Thank you so much, Bill, for your continuous allyship of women leaders in our hospitality industry and beyond.