Her Path to Hotel Ownership: Angel Johnson
Juggling two careers that are typically dominated by men, Angel Johnson, a cybersecurity technologist, and first-time hotel investor, proves to us that women truly can “run the world.”
Inspired by the financial success of a real estate investor, Angel took a leap of faith by buying her first property straight after college, having taught herself the ins and outs of the business. After 20 years of nurturing a career in the tech industry alongside her real estate investments, Angel now has an ownership stake in a hotel in Douglas, GA.
Angel’s motivating story exemplifies how with determination and a willingness to take risks, women can make their mark in the world of hotel investing. Here is herstory:
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Philadelphia surrounded by a huge family. My mother had me at 17 years old and I was raised in a house with her, my grandmother, my aunt, and uncle. I firmly believe being surrounded by a large family, full of love, gave me the confidence to do many things later in life and in my career. My mother later married and then created a blended family that included my older sister, younger sister, and younger brother.
What person influenced you most in your life?
Probably my mother. Her story is a courageous one. She was still in high school when she became pregnant with me. She could have decided not to proceed with the pregnancy, but she kept me and named me Angel. While growing up she always hustled hard to provide and continued to encourage me to work hard and be a good person. It was good, practical knowledge and information to pass down to a child. I have always had a strong spiritual connection to God as well which has been my saving grace and carries me throughout life.
Who encouraged you to study engineering and computer science?
My father brought a computer home when I was younger. It didn't do much or have many bells or whistles, but I can say it was the first time I had unlimited access to a computer. I always loved video games, especially Tetris. I went to Temple University in Philadelphia with a plan to study business, but after taking a few computer courses I was hooked! I didn’t go into tech for the money, just because I really loved it, but it does offer financial stability. I graduated undergrad with a BBA degree in computer information systems.
What do you do now for a job and which roles led you there?
I am a cybersecurity specialist, in this role, I oversee applications to ensure all scans are complete, free of defects, and safe and secure. I have been in technology for over 20 years. I started out as a computer programmer, then gradually moved to be a project manager at various companies including a stint with The Travel Channel helping them roll out mobile apps. Most recently, I was a director of technology programs for Marriott in the corporate headquarters, helping oversee technology infrastructure projects for everything from Loyalty, Reservation, Revenue Management, Channels to Customer Engagement Centers. I worked at Marriott for six years before being furloughed and taking my current cybersecurity role with the government.
Who inspired you to start investing in real estate?
A college girlfriend told me she knew a guy who was “rich.” I asked her what he does and she said he was a real estate investor. I didn't even know what that was! He had given her a few different books to read. So, I started reading all about real estate investing. With some knowledge, I marched down to the sheriff’s sale with my hard-earned savings in hand and bought my first property and have never looked back! I’m glad I started early. Flipping houses in Philadelphia helped me zero out my student loan debt shortly after college. Twenty years in, I still invest in residential real estate in Philadelphia.
Who gave you the idea to move from residential real estate to hotels?
Julius Robinson, one of the top executives at Marriott, was an amazing mentor to me while I worked there and we became good friends. Every year he would mention hotel ownership to me, and continually I dismissed it. I was a new mom, nursing and trying to navigate life. Things were complicated. He never gave up. When I was furloughed due to the pandemic, I saw a ton of men leaving Marriott to go buy “distressed hotels.” So, I called Julius back up and told him....I'MMMMM READDDDDDYYYYYY! He connected me to Tracy Prigmore, of TLT Solutions and creator of She Has a Deal, and Omari Head, a director at Paramount Lodging Advisors. They both have been instrumental in my moving into hotel ownership.
What steps did you take to become a hotel owner?
I realized I needed to learn the basics, hotel ownership is different from flipping and owning houses. I enrolled in Tracy Prigmore’s ownership masterclass as part of her She Has a Deal pitch competition. The class was extremely relevant and filled with helpful information for women interested in hotel investing to navigate their first deal. As I had been with Marriott for six years by this point, I already had a strong foundation in hospitality. Plus, I had visited most of the Marriott brands all over the US and Caribbean while working there, which was helpful in evaluating what type of hotel I might like to own.
Wow, just like playing Monopoly, you went and bought a hotel?
Haha! Not as simple as that! To start, hotels are expensive and require different kinds of financing, there are legal, operational, and other factors to consider, the basics of which I was able to learn from the She Has a Deal Masterclass program. For my first investment, I was not looking to be the lead on the deal, I wanted to invest with someone else.
How did you find a partner to invest with?
Through the She Has a Deal program and Tracy, I met Kendra Plummer, founder of Elise Capital, who was looking for investors on a 61-room Hampton Inn, which is a Hilton brand, in Douglas, Georgia. The numbers made sense and Kendra is really knowledgeable, with a strong background in hotel asset management and investing. I was really impressed with Kendra, so I jumped at the chance to invest with her. I love the travel and hotel industry so it was a no-brainer to pull the trigger for my first hotel deal!
How do you cope with risk in your investments, and this hotel deal, in particular?
There are always going to be risks with investments. Heck, there's a risk in everything you do! I have always taken calculated risks to ensure that I don't spend my “rent money.” I did my homework, ran the deal past a few knowledgeable people, and made sure I had the funds available to invest. I admit when it was time to wire the money, I did feel nauseous! I didn't let the momentary uneasy feeling hold me back though, in any investment, you have to trust yourself and go for it!
Have you had any investments that bombed? What did you learn from that?
Of course! I had a foreclosure on a property that I tried to flip and didn't sell. It was horrible. I gave it my best. It failed. It happens. You can recover. When things get tough, I pray and meditate on the next step. Things typically work out one way or another, but I have worked throughout my career to build really good relationships and advisors, that have helped me in times of struggle.
Why do you think more women haven’t become hotel owners?
They don’t know the possibility. Never in my wildest imagination growing up would I have thought that I COULD HAVE EVER OWNED a hotel. Julius, Tracy, Kendra, Omari, and Davonne Reaves of The Vonne Group, are all on the frontline, letting women and minorities know that hotel ownership is an option for us too!
What would you like to see in the industry done to help women?
In order for anything to change, the powers that be have to acknowledge that there is a problem. The late CEO of Marriott, Arne Sorenson, and Page Petry, former Chief IT Officer for Marriott, are industry leaders who would go out of their way to help bring along women and minorities. I hope that more leaders like them, like Julius Robinson, continue to encourage potential hotel owners of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where many people feel that things are just and on an equal playing ground. Things are not! I’ve had to work twice as hard and twice as long to get smaller crumbs. As industry leaders begin to acknowledge this disparity, then they can develop programs that are helpful to women and minorities. Women and minorities know how to save, are savvy investors, and can handle large roles at hotels and large hotel transactions. We just need a helping hand, equal footing, and equal opportunities.
Do you feel you can help other women like you get interested in hotel investment?
Yes! I have spoken with many women and minorities who, once they found out I am a Hilton hotel owner, are very interested themselves. Sometimes you just need to see one person who looks like you that has done it to go for it. I will continue to spread the word!
It seems there are at least a few women of color that are hotel owners and on a mission to educate others, why do you think this movement is happening now?
It's a great question! I just read a really good article about the increase of women going to college and getting educated. As women get educated, we socialize with other women and discuss in detail our successes and pitfalls. Women leaders typically bring their entire self to work and to business, this includes nurturing and caring for others, people and mankind while lifting others up behind us. Women can run the world!
Do you invest in other assets (stocks etc)?
YES! I invest in stocks, gold, silver, platinum, cryptocurrency, and real estate. The key for me has been to always diversify my investments and stay open to new investments. Technology has morphed into so many different avenues and so has cryptocurrency. There are always going to be more things that make sense as investments. Over the next few years, I am going to move into neighborhood redevelopment. I'm also looking into Cannabis investments.
What would be your top 3-5 tips you’d give to other women looking to invest in hotels?
Surround yourself with other hotel investors. We are out here.
Get a strong understanding of the hotel industry. The numbers and the finance side, plus an understanding of the business and what it entails.
Be fearless. Do your homework but then don't be afraid to jump in.
Don't spend the “rent money” for ANY investment! Only invest what you can afford to lose.
Based on my personal experience, I also recommend for people invest in residential real estate first before jumping into hotel ownership.