Kris Burnett
Jun 1, 2014

2014 Executive Vendor Summit Review: March 25-27, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana

2014 Executive Vendor Summit Review: March 25-27, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana

Kris Burnett
Jun 1, 2014

It is hard to believe that the Executive Vendor Summit is in its 10th year. When Richard Siegel, publisher of Hospitality Upgrade, first came up with the idea to bring the C-level executives from the technology providers together for two and a half days each year, many thought he was nuts. Who knew that in its 10th year, the vast majority are repeat attendees and come not only to take part in the educational sessions, but to brainstorm and network with the very companies with whom they compete, yet many times whom they compliment.

“There is no conference like this where you interact with your peers; you have the opportunity to listen to other people’s point of view or competitors of yours in some cases,” said Sean O’Neill of Newmarket International.

This year’s event was held at the Omni Royal Orleans in New Orleans, La. The conference began with the annual golf tournament, which was held at the English Turn Golf & Country Club, one of the few properties that was able to operate immediately after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The crosswinds proved highly challenging, but at least afforded quite a few laughs. To show how challenging the course was (we will just blame the course and the wind), the winning score was an even par. First place went t Jay Troutman of Aptech, Susan Gregory of Ponterra Business Advisors, Michael Buckham-White of Agilysys and Mike Gray of NEC. The longest putt made was also by Gregory, and the closest to the pin was a shot by Michael Waltman of Interactive Sites. It was already a tough course, and the wind, with gusts up to 25 mph, made it even tougher, but fun.

Session 1: The 5 Stars Legacy: The Leader’s Role in Driving a Culture of World-class Service

In the first session, Bryan Williams, chief service officer of B. Williams Enterprise, LLC, described some of the tools and perspectives to not just meet, but to continually exceed your customers’ expectations. He stressed the importance of teams being not only exceptional, but consistent. Most importantly, he emphasized how leaders have an important role in driving a culture of world-class service and encouraging a service-driven team.

Session 2: Legal Corner: Successful Contracting in the Lodging Industry

After a very productive examination of leading five-star service teams and developing effective leadership tactics, Greg Duff, owner, Garvey Schubert Barer, led a discussion on contract terms as they apply to technology companies in the lodging sector. Topics covered included contract structure, service level agreements (SLAs), indemnification, privacy and data security, cloud-based services and statements of work. Duff’s presentation opened quite a bit of discussion over indemnity across borders and the continuing concern over data security.

Session 3: Real World M&A Deal Experiences: Investor and Seller Perspectives

Familiar face, John Rovani of Ponterra Business Partners, covered the current trends in mergers and acquisitions, and was joined by panelists Chris Hemmeter, co-founder/managing director, Thayer Ventures; Barrs Lewis, former CEO, TimeManagement Corporation; and Sean O’Neill, chairman, Newmarket International.

Rovani opened with, “It has been a very successful year.” And, his panelists were just two examples of many large acquisitions within the technology sector in the last year. (TimeManagement Corporation was bought by Agilysys and Newmarket was acquired by Amadeus.)

As Rovani mentioned, private equity has been extremely aggressive in the industry, and now private equity groups are eying this space because they see the enormous potential. Another point he noted was that “India is a market that is exploding.”

O’Neill agreed that many have taken notice of the industry. “I think it’s a great time to be in this industry,” he said. “There is a lot of interest (within it).”

On the financial/venture capital side, Hemmeter explained what his company focuses on when looking at companies like these. “It is way more about growing the business and getting behind great teams than financial engineering,” he said.

Lisa Israelovitch, Umapped founder and CEO, asked Hemmeter, “When you are investing in a company and you know you accept a risk, what are two characteristics of companies you invest in?”

Hemmeter pointed to the companies themselves and their teams’ focus. “There is this incredible magic about a team or leader who is willing to micro pivot in pricing policy and this sort of mandate of focus. The ability to pivot is so vital,” he said. “The most important thing is the magic.”

From the audience, Cindy Estis Green of Kalibri Labs asked what effect the sale of TravelClick would have on the hotel industry. (Venture capital firm and majority owner Genstar sold the company to private equity group Thoma Bravo for $930 million recently.)

Rovani said, “There is an enormous amount of new competition in the space from companies like SiteMinder. I don’t think TravelClick will be able to raise prices because of that… The track record of B2B players going public (with a few exceptions in this room) has not been that great.”

Hemmeter agreed with Rovani and said, “Hotels will have choices; there is more competition.”

Regarding acquisitions themselves, both Lewis and O’Neill cited the importance of having a third party, especially since many of these relationships deal with businesses your company has most likely dealt with before or still does.

“It’s great to have a plan,” O’Neill said. “You need to think about getting an advisor… Someone who knows the industry and knows the players.”

Lewis agreed, “What I needed was knowledge, knowledge in a very particular place.”

When asked by John Burns of Hospitality Technology Consulting about how you prepare for sale, O’Neill said, “You have to look at what kinds of things not to do. You have to look at financial reporting… If you haven’t been looking at your business that closely, that’s a good place to start. Know your audience, try to be realistic.”

Lewis agreed and added, “It’s an arduous process, but it’s a fun process.”

Lastly, Rovani asked the panelists if there had been any pain points.

Lewis recommended that companies have discipline on their team; an example is that the financials have to be consistent between different meetings.

O’Neill stressed doing the right things and keeping a moral compass. “You want to wake up the next day and be able to face your team, (and feel the same as you did the day before),” he said.

Session 4: Seizing Opportunity

After a quick break, Larry Hall, president and CEO of PAR Springer-Miller Systems, moderated an open session focused on seizing the opportunity – the pitfalls and potential benefits. Hall led a lively discussion with the audience covering emerging technologies, resource allocation and speed to market, as well as the decision process, nurturing innovation, adoption curves and human capital… and is mobile actually overrated? To see what the audience thought, here is an actual excerpt from the session:

Larry Hall said,
“At (a conference) this January, Michael Deitemeyer, president of Omni, was at a panel discussion and he made this statement for Omni Hotels: ‘No keyless entry systems, no self-service devices, no mobile check-in at any Omni Hotels.’ And I took notice; that was an interesting statement to make.

“…First let’s put out some statistics: 9 percent penetration rate for mobile check-in for the hospitality industry in the U.S. Only 53 percent of the U.S. population has mobile phones (smartphones). So is Michael right? Is this mobile thing overblown, overrated? Are we all kidding ourselves? Or is Michael wrong?”

Kristi White of said,
“...I think it depends on the caliber of the hotel, and a hotel of this caliber, I would suspect that most customers, while probably more tech savvy, don’t want the mobile check-in; they do still want that personal interaction. If I had a lower caliber hotel where I don’t necessarily expect the higher level of service, then it might be OK. The other piece of it would be, do I have to download an app, because if I’m a one-time guest at your hotel, I’m not going to download an app to do mobile check-in and eat up space on my phone. I think we’re a long way from people doing that as a regular basis, because (as part of the) service industry, I expect a certain level of service.”

Connie Rheams of Indra said,
“I don’t know if it’s overrated or underrated. As an industry, at this point, you’re just replacing a process, and as a guest, what do I get out of that? I don’t have to stand in the line, that’s what I get out of that today, right? But, if there was some added value and I could see all the rooms, the largest rooms, and pick my room number and find some incentives, I think the guest would be more incented to use this kind of technology. I think today it’s just so basic, we’re trying to cross off one little piece of getting into a hotel, when in fact when I check in, I hope to charm the front desk agent, and get a really nice room. I think that interaction may pay off and that’s why I go stand in that line.”

Jacob Dehan of NORTHWIND Canada, Inc. said,
“I really give a lot of credit to the young generation, and if a person like me would make a statement about what they think is right, I’ll be wrong, but why don’t we ask the new generation what would they like. So my comment would be he would be wrong every year more and more as the young generation becomes the consumer of the hotels, and I think we just have to cater to them.”

Larry Hall said,
“What Deitemeyer added during his remark, he said, ‘We can solve the check-in problem operationally better the old fashioned way than with mobile.’ Think about what he is saying. If I (preregister) you and cut your key, there’s nothing faster than walking up to the front desk, showing them who you are, and grabbing a key. You can’t do check-in any faster than that regardless of your device. And that was really the point he was trying to make: no enhanced operational benefit.”

Mike Gray of NEC said,
“… I have a 36-year-old son and an 80-year-old mother. My son has devices in each hand and doesn’t talk to anybody. My mother, who has more money than my son, she picks up the phone and dials zero. And the hotel or chain needs to be prepared to deal with both of those wide scenarios if they have any hope of staying relevant.”

For a full transcript of this highly interactive session, please go to:

Session 5: The Year Ahead Straight from the CIO’s Mouth

The last day of the conference, one of the most popular sessions of the summit focused on a panel of CIOs who were willing to share their current challenges, their future technology plans, and their visions and strategies for the year ahead. Richard Tudgay, vice president, technology, Omni Hotels & Resorts moderated the panel which included Mike Blake, CIO, Commune Hotels & Resorts; Page Petry, CIO, Americas, Marriott International; and Greg Taylor, vice president technology and chief information officer, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. Be sure to view the view clip and see what they said about working with technology vendors.
Here is an excerpt from the session opening:

Richard Tudgay, moderator said,
“It’s interesting that as CIOs, we definitely compete against each other, our hotels definitely compete… but we all talk all the time. We talk a lot; we bounce things off each other, and one of the things we talk a ton about is vendors. There’s no question about it…. Something we all talk about is, ‘Well how did the installation go?’”

Mike Blake said,
“I want to allay some of your concerns; when we talk amongst ourselves, seriously… we never talk about price. We never, we kind of draw the line on a lot of things, and we never talk about price. So we never say, oh we’re getting this and such and such, what are you getting. We make sure that there’s a fine line between – I think it’s rather a black and white line – between that which we can talk about and that which we don’t talk about. We do have various venues and opportunities where all the CIOs do get together and we do talk, and it’s a double-edged sword. If you have a great product and we have a great experience, it’s fantastic. But if we happen to have a rough install or something crazy happens, that kind of gets around pretty quick...”

For a link to the video recording of the panel session in its entirety, please go to:

Session 6: You’re Hired! Now Don’t (Ever) Leave

The final session was led by 10-time summit attendee, Jay Troutman of Aptech Computer Systems, who discussed the challenges of finding, hiring and keeping good people in the industry. As a company that has been in business for 40 years, Troutman has seen his share of changes in the industry, his business and in the hiring process.

“We find it’s worth the effort (investing in our employees),” he said. Not only does his management team share regular updates with the staff members, but Aptech also splits the profits within the company each year: one-third goes to the owners, one-third goes to the employees and one-third goes back to the company.

Ursula Rhode pointed out the benefits her company, Genares Reservation Services, has gained by developing a team of older and younger employees to create a mentor/mentee relationship where they can learn from each other and help the company in many areas.

For a viewpoint from outside the company, Troutman also cited the benefits of having an advisory board from an accountability perspective.

Bruce Bensettler of Data Plus Hospitality Solutions added that some from the industry may only advise in a limited capability though. “The more sophisticated people who could contribute the most were no longer willing to do so because of the liability,” he said. “(But) they were willing to serve as part of a board of directors.”

When asked how bumpy the road was over the years when creating a profit sharing program, Troutman said the bumps were worth it. “After all those things came into play… now I think the culture is very solid.”

As Troutman said, it’s very hard to find good people, but his company has been able to create consistent growth of 20 to 25 percent year over year for quite a while – a trend, he wouldn’t mind continuing.

Many of the event attendees appreciate the opportunity to meet others in their field, and many enjoy the educational sessions. Peter Altabef of MICROS enjoyed both and said, “Hospitality Upgrade (hosts) a tremendous conference. The team here has put together a great group of panelists, a great group of participants, and the interaction is open and flowing, and it’s learning... what I really appreciate from the best conferences is the ability to learn. Networking is important, but learning is special, and this conference gives you both.”

O’Neill, a repeat attendee as well, agreed, “I say the same thing to Rich every year and I always mean it... Each time I leave (the Executive Vendor Summit), there is no question I’ll be back next year if I’m invited.”

From watching the Nola Pelicans beat the L.A. Clippers in the final minutes of the game, to enjoying the result of a bananas foster cooking class, ideas were shared, new contacts were made, and many vowed to return again for next year’s Executive Vendor Summit.

Special thanks to 2014 Executive Vendor Summit sponsors: Garvey Schubert Barer, Ponterra Business Advisors, HFTP, and our own Hospitality Upgrade and Hotel-Online.

- by Kris Burnett, Hospitality Upgrade

2014 Attendees included: Michael Buckham-White, Agilysys; Greg Pesik, Passkey; Larry Hall, PAR Springer-Miller Systems; Seth Christian, Knowcross Solutions Pvt Ltd; Richard Corso, InnLink/TravLynx; Bruce Bensetler, Data Plus Hospitality Solutions; Mark Holzberg, Hospitality Technical Services, LLC (HTS); Sean O’Neill, Newmarket International; St John Murphy, NTT DATA Inc.; David Chestler, SiteMinder; Vivek Bhogaraju, IDeaS - A SAS COMPANY; Steve Gelb, MaximRMS; Susan Gregory, Ponterra Business Advisors; Connie Rheams, Indra; Lisa Israelovitch, Umapped; Trevor Warner, Warner Consulting Group; Don Hay, Digital Alchemy; Kristi White,; Jay Troutman, Aptech; Mark Swanson, Immersion Companies Inc.; Mark Jarman, Guestware; Stewart Applbaum, Infor; Ron Dressin, RedRock Software; Mark Loyd, Multi-Systems, Inc.; Rod Jimenez, Sceptre Hospitality Resources; Cindy Estis Green, Kalibri Labs; Sherry Marek, Datavision; Arthur Waller, PriceMatch; Bryan Williams, B.Williams Enterprise, LLC; David Shaw, Postec, Inc.; Ursula Rhode, Genares; Ron Peterson, Blueprint RF; Evan Brown, ENG Infotech Corp; Hayes Thomas, ZDirect, Inc.; Jacob Dehan, NORTHWIND Canada Inc.; Jon Inge, Jon Inge & Associates; Barrs Lewis, TimeManagement Corporation; Chris Hemmeter, Thayer Ventures; John Burns, Hospitality Technology Consulting; Jeff Venza, Venza Group, Inc.; Chris Ruff, UIEvolution; Michael Waltman, Interactive Sites, Inc.; Peter Altabef, MICROS Systems, Inc.; Mike Gray, NEC; Alex Alt, Sabre; Mike Schmitt, Clairvoyix; Cris Davidson, FCS Computer Systems; Michael Garvin, RoamingAround Mobile Solutions; Greg Duff, Garvey Schubert Barer; Patrick Bosworth, Duetto; Bob Magliozzi, CENDYN; Frank Wolfe, HFTP; Josh Keatts, Ponterra Business Advisors; and John Rovani, Ponterra Business Advisors.

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