DEI Advisors Podcast

Matt Campbell, COO, My Place Hotels Interviewed by Rachel Humphrey

November 10, 2023 David Kong
DEI Advisors Podcast
Matt Campbell, COO, My Place Hotels Interviewed by Rachel Humphrey
Show Notes Transcript

Matt discusses his journey from general counsel to COO and the ways he continually develops the new skills he needs to transition roles. He shares why he's passionate about board and non-profit service and the leadership lessons he's learned from youth sports. Matt talks about what he looks for in hiring talented team members and how empathy has evolved as a critical leadership trait over the last few years.

Rachel Humphrey:

I am Rachel Humphrey with DEI Advisors. We are a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering personal success in the hospitality industry. And I am delighted to welcome to the show today, Matt Campbell with MyPlace Hotels. Matt, welcome to the program. Thanks

Matt Campbell:

for having me, Rachel. It's great to be here.

Rachel Humphrey:

Matt, we're going to jump right in, spend about 30 minutes together today. And I want to start with your path to leadership. You're currently the CFO at MyPlace Hotels. And one of the things I really love about the industry is that there is not one straight shot or one direct path that everybody has to take to find leadership within the hospitality industry. So tell us a little bit about who you are, your journey, and how you got to where you are

Matt Campbell:

today. Yeah, absolutely. I think that is one of the greater parts about the hospitality industry is that there are so many different ways to enter it and work your way through it. And I don't think I'm any different. Start back in college. Really? I went to college at the University of South Dakota to play college golf and study a little finance on the side and follow the typical path of my friends at the time, which would be I probably fall into the banking route or maybe a financial advisor route through undergraduate. I, I got lined up with a couple business law courses that hooked me into got me some interest in, the law side of business. And so I pursued law after undergraduate. And at law school, I joined the JD MBA program and continued down the path of business and absolutely love law school. I love the law. I love learning different elements that take place and how integral it is to every business. Following law school, I was fortunate enough to get a clerkship in Northeastern South Dakota, worked with a great group of judges, exposed myself to every element of the law, still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, which I think is pretty typical for someone, exiting college and maybe even law school at the time, but got with a great group of judges, introduced me to a lot of different things. And if there's one thing I learned when clerking, it was, I did not want to be a litigator. Made it very clear that's not my path. And so I was able to transition out of the clerkship role into private practice and began a transactional. role represented a lot of different businesses, again, introduced to a lot of different topics. And then in 2015, I got my first real entry into hospitality where I joined MyPlace Hotels as their general counsel. And my transition as a general counsel was really my first opportunity into leadership, at least in my experience, the general counsel got pulled into every meeting, got pulled into the planning sessions, the risk management, the employment law, and there really wasn't a time where the. Attorney or the general counsel wasn't impactful in the business. And I think deep down, I always wanted to be in house just wasn't a preference on hospitality or a different industry group, but really fortunate. I fell into the general counsel role at my place. I maintained that role for about four or five years and about 2019 became chief operating officer. And today I get to lead our great team here at my place.

Rachel Humphrey:

There are so many nuggets of wisdom in there. One thing I really like that you said is that by having the role with the judges, you actually learned you didn't want to be a litigator because sometimes our most important lessons come not from the path we want to follow, but by staying away from the ones that we don't want to follow. And I want to share now, I'd like to share with our audience why I have asked guests to join us, the impact that you have had as a former litigator as a lawyer. There aren't a lot of us that transition from from active lawyering to operations. It's actually just I don't find many in common. As a matter of fact, until watching suits recently, I've never even heard of a CEO at a law Firm, but I liked it when you did because we were both doing it around the same time, having similar experiences in the hospitality industry. And as we both know, relatability can actually find a lot of comfort. So I love talking with you, hearing about your transition there. What it was like going into operations from lawyering because I didn't have a lot of peers in that peer set and really appreciate all of the guidance that you provided there and that actually lends itself perfectly to one of the first things I want to ask you about. I know when I pivoted from law firm life to corporate life, it was an entire new universe. But along with the new universe came a lot of skills that I really wanted to capture. Had not worked on mastering either at undergrad law school, or even when my 20 years of practice, did you find a similar thing that you were coming across skill sets that you realize that in order to be successful? Here's some other areas I might need to master.

Matt Campbell:

Yeah, absolutely. I think you look at the, say, the private practice into in house. General counsel, one of the earlier things that I had a challenge with was in private practice. I had dozens of clients, hundreds of clients where you're helping them on a dozen different issues through a dozen different industries and then shifting to in house, you have one client, you have problems, and you're expected not only to fix the problem, but implement the solution to carry it through in private practice. A lot of times you get presented with the problem and you fix it, And you transition away and you fix the next problem, you transition away. But, I found it very rewarding being in house where you can take the problem, find a solution, work with the team members, implement the strategy, bring on the right people and follow through to make sure that problem doesn't happen again. And there are a lot of elements that carry through, maybe not from private practice, but from history of, being a part of teams, being part of associations where you have to find a way to work together and find the elements of each other. It might be a differing opinion, but ultimately come together and find the solutions that matter. But there is a dramatic difference. To the baseline of the question from private practice to in house counsel, and then the transition to the say, the operation side where you're, really trying to get the job done and not just trying to prevent the problem from happening again. Thank you.

Rachel Humphrey:

I love that. And how do you set out to develop those new skills? Do you have resources that you rely on people you rely on? What's the what's the system you use when you realize that here's something I think I'd like to develop further.

Matt Campbell:

A little bit of everything, right? So I'm with a great organization that we've, that's really been around for 50 years, as long as my place has only been around for about 12, but we have some great people in South Dakota that I can rely on from their experience with other brands or with, my place before I got here, where I can leverage their experience, self learning. And then I'm generally curious in terms of why are things happening the way they are? How can we improve a process for next time? And so being. So I call it self educated to some degree where I have to step in and learn the answer. I didn't have anybody necessarily here soon after I got started to rely upon to develop processes and procedure. So taking advantage of the associations, the conferences, other lawyers throughout the country in terms of always trying to better ourselves and better the folks around us. I try to participate in as many associations as possible because generally, collectively we can draw on each other, draw on the other experiences. At the end of the day, the hospitality industry isn't that large and collectively, we're able to put together pretty good solutions. But frankly, I've really good mentors. I've been very fortunate. It doesn't matter if it's in private practice, the judges or in the operation side that I've been able to leverage.

Rachel Humphrey:

That's a great combination of different resources. I actually want to follow up on a couple of those themes. Starting with your team at MyPlace. I've had the thrill of spending a lot of time with you guys, but also in interviewing for DEI advisors, several of your colleagues, and certainly MyPlace is known as having a great team. What are some of the things you look for when you're hiring the team around you and you're developing the talent around you as a leader? What are the characteristics? Maybe that you're looking for in

Matt Campbell:

others? Yeah, we've been extremely fortunate to have. Good mentors here that have, made sure their philosophy of taking care of the people are always there. So that's fundamental. We've got to make sure we bring in people who understand our culture, which is, we're a people first organization, whether it's a guest, a franchisee, a vendor, it doesn't matter. We're all working through the same solution. But as I look to grow our team I tackle two or three items. Let's look at, their willingness to accept risk. And challenge the status quo. It works, hand in hand to some degree and professionally debate opinions. So I bring in somebody new, or as you ask questions, it's always often difficult to determine how comfortable they are with challenging a status quo, but I love it when they come in and say, Hey, I got this really good idea. I know you guys have been doing it a certain way. Let's explore it or hey, let's take the risk to upset somebody here that's established and been here a long time. That's hard. 2nd professionally debate opinions. I think I absolutely love it when people can come in and say, hey, I think the right solution is a B and C. I personally think it's D. E. and F. let's professionally debate this and let's see where. We can get to the end of the conversation and say, you know what, it is actually a combination of your idea. And my idea that is probably the right one. And that's a hard one because it's very easy to get somebody upset. It's very easy to damage a relationship. But if you can really professionally debate and take a new solution out of it. Ultimately, that's generally the right solution. And I love it when you can balance those two or three items together on a, on an interview process. They're hard to extract, but when you do generally we find ourselves pretty successful. And historically we've been pretty successful in finding our, our leadership team around those elements.

Rachel Humphrey:

I love the idea of new eyes being our fresh eyes being the best eyes because a lot of times we do get stuck doing things the way we've always done it, even if it's successful that way, but in being challenged by new ideas can sometimes take us to new heights. So that's great to hear. And I like the professional debating, especially in an interview because you're right. I think pushing people outside of their comfort zone there gives you an idea of what type of leader they might be down. Yeah. Yep. And

Matt Campbell:

it's so hard, right? Because it's how do you extract that in our organization? Because we've been around long enough, it's so critically important because with an old organization or an established organization, you have procedures that are in place. They've been done this way for so long. That's great because they exist. It's not good because they've been around for so long and no one's challenged them. So it is really important for us when we push those elements. I

Rachel Humphrey:

love that. Thank you for sharing that. I'm going to go in a totally different direction for a second. I have been really impacted of late hearing a lot of female leaders saying, why are only female leaders asked about work life balance, work life harmony, but we don't ask our husbands, male leaders in the industry, how do they travel or how do they balance everything else? So I know that you are a dad. That you are a husband, that you have passions and joys outside of your day to day career in the hospitality industry. Talk a little bit about some of the strategies that have been successful for you as someone who does travel, who has a demanding career in finding time to be with your family and also pursue some of the other hobbies that you have.

Matt Campbell:

Yeah, it's not easy in our industry. You've gone through the endless conferences and conventions and association meetings, and it is hard and I'm fortunate to have a wife at home who takes care of the kids and make sure the life doesn't unravel when I'm out of town. And that's extremely important. And finding that balance is often difficult, right? I try to schedule. I'm better now. I try to schedule my life a little bit more in advance than I used to identifying the things that really make a difference from a business standpoint to balance the life objectives. But in terms of balancing it, you at this stage you don't even try to balance it. You integrate it. You're going to be gone a lot. You're going to be at events, there's going to be polls on your time in so many different ways, but. Doing my best to say, Hey, I'm going to get to the soccer match on Saturday. I'm going to be back by Friday night. So I can be there on Saturday or today. I spent a lot of my time coaching my kids as hockey. It just, that's the thing that has to happen. I need to be here for that. Every opportunity I can get. And you really prioritize the things that you know you have to do and balance those things in that you should do. And then fill in the time that you have left, but it is hard and, I think they're always challenge is, how do you integrate it? There was a great session at the lodging conference this past year that I found really interesting. It was a main stage panel talking about other executives and how you integrate. Wellness and working out and staying healthy. And I took a lot of things from that. I like to say I got motivated to Hey, I'm going to start working out more. I'm going to start doing this and that. Admittedly, I never made it. That didn't happen. But just having those conversations it's emphasizing the, the fact that you have to integrate your family life into your business life. You can't have imbalance between work and family. You have to find a way to, to tie it together. And hearing those panelists from, younger folks up to nearing the end of their career, hear about their regrets or, Hey, where do they want to make sure there was a lasting impression? They're all focused on the family side, the taking care of yourself side. And so ultimately you try to do your best. We know we're busy. We're know we're doing things and you always try to remember, you got to be there at the things that you're going to regret. If you don't go, so I always try to focus on the kids events and the family events and balancing where I need to be from the work side.

Rachel Humphrey:

I like the intentionality of it, too, whether it's the scheduling or the evaluating. What are the can't miss items at work? What are the can't miss items at home to do it? I think if we leave it up to happenstance, it's not going to happen in a way that maybe we find satisfying either today or looking back on it. So the intentionality, I think, is a really good way of looking at it. And I liked what you said about self care to I think the wellness that intentionality and follow through perhaps Matt as well is really important because we will always find something to fill our time if we're not scheduling it or making the specific time for it. And I think a lot of that self care and wellness conversation actually came out of the pandemic. And I'm trying not to talk about the pandemic as much on this series, but I actually, for you, wanted to tie it back in because not only was it a time that none of us had been through anything like that before. So we didn't have mentors we could rely on. We didn't have a road map we could follow. But you and I also were looking through both an operational lens and a legal lens. We definitely saw a lot more. Lawyers being brought into executive teams and another thing trying to be very forward thinking. What of your leadership traits do you think really rose to the surface during maybe the earlier stages of the pandemic that helped you really establish yourself as a leader within your organization and the industry because of that skill set?

Matt Campbell:

Yeah, that was, a trying time. I actually became chief operating officer during that period and That's a welcome to the industry moment that I don't think you will ever replicate again, but certainly extremely interesting time. And, we went back and forth a lot over that period on how we're managing certain things and going over it and reflecting back. That was honestly the fastest moment in time I've ever experienced because you'd come to the office early and catch up on news. Information you'd catch up on government updates and you relay that down to your team from a leadership trait perspective, if I look back at it and how we incorporate it today is leaders in general became a little bit more empathetic to what's taking place around us. It's, there's no, there's nothing you can say about it. People went through some of the hardest times they could imagine. They lost their jobs. They lost their businesses, that family that was impacted. There was separation from who they're familiar with being around that they couldn't be around. And so us as leaders had to recognize, Hey, your team has other priorities. You have to figure out a way to accept that. The timeline might get missed. Why is it getting missed? Let's understand what these team members are going through before you have an irrational response to, missing a deadline or missing a project date. Have some empathy for the things that are taking place around us. And then from the communication side, it changed a lot. Pre COVID, yeah, you'd have your typical team updates. You talk about things that are taking place. And I think through the COVID period, you really learned that there had to be daily conversations in that moment of, Hey, we gotta be optimistic here. Let's find the positive and what's taking place around us. Let's talk about the general objective that we're going to try to narrow down to hit. And let's be narrow about what is the target we're going to hit that objective. And so those daily conversations maybe embedded myself more into the leadership role than I ever was familiar with beforehand, because it was guidance and advise and putting structure in place and moving forward. And at that moment, it's having additional empathy for the things taking place around you and making sure you're communicating very clearly what has to get done, when it has to get done, and being optimistic of there is going to be an outcome of this. We're going to be okay with and moving forward.

Rachel Humphrey:

I like that. I certainly think that I agree completely that empathy was something definitely both needed and exhibited a lot more and continuing still, which is nice to see that it wasn't. A blip in time that you mentioned when you were talking about continuous learning earlier and some of your path getting involved with boards, associations, nonprofits, and you do a tremendous amount with several of them. You've always been very involved on the advocacy side of things. Can you share a little bit both why it's important for you to be involved, but do you think you have the ability to develop additional or different skills as a leader through your. Involvement with those organizations than maybe you do in your corporate role or your legal role?

Matt Campbell:

Yeah, absolutely. So I do get involved with AHLA, some of the advocacy items. I like to be involved politically. And so certainly from an industry standpoint, I like to be involved as much as I can. I am involved in some nonprofits that I'm excited about. I serve on the boys and girls club board. I've been a part of that board here locally for 4 years, and I got introduced to that through a partner at the law firm. I was at in private practice and, getting open myself getting opened up to the activities of the Boys and Girls Club and how impactful they are to other kids' lives. Making sure they have a safe place to go and food and transportation and activities. I find that extremely rewarding to be a part of it. Selfishly, I'm also pretty active on the hockey association for a couple of different reasons. I love coaching my kids. They're six and eight. I love being a part of their. Their teams, their friends. I've watched them grow up with their little buddies playing hockey for the past five years. And that's been extremely rewarding. But personally on the hockey side, I can look back as myself, as a kid, the number of coaches that I had that influenced where I'm at today, because they gave their time, they gave opinion, they gave encouragement, they taught things beyond winning the game. They talked about your teammate or your teammate on your right or left is really going to influence what's going on. And so as you get into the boardroom, it's really. No matter how much you think you can do by yourself, no matter what you think you can accomplish at the end of the day, you're not going to accomplish it without these guys on each side of you and finding a way to work together through different opinions with a common goal in mind. So I find so much value in giving back to that, hoping I can maybe instill some of that to. Some other kid but I do know there's a lot of life lessons that are taken away from sports and taken away from the boys and girls club and the hockey association that, that do layer back. And fundamentally, I think anybody in a position of leadership or power has the ability to give some time, talent, or treasure to some organization that they're passionate about to make something part of that a little bit better. And so I feel very fortunate to have the time and ability to do that. And. Those specifically are two organizations outside of, the hospitality associations that we're also trying to improve.

Rachel Humphrey:

I love the ties of lessons learned both as an athlete in youth sports, but also in our ability to create leaders through youth sports. So appreciate what you're doing to not only share that with others, but instill that in your voice as well. One of the things about this industry as well, that is very unique, but incredibly impactful. It are the relationships that we build and we all network. I've been very open sharing some of my. fears of different scenarios in that sense. But at the end of the day, we might end up with a very similar network. How do you think you have done in your networking, your relationship building that maybe is suited to your personality, but might be different than others network?

Matt Campbell:

Yeah, it's, I've had, because of my diverse background and coming from legal and operations, it's bifurcated between you have your legal network and then you have your operation network. But in general, I don't know if there's a better industry for networking than the hospitality industry, simply because all of us are all about, Hey, how can we help each other out? How do we take care of the people around us? You were actually one of the first people I met in this industry and it's cool to come full circle and be a part of this because early on in my career, you were somebody I relied on to, bounce ideas off of and just generally chat on what is going on in the hospitality space? Cause it was all relatively new to me. Personally, as I look at it and that maybe how I've tackled my network is, getting comfortable with not asking the why questions or who are you, where'd you come from? Your first question today was everybody's coming from a cool and different background to get into the hospitality space. So breaking the ice on where'd you come from, how'd you get here, why are you doing what you're doing and why do you find it rewarding generally allows you to, grow that network pretty quickly. And certainly not being afraid of meeting new people. I find it fascinating to meet new people and where they come from. And so I always try to take that as far as I can tips or recommendations for others as they may be getting to it for the first time, it's very easy to be asking, Hey, Rachel, give me some advice on how you navigate some things or, Hey, so and so give me some advice on how to navigate some things. You have to remember to reciprocate it. You have to be willing to sit on some panels. You have to be able to answer your phone when somebody else calls you and wants to bounce ideas off of. And when you do those things, you can grow a comfortable network. And the industry is small enough where we go to the similar events. And so you do grow frequent relationships with other folks that you can really rely and trust on their opinions. And so not being scared to ask questions and not being scared to reciprocate, Hey, if they need something, you got to answer the phone.

Rachel Humphrey:

I like that. And thank you very much for saying what you did about me. One of the things I like and take away from what you're talking about, that was the mutuality of relationship building and networking that it cannot be all the time. What do you need? What do I need from you? But in fact, can either be more heavily skewed toward what can I do for you or making sure that you're giving in both directions? You mentioned talking are speaking on panel. So let's talk a little bit about public speaking, which some people will say they expect to be their biggest hurdle to. Leadership advancement out of fears of public speaking or self doubt about it. Talk a little bit about your experiences there. Are you comfortable doing it? I know you weren't a litigator because a lot of people ask me about the impact of being a trial lawyer on now public speaking and hospitality. How do you prepare for it? What is your comfort level

Matt Campbell:

there? Yeah, I'm not a big fan of public speaking, You know, I don't know who really loves it. I certainly don't. I'm not gonna put myself in that category. I do enjoy the panel side. I think there's a little bit difference of, I can. I really enjoy listening to panels. I like to gain people's perspective of why they do certain things. And so when I put myself on a panel, I can maybe relate a little bit better of Hey, you can be a little bit more open. You can be transparent of what's taking place because the people in the audience want to take Something from listening. But I definitely don't chase public speaking. It's not something I love. I, the litigation side was as much of the preparation. I didn't necessarily want to get involved with and dealing with it, but. The general public speaking. I don't necessarily chase in terms of preparation. In my role now, there's plenty of one on one meetings, plenty of group meetings, plenty of management company meetings, pulling teams together. I generally make sure I understand the information. I take good notes. I organize my thoughts, bullet point out a lot of items, make sure I cover all the topics that I want to have just to make sure it's concise, clean, and I don't forget anything, frankly. I'm generally pretty to the point in terms of what I'm looking to accomplish. And so I think that's a little bit of the public speaking side where you need to fill an hour to fill an hour or fill 30 minutes to fill 30 minutes. And I generally like just to get to the point, if you're here to learn about something let's take advantage of that time and use the rest of the time more appropriately.

Rachel Humphrey:

So less is more short winded, not long winded preparation.

Matt Campbell:

That

Rachel Humphrey:

is me. All right. Now we've got it. I think we've talked about some great topics today. And for me part of our growth as leaders as humans is reflection. And it's one of the reasons that I love so much asking and being asked about advice to our younger selves, because I think it gives us an opportunity to really be a work in progress. So sitting here today, what do you tell 21 year old Matt getting ready to graduate from college, maybe even slightly older coming out of life out of law school about either how things are going to play out for you or something you wish you knew then you've learned today. Yeah,

Matt Campbell:

I don't know if I'd change anything. I think all the experiences that you roll through, really create the path to where you're at today. It all impacts in different elements, but. I, when I get asked this question, I generally reflect back on a few different items. It's all just touching a couple of lightly invest in yourself. That might be education. That might be other skills, but it's worth it. No matter what it is, if you're passionate about it, it's worth investing in yourself. So no matter what challenge you presented, invest in yourself. Find a way to take care of yourself. You hear this in the industry. We talked about earlier today, the wellness and self care needs to happen. I was fortunate to play college golf. And in that time, they forced you to stay active and stay involved. And then when you get removed from that you let it slip, find a way. I would tell myself, don't stop. Keep going. Don't fear failure. We're going to be presented with a number of different things that are scary, the failure, but at the end of the day, if you fail, you probably learn more than. You would have, if you would have just simply. Succeeded the first time around and continue to trust your gut. I, there's been a number of occasions where it's man, do you do this or do you do that at the end of the day, trust your gut because generally it's going to lead you in the right direction.

Rachel Humphrey:

I love that. Don't fear. Fear failure is such an important lesson. I think that does paralyze a lot of us at lots of points in our career. We've touched on a lot of things so far. Tell me keeping in mind the motto of DEI advisors for empowering personal success. Do you have one final piece of advice you'd like to share with our listeners?

Matt Campbell:

Yeah, I share a quote that I like. Amateurs built the ark, experts built a titanic. And I think that you can take that a number of different ways, but really, I look at it for myself, simple, straightforward solutions from people who care probably are going to create a better solution than somebody that's sophisticated in some sort of form of expert. Trust in yourself and be confident in no matter what you're doing and you're going to succeed. Oh, I love that.

Rachel Humphrey:

I've never heard that quote before, by the way. That's fascinating. Matt, I appreciate your time very much on behalf of myself, my own personal growth through my friendship and industry experience with you. I say thank you also on behalf of an industry that you're incredibly. Passionate and dedicated to to our listeners. I would say thank you so much for tuning in today. We hope you'll go over to DEI advisors. org and listen to interviews with other incredible hospitality industry leaders who've shared their journeys and their insights with us. You can also stream us on all of your favorite streaming services, Matt. Thank you so very much for joining me today.

Matt Campbell:

Thanks for having me.