DEI Advisors Podcast

Greg Juceam, President & CEO, Extended Stay America interviewed by David Kong

December 13, 2023 David Kong
DEI Advisors Podcast
Greg Juceam, President & CEO, Extended Stay America interviewed by David Kong
Show Notes Transcript

Greg shares the pivotal moments of his career trajectory and the key factors that contributed to his success. We discuss diversity and inclusion, and the best advice he received from his mentors. Greg offers advice on taking risks, rebounding from setbacks, and overcoming challenges. He sheds light on the lessons he learned, and his advice to his younger self.

David Kong:

Greetings. I'm David Kong, the founder and principal of DEI Advisors. We are a nonprofit organization dedicated to personal empowerment. I'm really excited today because we're welcoming the president and CEO of Extended Stay America, who is also a good friend of mine, Greg Jusine, to our show. Greg,

Greg Juceam:

welcome. Thanks, David. It's so great to see you, to be with you. We miss you in the day to day business of operating in the industry, but I admire how you're thriving in your new endeavor and contributing to our industry in other

David Kong:

ways. Thank you very much. I appreciate those kind words. I do miss you as well. Greg, you've had a wonderful career journey. You've worked for Hilton and g six hospitality, and now you are at Extended Stay America, and you've also worked for some other companies. And I was wondering if you can share some of the highlights of your career. What are the pivotal moments in your career trajectory as well as some of the lessons or success factors that you can share with us?

Greg Juceam:

Yeah. Happy to. Certainly, there have been many different moments at various times over the years, but I think maybe, What's interesting for your audience, I'll share just two. The first, for those of your viewers who are earlier in their career, maybe I'll share one of those, which was The very beginning, which I think is very impactful, the choices that you make right out of school because, obviously, they can alter your career path. And for me, It was the first job that I took directly out of college when I ended up choosing to work for a really small company in Dallas, Texas called Harvey Hotels that most People probably had never heard of. And in truth, I had never really heard of it until they came interviewing. But, I had other jobs, other offers from, bigger firms, more respected, well known firms. But I went there because They had a track record of investing a significant amount of time and effort into giving high potential recruits Real opportunities to get their hands dirty proper support, proper training. And what was interesting about them is they wanted to learn, and they would tell you this in the interview. We want you to learn on our dime, um, hoping that you'll come have a career here and repay it over time. And so I thought that was really interesting, And they had their CEO involved in the interview process. I'd never heard of Harvey. I'd never been to Dallas. I was from New York. But I rolled the dice because the CEO was sincere, and I really had seen their track record and seen other people that had come through there. And I took that job, and it ended up being great. And for me, the lesson was to learn here was that prioritizing jobs where you can really learn And take the skills that are provided so you can interview for the next job and climb the chain. I thought that was a really pivotal moment right out of the gate. aNd maybe I'll just share one more that came later in my career when I was a VP level, and I was with a management company called Meristar Hotels and Resorts. Blackstone had acquired the REIT that owned those hotels. So I was managing for all of a sudden a new owner overnight. And for that particular investment thesis on the real estate acquisition, they weren't gonna hold the hotels very long. They wanted to improve the profits very quickly. And for me, as the manager, that didn't really sound like a whole lot of fun, and I actually considered going elsewhere in the early stages. But I ended up convincing myself that this might be a learning opportunity and to stick with it, and I ended up leaning into the assignment. And for me, it ended up being a great decision. I ended up, now almost two decades in and around Blackstone, who obviously became the largest owner of hotels. And so for me, the lesson in that second example is that sometimes the job that doesn't seem the most interesting, Uh, could often be the toughest job, can also be the most rewarding. So I think maybe those are two examples I would share with you.

David Kong:

Those are wonderful stories and wonderful learnings for everyone The first one about, When you are starting off in your career, the need to build a solid foundation, so broaden your horizon and gain as much experience as possible, that's a really good one. And, we all have encountered very difficult jobs. And sometimes those are the best jobs because you learn so much, and you never I know what the future holds for you.

Greg Juceam:

Yeah. Very often. You know, you're gritting your teeth when you're going through it, but it's going to the dentist. After you go, you're like, wow. This was great. I should go again next week. So anyhow, that ended up being a great one for

David Kong:

me. Yeah. Indeed. look whom you're working for now. Blackstone again. Small world. let's talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. When you were the chairman of the American Hotel Lodging Association Foundation, You initiated efforts to build out the DEI initiatives. why is DEI so important for our

Greg Juceam:

industry. Yeah. I'm I absolutely have an answer why it's important to our industry. It's pivotal. But maybe before I do that, I should share some personal context as to why it's important to me individually. I came up in a world, David, where DE and I concepts were all around me. A family with two generations of mixed raised children. So it was very normal for me, hanging around with my cousins or these days with my niece. I grew up with a mother who was a pioneering participant in the feminist movement early in the civil rights days. She was early with National Organization for Women, and she's still active today in a group called Veteran Feminists of America. And with a father who was a corporate litigator to pay the bills, but his real passion in life revolved around due process for asylees in an immigration context. And so he's dedicated a large chunk of his nights and weekends on pro bono assignments around immigration law. And so for me coming in to the industry, I had whether it's race or gender Or country of origin. I was raised to understand and respect these different perspectives and backgrounds and, of course, to judge people by the content of Character. So that's the lens with which I entered the industry. And even in my first month on the job, I went to I remember a holiday Party. It was a large hotel. We had all the employees in a ballroom. And my first time through, I look around, and it looks like almost the UN. And even these days, we're often translating our associate opinion surveys, our employee opinion surveys into six or more languages. And so The reality is, as well as anyone, David, is our industry, there's not enough American born talent to actually serve all the guests and to serve all the needs in a hotel. And so we largely need to expand our pool beyond that. And so it's a very pragmatic reason. We need people from all over the world with different backgrounds and educations to function. And that's one of the great things that you well know is that as long as you have a heart for service and a terrific mentality, Good attitude. Anybody can do it and can excel. And so all of those are good reasons, but I'll give you one last one, which I think is super important. And this directly relates to the management side of the business and the corporate roles. The diversity of life experiences and perspectives that people bring to the table make for better decision making for people like you or I that are or have been running companies. If everybody had the same viewpoint and if everybody saw the world in the same lens, we wouldn't really Get a chance to hear from everybody. We wouldn't be speaking to folks. We'd have groupthink, which leads to turnover and often less than optimal decisions. So I think DEI is critical to the industry, not just for pragmatic reasons, but because it makes for a better work experience. It makes for better decision in the companies. And for all those reasons, I think it's I think it's critical for us. It's always has been, and I think will always will be into the future.

David Kong:

I totally agree with you. Our industry is diverse, so we must be diverse. And I like your point that having different opinions around the table. Although it might be uncomfortable for some people, it's really good for decision making because you are much more thoughtful about your decisions. Thank you for sharing that. Since we talked about importance and the need for diversity, We have to also recognize that diversity is not easy to harness because When you have different people with different opinions at a table, discussions take much longer. And sometimes it's hard to coalesce those diverse opinions. You've got lots of experience doing that. How do you build inclusion, and how do you harness the true value of diversity?

Greg Juceam:

Yeah. It's an important question. Yeah. So you're totally right. Life would be very easy if you could just have a conversation with yourself decide something, and move on. But it doesn't necessarily work that way, and it's not always the best way to do it. For me, just my personal example I'm not a top down leader because it's autocratic and these days especially ineffective. While it's popular to say you're a bottom up Leader, I can't say I'm a bottom up leader either because, frankly, there's just not enough time in the day to get everybody's opinion about everything. And so for me, It's more about getting the right people in the room, the diverse opinions, the diverse people, and leading through group consultation. And so for me, a couple of things that I do certainly, first off, when you get people in the room, you gotta lay out the situation. You gotta to people the problem that needs to be solved. You gotta give the facts, but you gotta have the right people in the room, And you have to really ask them and sometimes really be forceful about making sure that they speak up Because through that, then you can have the different viewpoints that allow you to get to the right decision. I have one rule, which is that if you don't speak up, You can't later complain about any decision. And so you get the folks in the room, you lay out the facts, you get people's viewpoints, you work through more or less consensus. And through that, you get to the right decisions. And may maybe I'll just add one more thing, which is that The other thing that gets overlooked sometimes when it comes to diversity is giving people an opportunity to get into the room even for that first or second time. So especially the up and comers in the organization that you think have high potential, it's not gonna work for everybody in every meeting. But when you find those folks, anybody that's leading a company at one point was invited into that meeting for the first time to see how things work, to see how decision making through Consensus is done. And so I try my best to identify those folks and get them that opportunity to get in that room as well because it enables them to take that next step. So combination of all those things help ultimately to build consensus and, I think ultimately get you to the best decision making in the end. Thanks

David Kong:

for sharing that. That is so good that you do all that. And I especially like that you include more junior staff members, in those discussions because that gives them not only exposure but engagement. So smart of you to do that. Now related to this Conversation about coalescing diverse opinions is the ability to be persuasive. Whether we're advocating for ourselves We are making a presentation to try to convince other people, being able to persuade Others or influence others is really important to our success. Can you share some tips on how one can become more persuasive?

Greg Juceam:

Yeah. Certainly. There's a lot in there. For me I'm a huge believer in credibility, And I think credibility can be built over many years and can be lost overnight. And so for me, it's a day to day battle to make sure that People understand that I'm in it for the right reasons to do the right things. Ultimately, you're building a track record that can not only be helpful to my company, but can be helpful to the whole ecosystem around me. And so for me credibility is the end goal. It begins with treating people with respect. Otherwise, they won't listen to you or might even shut down. You need to make sure you know your audience. You gotta communicate at their level, whatever that might be. wiTh clarity and evidence, I think very important to make sure that you're using evidence, you're using facts and numbers whenever you can. If you do that, I think you're off to a good start. And then maybe you add to that being a good listener because if they're not understanding or if they need clarity, Um, or maybe even disagree with you. You wanna be able to have that dialogue. And then I think for me, the last thing might be the tone in which you speak, which for me, my secret sauce, at least people tell me this, is around sincerity, being a sincere person. Yeah. I've been told that I'm a do what you say what you mean kind of person, meaning that if I don't really feel it, I'm not gonna say it. And if I do say it, there was probably some intentionality around it. And so I think all of those things together, Being respectful of people, being sincere, using data, giving people a chance to weigh in, all of those things ultimately leads to your credibility. And if you're credible, then ultimately, you can be persuasive.

David Kong:

I've seen you in action. You certainly practice everything that you just said. I hope so. Highly Every day, there's

Greg Juceam:

a new day. David?

David Kong:

You are highly incredible. You come across as being very sincere and certainly respectful, and you solicit opinions, and you make sure that people who are uncomfortable with idea or speaking up. Speak up nonetheless. So you put all those things into action. Kudos to you. Thank you. I'm trying. Now you've hired a lot of, people in executive leadership positions. You've assembled some tremendous teams. And I was wondering, when you interview people, what are some of the key attributes that you try to assess?

Greg Juceam:

Wow. Yeah. That's an awesome question. And I would love even offline to talk with you more about that because I should ask that question of you as well. And, definitely, different leaders are gonna answer this question in different ways. And you're what you're doing here, you're forcing me to articulate something that I know in my heart. You know it when you But maybe we don't always put it into words. Let me give my shot at it. I think it first begins with someone that has to have the requisite technical skill or at least the ability to quickly get there. Because if you're not technically competent or able to get there quickly, we're not having a serious conversation about it. But that aside, I think what I'm looking for when I hire people, especially leaders, are people that are inwardly very competitive and motivated, but also possess two other qualities. The first one for me would be humility, And the second one would be self awareness. Going back to the conversation we had earlier about diversity and how it's not always comfortable, I think it's great To have people of different backgrounds and experiences, even sometimes idiosyncrasies. I'm not good on the other hand with ego. I think life is too short to work with jerks. We don't always get to choose our coworkers um, or solo artists. Our industry is a team sport, And so there's not a lot of room for solo artists, but the peanut butter that goes with the jelly is the self awareness. pEople who are their own worst critics, I love those folks, typically means they have a high personal bar, and they're willing to invest The time and the energy to consistently get better. And if you marry that with people who are self motivated and competitive with great, mental drive, It's a really wonderful combination. And, it makes me think just briefly if you'll indulge, a quick shout out. Our team at ESA, I love this team. It's a really competitive team, loves to win, hates to lose, but more importantly, cares about winning together and cares about winning together with professionalism and humility. And so when everybody's sinking together as a team and winning the right way, In our industry, as you well know, nothing can beat that.

David Kong:

So true. And I'm so envious to hear you talk about your team at ESA because I do enjoy working with a team that's all about the team. It's not about individual glory and fame. So good to hear that.

Greg Juceam:

You're building it at DEI Advisors. I know one one person at a time, you're gonna have a big team before we know it. So

David Kong:

Oh, thank you. Now you have benefited from some wonderful mentors in your career. Can you share some of the best advice that you've heard from

Greg Juceam:

them? Yeah. There are so many. I guess any of us could answer this question for days, but two come to mind, I think, initially. First one is I and I alluded to it a little bit earlier in my experience, but I think our experience is sort of mold who we are and how we think. I think I tell young people all the time, take the job that gives you the best experience, the best opportunity to build skills that when you go to interview for the next job, If you're so inclined to go for the next job, that is, we'll give you the best chance to get that job. And You know, my first experiences in the industry were pretty humbling places. They weren't fancy hotels. They weren't fancy destinations. But I chose these jobs because I knew I would get thrown into the fray. I would knew I'd be able to build those skills and ultimately would help me Interview for the next role. And so I think that's really one important thing that I learned very early. And the other one that I think is most relevant today That probably doesn't get talked about enough is that written and verbal articulation skills are so critical to making strong impression. I was really fortunate. my Parents were and are still today Great articulators, whether it's writing or giving speeches, and that really gave me a leg up. But this new generation, maybe even the last two generations, There's so much they have to offer. I'm envious of a lot that they do well. But generally speaking, they don't articulate very well. And I think those that can do that in this next generation, this last generation are really gonna have a chance to competitively get ahead. So I think those are probably the two that I would share

David Kong:

first. Wonderful advice. The ability to express yourself succinctly, clearly is in many ways a talent and also something that we can work on. It just takes a lot of practice and homework. Thanks for sharing that. And, of course, your first point about gaining as much experience as you can because You need that for your foundation. That's something that I subscribe to as well.

Greg Juceam:

People are in a hurry. You know this. You've seen this many times over. People are in a big hurry. How do I get to be the head of whatever? And maybe somebody can get a job like that by luck Or skip the line somehow, but that's very few and far between. You gotta have the skills, and you gotta show the success Or you're really not in an opportunity to have good odds to get the next role.

David Kong:

So true. I've seen people who, because of their good looks and the way They razzle dazzle their bosses. They know how to manage up. They get the job. But guess what? They flame out after a while. They don't last. So it is important to have that solid foundation based on experience. Okay. Let's talk about failures because we've all had our fair share of failures, and people say failure is the mother of success. And I've certainly Learn that is true. At that time, you feel really bad angry and resentful, but Then you realize that's a blessing in disguise. Those are important lessons that we can learn and improve ourselves. And I was wondering if you can share a couple examples of your failures and what you've

Greg Juceam:

learned from them. Of course. I was gonna ask you how much time we have because, this is a I could write a book with all the things that I didn't do right. But as you articulate, Every time you fail something, you learn something. And so all of us that have been doing this for a while uh, over several decades, The cumulative work experiences and failures build undeniable wisdom. And so it's hard to look back. You're right. You don't like it at the time. It's hard to look back and to regret any of it. Most of my failures, probably not that interesting for your audience, more day to day mundane or tactical things. But I would say, Uh, to be succinct, I would pick one that I think is important and you have to watch out for every day, which is managing change. When you start in the business, if you start as I did in the properties, whether it's revenue generation or it's operations, innately, You're dealing with managing change every minute. You might be a revenue manager adjusting rates or inventory, and that's real time and dynamic, Where you could be working the desk and your coworker calls off or there's a fire alarm that goes off at three AM because they never go off at noon when nobody's in the building. They always go off In the middle of the night, those folks are dealing with change constantly. But if you find yourself as I did at some point, moving into a regional role Or later into corporate roles, you do lose some of that perspective. You become interested in much more linear thinking In trying to centralize things or standardize things, and, I fell victim to that as well. And you have to remember to give Your teams, whether it's corporate teams, regional teams, and certainly property teams, uh, the latitude to make adjustments on the fly, you might want everything to be simple because now you live in a simplified environment, but you have to maintain that perspective. And so for me, Um, my lesson is that good executives learn how to do both. They learn how to centralize for efficiency and consistency and for clarity of their message, But they still allow room to pivot strategies or tactics as the macroeconomy dictates. Today is a perfect example. Everybody's having to pivot. And so I think hopefully, today, I'm a little bit more balanced at this, But it's something you have to watch for. And, lastly, I you know, it's interesting at ESA, as we've been looking at Coming into the year twenty twenty three and now coming into the year twenty twenty four, we were putting our pillars together about what we thought was gonna be most critical. And we put one together called managing the ups and downs, which is really just a way to say, stay nimble because you have to be especially when you're dealing with what we're dealing with in the business world today. So I think that's one really big one that everybody can resonate with And certainly, it's one that I'm, learning and relearning every year as I go.

David Kong:

That certainly resonates with me. Thanks for sharing those lessons. Let's talk about taking risks. A lot of the advisers, leaders that we've had on our show have talked about the importance of taking risk, especially earlier on in the career, and they continue to take risk and push the envelope to be successful. And I Was wondering if you can share your viewpoints on risk taking and if there are any lessons that you've you can share with us.

Greg Juceam:

Yes. I've never had this question, so I'm glad you asked it. Again, another one where, I have to be a little bit introspective. I certainly agree with your previous guest that say that early risk taking is important, and I would probably venture to say that they also said it was Probably a little bit easier. If it's early in your career, you don't yet have a family to feed or a mortgage to pay. Really, you just have to convince that the risks outweigh the benefit and just go for it because it's really just you that you have to you have to convince. And so that's a lot easier. I think as you mature and hopefully for your viewers as they have more at stake it's a little bit tougher, especially if a risk you're taking involves other stakeholders, in which case, you have to go back to the things that we talked about earlier, which is getting everybody in the room, making sure there's clear communication and working through all the questions. What do you plan to do? Why are you doing it? How is success gonna be measured? How are we gonna, define success? What's the cost benefit? All of those things are really important, and you have to get everybody then on board to understand and hold hands that the risk is worth the reward. And so I think all of the things that we've talked about in terms of persuasiveness, all of these things lead up to how you grab A group of people and stakeholders regardless of who they may be and and take that risk. For me, I can't tell you how many risks I've taken. Everything from at the properties, booking a group to, investing in, repair or a green energy project to corporately uh, you know all of these things, David. Taking a risk on a supplier that isn't yet proven but you think is great Or buying or selling a hotel or a portfolio or even a company or starting a brand as you and I, both have done. All of those things take risk take risk. But if you do your research and you believe and others can come along with you that the upside exceeds the downside. You gotta go for it because the world doesn't stand still and companies need to improve. And the last thing I think, that I always take solace in is the fact that I thank God every day, we're not brain surgeons. If we make a mistake, somebody's probably not gonna die. It's not gonna be irreversible damage. So we all make mistakes. We're not gonna bat a thousand, but You can always, if you're watching the results and you're paying attention, can pivot, change course, change tactics. And so I think in our industry, that's one of the great things that allows for a little bit more risk taking than maybe others have. So true.

David Kong:

So true. I appreciate you saying that. Let's talk about, What you said earlier, the need to be nimble, the need to continue to innovate. How do you go about fostering that culture where people feel they should be more creative, more innovative, and how do you drive that continuous improvement that is so important?

Greg Juceam:

Yeah. For sure, I think it starts with who's on your team. So going back to what we were talking about five or six minutes ago, if you have people on your team who are driven for continuous improvement, are driven, self motivated, uh, wanna be their own worst critic, wanna get better. It has a multiplier effect because you don't have to be in the room as the leader. Those folks are gonna go out on their own in their respective departments And work hard every day to make things better. And when you have a culture like that, it can exponentially resonate. So so for continuous improvement, I think it's about having the people that have that mentality. But you mentioned innovation, which is for me is a little tougher because as I look back on my career, I can't think of too many times where I was the first person in the room. I've watched that happen. I've seen some people do really well by being the first through the room. I've also seen a lot of people get pretty bloody. And so for me, maybe it's a little different perspective than some of your other guests. I like to often be the second person or the third person in the room, the one that's behind that initial person that often plays A key supporting role in getting things done, in making that snowball bigger as it rolls down the mountain. And I think through that, I have found some reward. And, maybe just some examples. You talked earlier about the AHLA Foundation, which I was fortunate enough to chair a couple of years ago. We put the first five million dollar fund together to support and enhance DEI for the hotel industry. I was the chair, but it wasn't my idea. But my role, I believed in the idea, and I was able to get unanimous board of trustees support for that. Last year, when the AHLA started its human trafficking survivor fund, it was the first time we've done anything like that. Also not my idea, but along with a couple of other companies, was able to get ESA to be a, an initial sponsor of that financially to Put a three year pledge out. And even a couple months ago, we started now there's a group called the Extended State Lodging Association, Which was formulated this year. Not my idea either, but we definitely wanted a board seat. We believe in the initiative. We wanted to help lead the endeavor. So I think with innovation, if you wanna be the first, go for it. Somebody's gotta be the first, but I think there are other ways that people can support And bring an industry or a company along by just being early in the process along with that initial innovator.

David Kong:

Yeah. I appreciate sharing your perspectives on that. And to me, innovation doesn't necessarily mean that you have to invent something. Innovation could be embellishing on a really good idea, making it even better. You look at technology, for example. I think there are a lot of companies that are being pretty innovative, but then they are not original ideas. They're just making something better. So this culture of innovation where we have our people work together to improve on something, that is, what makes a difference

Greg Juceam:

Yeah. Totally agree.

David Kong:

I see that we're getting close to our time. So I wanna just ask you two more questions. One is given the experience that you've gathered along the way. You have been in business now for, what, thirty years now. Yeah. What is the advice that you wanna give to your younger self.

Greg Juceam:

I've been pretty fortunate. I'm lucky enough and Blessed that I don't have to go back to my eighteen year old self and say, okay. Be careful. Don't go through door number one. You gotta go through door number two. So I don't have an moment like that, but I what I think I would say to myself is go with your gut because that's what I've always done. And it's led me to the experiences I've had, and I wouldn't trade any of them for the world. So I think I would say to myself, Go with your gut because that's made me who I am today.

David Kong:

Go with your gut. This is, Same thing that, several other leaders have shared, actually. And some of them have expressed, Remorse that they didn't go with their gut and they tell stories that they shouldn't have doubted themselves and they wish they had gone with their gut. It is very good advice. Thank you. Now our show is about self empowerment. I wonder if you can leave us with one last piece of advice on self empowerment.

Greg Juceam:

Yeah. I think it's great. And before we go, I'd be remiss not To say first of all, not just thank you for having me, but for the wisdom that you've accumulated over the years and are sharing on this The show and others. I think it's what you're doing is really great. And even the idea of putting together this nonprofit to go and empower other people, I admire that. And for me, I guess what I would say is this may not be the most glamorous quote, but one of my favorite quotable Legends is Joe DiMaggio. A lot of people the former Yankee, the great Yankee, a lot of people like to quote Yogi Berra because he's funny. But I think For business leaders, Joe DiMaggio has got some really great stuff. You should go and check it out. And he said something that I just think is very simple, but it's true. He Said that a person always doing his or her best is a natural leader just by example. And for your viewers who I imagine are listening, um, just for to pick up a little tidbit here and there or to even Empower themselves or make themselves a little bit better. Congrats to you because you're working on getting better. That's that continuous improvement that we talked about. And I just think if you do what Joe d said, you show up every day, you do your best people are gonna be watching you for the first time, you build your credibility, treat others with respect, and you're humble, and execute on the plan that you put out. The sky is the limit. So I guess that's how I would end. But yeah, Jody, a person always doing his or her best will become a natural leader just by example.

David Kong:

I love that. And I'm gonna go look up the Internet and see if there are any other quotes that I can find from him. Thanks for sharing that. Greg, it's so wonderful to see you, and I so appreciate you taking the time to share your wisdom on our We know how busy you are. We certainly are very grateful that you have done

Greg Juceam:

so. So honored to spend the time with you, and I wish you and yours and All of your viewers, happy holidays, David. thanks

David Kong:

so much. And to our audience, if you enjoyed this show, we hope you would join us on our website, dei advisers dot org. We hope to see you there. Thanks again, Greg. Thank you.