DEI Advisors Podcast

Lynn Mohrfeld, President & CEO, California Hotel & Lodging Association interviewed by Rachel Humphrey

June 10, 2024 David Kong
Lynn Mohrfeld, President & CEO, California Hotel & Lodging Association interviewed by Rachel Humphrey
DEI Advisors Podcast
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DEI Advisors Podcast
Lynn Mohrfeld, President & CEO, California Hotel & Lodging Association interviewed by Rachel Humphrey
Jun 10, 2024
David Kong

Lynn shares why knowing his audience is an important part of his public speaking preparation. He discusses his leadership style, how it's evolved, and which leadership skills he's focused on developing over time. Lynn also talks about wellness, getting involved with associations, and what he'd tell his younger self.

Show Notes Transcript

Lynn shares why knowing his audience is an important part of his public speaking preparation. He discusses his leadership style, how it's evolved, and which leadership skills he's focused on developing over time. Lynn also talks about wellness, getting involved with associations, and what he'd tell his younger self.

Rachel Humphrey:

I am Rachel Humphrey with DEI Advisors. We are a non profit organization dedicated to empowering personal success within the hospitality industry, and I am delighted to welcome to the show today Lynn Morefeld, who's the President and CEO of the California Hotel and Lodging Association. Lynn, welcome to the program.

Lynn Mohrfeld:

Thanks for having me, Rachel. Appreciate it. And

Rachel Humphrey:

30 minutes together today. And one of the things everybody knows I really love about the hospitality industry is no two paths to leadership have to be the same. And so tell us a little bit about your journey, where it started, where you are today. And then if there were really any pivotal moments along the way that you shaped, that you think shaped the outcome for you.

Lynn Mohrfeld:

Yeah, sure. Let's see. I started as a small boy. I started out in marketing research actually. And I was in L. A. in San Diego and then the firm I was working for in San Diego did a lot of economic impact and visitor surveys for Destination marketing organizations. And so from there, we did some economic impact studies, Super Bowls, America's Cup, things like that. And I parlayed that into a position with the San Diego Convention Visitors Bureau, which is now the San Diego Tourism Authority. And from there went got a little sideways with a tech industry worked for a hotel reservation company called World Res and I had the the benefit of meeting pretty much worldwide a whole lot of destination marketing organization and hotel association leaders at that point and then from there. Came up to Sacramento. My, my partner and my better half, Nan, is from Sacramento, and so we had kids and so coming from San Diego to Sacramento was a little bit different lifestyle for someone who's been lived at the beach all his life but it was the right move to make, and I've been with CH and LA now 23 years or so, 14 as CEO. It's been great fun.

Rachel Humphrey:

That's incredible. When I think about your role with CH and LA, but also one of the things that really makes you stand out in the industry, it is a lot of the relationship building and networking, obviously, to be effective as an advocate for the industry. You have to really develop genuine relationships and for some people that's going to look one way and others, it's going to look something different. You and I may go about building our relationships in very different ways, but end up with similar networks. How do you really focus on building relationships with others in the industry, elected officials, and how has that maybe changed over time and really been tailored to your personality or the areas that you're comfortable with?

Lynn Mohrfeld:

Yeah being in the association world, we're we're putting out a lot of fires. So a lot of the associations start from a place of need. All of a sudden, we're talking to a key stakeholder that's an owner of properties and so you develop that relationship with them, the trust. And that kind of starts off a deeper relationship with them and with others as well. And as an association, I can repeat that for several different layers in terms of relationships that I have. So investors, finance, HR any of that type. And then I always try and get out of our hospitality bubble. and try and develop relationships and get input from outside our industry so I can get a little more well rounded. We tend to be pretty insular in the hospitality industry. So when you can go talk to someone that's just got to deal with a consumer product or financial service or something else, developing those relationships is really important and comes back and helps my relationships in in the hospitality industry. We're also California. And so we we're at the tip of the spear, good or bad legislative advocacy wise. And I like to think in education and some communications as well to the industry. I run into a lot of people in terms of, Hey, how is this going to affect me? And how can I affect change and building those relationships from saving somebody money, telling them how to do it better providing them with information. information, providing whatever guidance we can. That's usually the genesis of most of the relationships that I have. And then I just try and continue those on.

Rachel Humphrey:

And when you're building those relationships, it sounds a lot like you're offering to how can I help you? Does that in turn then benefit you when there's a way that you see that one of those relationships can help the industry or help one of your initiatives?

Lynn Mohrfeld:

Oh, 100%. In association, I'm a big fan of associations and the nonprofit trade association model, and it only works if it's a partnership. I need them as much as they need me is the way I like to look at it. So when we have an issue in the industry and we can help solve that or mitigate that I'm on to the next thing where it's okay, how can you help me mitigate the next thing? Or here's what we're working on doing this. And what do you think of that? And having those relationships at the ready is great. Elected officials they're a different kettle of fish. Hey you build those relationships and you try not to make them transactional. But in the end they're usually trying to do something to our industry. Good or bad in California, that's mostly bad. So I'm coming from a place of no. So I want to have that relationship prior to going in and talk to them about something serious or a specific issue with our industry so that we already have a foundation baseline. The worst thing is when a legislator comes out and says, Hey, we want to do this to the hotel industry. And we don't know them. We don't know anyone that knows them. It's like, where are they coming from? How are they doing this? So then it becomes strictly transactional and that's a really difficult place to start off with because it is a long arduous process doing legislation. And so you want to have that relationship up and running. front. And of course in our world that also there's a financial components of that backspending and things like that. Those relationships are predicated on all kinds of different aspects moving forward.

Rachel Humphrey:

And I imagine those relationships not only critically important, but because of the timing of the election cycles, you're constantly having to build new ones or lose important relationships that you've had along the way. I want to actually pick it piggyback on something you mentioned a minute ago about your love for the model of the associations and non profits. You and I have first met, of course, through our leadership with the holla and C. H. L. A. And that incredible relationship. But there's a lot that in addition to, you know, giving back to an industry, there's a lot of skills that we learn Through service on boards on associations as a volunteer for nonprofits that are maybe very different than we learned from our day to day corporate roles. Can you talk a little bit? I know you're very involved with HLA, with AHOA, with other associations and nonprofits. Maybe some of the leadership skills you've developed through that side of things.

Lynn Mohrfeld:

Yeah, sure. I've come to realize that we all need to get along. And it's a game of compromise overall, at least in California, it is. So when you go to those other boards and other associations and listen to what they have to say, it's okay maybe I'm not exactly have the right answer here. Maybe I don't have the right answer here. Maybe someone else does. And so it's. Excellent opportunity to learn what other people are doing and how they're doing it and how I can work together with them to forward the mission to the board or the association, whatever the case may be. But I'm really big on affecting change. I have a low tolerance for meetings for the sake of meetings. So when I get on the board, when I get on an association and get involved with them I want to help and I want to come to the table and say, okay, here's what I have and how can we do this? How can I be of value to the association, to the board? I really do look at it as putting on that particular hat. So if I'm sitting on H and L. A.'s board and they're E. C. I'm putting on their hat and saying, okay, what would be good for H and L. A.? ISHE is the same thing, the International Society of Hotel Associations. What's good for all of us? Not just what's good for California, what's good for me? I'll get the professional development out of it, but what's good for the association? So I always try and affect change and really come to the table with something that can help. I don't want to, we've got enough to do in our lives, both personal and professional. I'm at the spot in my career where I don't need another board position, just have a board position. I want to do something. At that point. So I'm very lucky in that regard. I think I

Rachel Humphrey:

love the idea of putting on the hat to have. What can I do with this particular hat on? Especially those examples you just gave as trade associations are there to serve members as you all are. And so what is at the end of the day? Going to be the greatest ad for the membership of that. I want to turn to a bunch of different aspects of leadership. One of the things that I hear a lot is this, I was born to be a leader or I knew at a young age that I wanted to lead people. You have the others who say, I still don't know if I'm a leader today. I don't even know how that happened. happened. Do you think that there was a point that you realized in your career that you were either going to be a successful leader or that you had pivoted or transitioned into a role of leadership? And what did that look like for you?

Lynn Mohrfeld:

Yeah, I guess early in my career, I was never like, Oh, yeah. Hey, I want to be a leader and I want to manage a bunch of people I was really just task driven and process driven. But I was a research director at the San Diego Convention Visitors Bureau. And because of that, I had a modem and I use census data in my office. And so I was like, Hey, this is cool. We could, do something. So my boss was the vice president of marketing. And I said, Hey, I think we could publish our visitor guide on this thing. And, we don't just send out 800, 000. Visitor guides and the cost that's associated with that. And we can have global reach instantly. And that was the vision. And he said, okay, Hey, write me a memo on that and see what it looks like. And so I wrote him up a memo and four pages said, Hey, we should put our visitor guide online and here's how we do it. And it's dynamic and created a big database for it. And I got the memo back in my inbox and I said, okay. And I was like, whoa, wait a minute. What do you mean? Okay. It's more about it than I do. And I'm like, Hey, I don't have any budget for this. I don't have anything else. And he's neither do I let's go. And so we just created that out of thin air for the most part and said, Hey, this is what we want to do and how we want to do it. And that's the point where I really had to get involved with a lot of other departments who was producing the visitor guide, publishers, database management and then graphics and this new thing called the worldwide website. Web at that time. And that kind of really set me apart. And I said, Whoa, Hey, we're the second destination marketing organizations. It's got a website. This is something and I just built this and wow, I can do this. And what else can I do? And so at that point, the light bulb went off and I was like, okay, I can do things if I just have the confidence to do those things. And so nothing was off limits at that point. I was okay, I can take over the world. I just did something I have no idea how to do. And I did a pretty good job of it and it worked. And then all of a sudden our reach was going out to 2. 53 million people or before we were limited to, in state, maybe 800, 000 people. I'm sorry, not in state in the U. S. Maybe 800, 000 people. So I looked at it just, wow, I just really did a good thing for San Diego. So it was beautiful at that time.

Rachel Humphrey:

And what a great nod to that other leader who said, yes, run with it. and gave you, like really encouraged you and gave you the opportunity. I'm, I famously said one time that World Wide Web was never going to take off and that no one would ever buy a plane ticket online. So rely on me for no information or no opinions on anything. I want to turn also to developing new skills. So as you changed either from one company to another one role to another. I'm sure you came across things where you said, you know what? I'm really going to need to have a deeper understanding of this particular skill to be successful in this new role. I'm wondering if you can think of any of those and maybe how you went about developing that skill.

Lynn Mohrfeld:

There's knowledge on the association side. Hey, I've got this particular issue, I've got to drill down on it, I've got to find out. We've got to get deep into the legislative language and all that. So there's that chunk of it. But in terms of skills, kind of personal skills, I guess I always have my eye on management skills. It always sneaks up on me, even to this day where I'm like, okay, I got this project, I'm doing this, I'm doing that, I'm doing this. And it's okay I need to get all these other people rowing in the same direction and make sure we're doing that. And, people are all unique and different. So I'm trying to figure out how to do that. I'm always trying to develop the management skills and stay on top of those things. COVID is a new world order for us work life balance and things like that, remote work, which we were pretty familiar with before that. But still, I want to make sure that I stay up on those management skills. And that's something that I, to this day always encourage my leadership team and anyone who's managing employees. employees. It's Hey, we'll all get the learning for the for the business that we're doing, whether it's certified meeting planner, certified association executive, whatever your initials are after your name. But it's like, Hey, we have to deal with other people here. And so let's make sure that we can accomplish that. Because that's the power of the association, we can all be working together over the company. We can all be working together and we can all be moving forward and that, that makes me pretty happy when that happens. That's a good day.

Rachel Humphrey:

I like the differentiation too between the substantive matter of whatever you have to know to be successful at your role, but also the people side. I'm actually glad you brought up the pandemic because while I have gotten away from asking this recently, cause I think people move on. I did want to ask you about it because the role of hotel associations during the pandemic in the hotel industry was critically important. Really a a time in everyone's business that it might be the difference between losing the business and moving forward. I'm wondering what you personally learned from leadership lessons maybe or what made you successful because you had such an important role in California during that time. What was it about you or your leadership that you think really helped you thrive as a leader during that time?

Lynn Mohrfeld:

First thing we took care of the team. So all of a sudden the office is closed. We're not at the office. We've got a few technology changes. At the beginning of the pandemic, people are keeping their Amazon packages in their garage and spraying them down and things like that. And we just didn't know. So first of all, we took care of the team, said, okay, you guys good. Let's make sure that we can do this. And then, the realization, you come to the realization that, Oh, wow. Hey, our industry may not recover. I'm on the phone with people who are crying and may lose their business which is attached to their house, which is, it's just onward. And so that really brought it into focus of Hey, I could lose my association. Everything that we've worked for the past 20 years could all be for not. So we kicked it into overdrive. And said, okay no one really knows about this and it's our job to know about this and communicate it out to the industry. Let's get on the horn with our health department who knew who their health department was before the pandemic. And let's talk to the governor's office and let's talk to business development and this goes down to a local basis. I'm trying to find out how we do it. And we put together a guide. We had a safe and clean program, which is self certification program and cleanliness is the foundation for the hotel industry. So it was pretty easy just to lean into that. But the thirst and the desire for knowledge at that time was just insane. No one really know what to do and how to do it. And, I'm not gonna lie here, a lot of times we were going, Hey, I think this is our best guess and this is what it is. And people were latching onto that going I don't have any other information. Yeah, let's listen to the California Hotel and Lodging Association. I'm going to go back to the team again. I was working probably 6am to 10, 11pm every night for months on end trying to get hotels open in California, which, we were successful. And in the end, but it was painful in the beginning of that process. And you really have to have a work life balance that a high school senior and after about a month, he's dad, you got to go to bed before I go to bed. Okay, so off the computer. It's okay, I get it. And I think it really worked out. It showed the importance of an association, showed the communication level that we did, the difference that we made at the government level, the difference that we made with guests and trying to keep everyone safe. It's probably easy to forget now, but. People died then, and people got sick, and, traveling was not really on anyone's list in terms of what they wanted to do, and we still have a hangover from that in California, in our urban areas and those were tough times for our urban areas. So you gotta keep it in perspective and go, okay, I can't get hotels open right now. But you know, there's a bigger issue out here and that's the health and safety of everyone. So we kept our eye on that, but then just kept drilling away at, Hey, what are we going to do and how are we going to do it? And one of the funniest things during the pandemic was not funny, but I put out guidance and we put out a member alert and said, Hey, this is the way you do it. 10 o'clock health department put out new guidance and said, no, this is the way you're going to do it. So at 1130, I put out new guides. This is the way you're going to do it. And then the governor's office revoked that, that health directive. And then we said, Hey, we're going back to the other one. So in one day I put together three different member alerts, basically going back to what we did first thing in the morning. But that's the kind of time that we were in at that point. We just didn't know. We were there for the industry.

Rachel Humphrey:

No, absolutely. And it, it goes back to what you said before about the collaboration and being there for each other as associations. I know you and I, and our government affairs team at AHOA and CHLA really working hand in hand during that time. to make sure that we were all doing what was best for members. I asked you about leadership earlier and different skills that you were learning, but I have a question about the evolution of your leadership as well. We are all works in progress and things are gonna get better over time and some things maybe not as successful. Can you point to something maybe over time or a leadership lesson you've learned in the last year that you think has been really impactful for you? Has there been things that have gotten worse over time in your leadership or better over time?

Lynn Mohrfeld:

I used to be really good at the tech stuff. And as I get older now, my kids and all our younger employees are better at it than I am. And that's something that now all of a sudden I rely on softer skills and management skills as well to get it done. Rather than jumping in and doing it and saying, this is how it works. And this is how we're going to use this. And so come at it from a 35, 000 foot view. That's been a little humbling. Can't figure out the TV remote. My kid takes it two seconds later. He, it works. Especially

Rachel Humphrey:

from the guy who launched the visitor's guide. Yeah,

Lynn Mohrfeld:

exactly. So that's gone. And the leadership style is more of. We've grown incredibly in the past five years and I can't be involved in everything like I used to. And so I really have to pick and choose about what the critical path is and going back to affecting change. Where is my time best spent? Would I like to redesign the website? work on all that stuff. I sure would. Is it the best use of my time? Heck no. Not at all. And I'm very much, I'm much more cognizant after the pandemic of wrapping in our key stakeholders, where prior to that, it was Hey, I'm just going to do this. And what do you guys think of this? And here's what we're going to do now. I'm like, Hey, I've got bigger ideas. Hey, what about this? What about that? And our leadership will either say yes, no, shoot them down edit them a little bit. What I call border collie management in the association side. You're going a little too far over there. So that leadership style has said, okay, here's an idea and it's not completely baked yet. Help me with that. And both the team and our volunteer stakeholders, the executive committee board of directors can help with that a lot more. And I'm much more open to taking that advice and not thinking that I know the right way to do it. There is no one right way. So I guess more collaboration to put it in a word.

Rachel Humphrey:

I really like the idea behind focusing on where you are most impactful or affect the greatest change. I think for a lot of us, it's really hard to let go of the things we like. It's also hard to let go of the things we know that we're good at and maybe give us a different type of perspective. professional satisfaction than some of the bigger picture. As we turn to you and I visiting today, you do a lot of public speaking, but yours is a little bit different because you are speaking at conferences, but you're also speaking to the media. You're speaking to elected officials either publicly or one on one. Talk a little bit about your public speaking journey, something you've always been comfortable with, something you're comfortable with today. Do you have tried and true strategies that you use when you're preparing? What is Lynn's secret public speaking recipe?

Lynn Mohrfeld:

I don't know that I've got any secret sauce on this one, Rachel, but preparation that's the key. And I guess it's different for those different audiences. That you mentioned for my key stakeholders my executive committee, for instance, or my board of directors they know everything about the hotel industry. I know everything about the political side or the legal side, or I know more than they do on that particular one. So I'm always looking to try to combine those two things so that I can. Be a good presenter. Speak to what they know, but also try and provide them with some information that they might not have thought about it. So on the key stakeholders, that's easy. I've been at this for 20 some odd years. So I can speak about the industry and what the association does very easily. Elected officials are tricky. And elected officials are it's weird because more than them about what you're going to talk to them about nine times out of 10, 99 times out of a hundred. So you're the expert on it. But in California, my position is I'm usually telling them no. So they want to do something to the industry or want to implement some particular ordinance or legislation. And I go in there and tell them why they can't do that. Yeah. So I really need facts and to have my information together but it's much more of a deferential public speaking and much slower process than, hey, here's internal, here's how we're going to get this done. So when I'm public speaking and there's elected officials involved, I'm much more cognizant of What I'm going to say and how I'm going to say it. But I always have that thing, Hey, this is what I want to do. And this is where I want to go with it. So I'm always driving toward a goal. The media, the one thing I've learned is I don't work for them. If it's bad media or. What I refer to as a pitch in the dirt, I'm not going to take that call. There's no need for us to do it where we can provide education, communicate again, move that ball forward. I'm all for that on the media side. I'm very measured with media. We utilize a communications firm. I like to vet my, Whoever's asking the questions or any of the publications find out where they're coming from. And really keep my public speaking to the media keep that very tight. My dad taught me that kids are always learning when you're never teaching.

Rachel Humphrey:

And I

Lynn Mohrfeld:

find out that the media is always listening to just my offhand or flip comments. Those are the ones that are getting hurt. So I want to make sure that I don't make those and really stay under the umbrella of what the topic is on the media.

Rachel Humphrey:

Such great advice to be really zoned in on who the audience is and what the purpose of the public speaking is, because you're right, speaking to a board or a conference media elected officials, a very different strategy, which makes sense, but being really intentional in that I know we're running short on time. I do want to ask you a couple of quick questions to wrap up one, as you mentioned earlier about this renewed focus on work life balance and one aspect of that, certainly not the only one is self care and wellness. There's been a lot of talk lately about the critical importance of taking care of ourselves. I'm wondering how you feel you've done over a long career of taking care of yourself. Are there things that you focus on for your wellness? What would you tell maybe rising leaders who are really struggling to put an emphasis on self care or wellness as they pursue their career endeavors?

Lynn Mohrfeld:

Sure, I'm not very good at this, or I haven't been very good at it but I am improving according to my wife. We really want to try to get in some self care, and for me, that self care and wellness is, one, unplugging and two, getting outdoors and getting a little exercise in. I get cranky without without either of those. And so I try and do that as much as I possibly can. One approach on my leadership style I've tried is, Am I out of offices? I will write what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. Hey, this is two feet of fresh powder today. I'm going out with a swirl. Not even think of contacting me right now. Okay. I have seen

Rachel Humphrey:

that one actually

Lynn Mohrfeld:

Or my wife has this thing when she knows I'm stressed out there's a national park in San Francisco And they have no cell phone service. So let's go hiking and we're in And so their strategies to do that But I generally there's no blood on the ground. No one's gonna die on anything we're gonna do have your priorities straight. Life happens while we work. I'm really big with my team and everyone else is. I take care of all that stuff first and then you can do your job well. If that's percolating in the background try and address that so that you can work. Because this is all secondary. No one's going to remember a meeting that you went to or some kind of project that you worked on. But they sure are going to remember a family milestone that you were there for someone else. so much. Caring for someone health wise that's what's gonna make a difference, and that's what's gonna be remembered. I always try and get there. So now, I really try and tell my team, hey, self care, wellness, I can see when they're getting a little stressed out, when they haven't had a break for a while. We look over their time off or their vacation on a quarterly basis. Hey, who hasn't taken vacation? Let's talk to them about that. Find out what they're doing on it. One, we need to provide them help. Two, if they have any plans for a vacation, make sure that they get that. And I'm in a position now where we can make sure that happens with the employees. Hey, when's the last time you took a vacation? And then if they don't throw that back at me, that's good. But they'll take pause on it and go, okay, yeah, hey, maybe I should take a vacation. Or maybe I can take a couple of days off. So we try and get that going. Summer, Friday, have fun. half days on Fridays and things like that try and do. I'm pretty serious about that for the team. But I don't take the medicine myself as much as I should.

Rachel Humphrey:

You said you're getting better at it and we are all works in progress, which is certainly going to dovetail perfectly into my second to last one. I'm curious because we are all constantly evolving, what would you tell 21 year old Lynn today, either something you wish you knew then. That might impact your career path or something that about how things play out for you in the long run.

Lynn Mohrfeld:

I guess what I would say mostly to my younger self is slow down. Enjoy it. I tend to get carried away and work becomes all encompassing and keep going and keep going. And especially when I was younger, I was on the road and I was working hard and you're does that really need to happen? And so I always scratch my head and say, Hey, now, especially I scratch my head and say, Do I really need to do that? Do I need to take that trip to D. C. again? Is that going to be a good use of my time? And prioritize my life a little bit more. more. So slowing down would probably number one on my list.

Rachel Humphrey:

That is perfect with the self care and wellness because part of that slowing down is doing things for you. As we wrap up thinking about the motto of D. E. I. Advisors to empower personal success. Do you have any final pieces of wisdom you want to share with our audience?

Lynn Mohrfeld:

On personal success, take care of yourself number one and number two, always learn. That has been my mantra for myself and everybody else. If we're not learning, it's going to be way more of a job and work. If we're learning and doing new things, it's going to be something that we can sink our teeth into. Keep learning. That would be my my, my final words.

Rachel Humphrey:

That's great advice. For our audience, we hope you've enjoyed today and that you'll tune into DEI advisors dot org to hear from nearly 200 hospitality industry leaders who, like Lynn, have shared their journeys and their insights. Lynn, I think the world of you. You've been an incredible friend and business partner, association partner throughout my career. I'm so thrilled that you said yes to join us. today. And thank you so much for all you do for the hospitality industry and for me as well.

Lynn Mohrfeld:

Of course. Thank you very much, Rachel.

Rachel Humphrey:

Thanks.