In our family, we talk business all the time. When I was a little boy, my father used to take me with him to Hot Shoppes, the chain he started. We’d inspect the restaurants together and buy a bunch of hamburgers to taste. I joined straight after getting out of the Navy and had been in the company about six months when we opened our first hotel. It wasn’t doing very well, so I asked my dad if I could run it. He said, “You don’t know anything about the hotel business.” I said, “Well, neither does anyone else around this place,” so he let me supervise it. I was made president in 1964. I’d been more or less running the company by the time I became CEO in 1972. I was 40 years old.
I got my children into the business when they were 15, 16 years old. My three boys worked at Roy Rogers, cooking hamburgers. They scooped ice cream at Carl’s. My daughter worked at the front desk of our Key Bridge hotel. There’s never been a problem with my children wanting to work. Several years ago, I realized they weren’t going to run the company. There was this tug as a parent to hope one of them might take over someday, but they really didn’t aspire to that role. My son John knows the business, but he wanted to do his own thing. My son Stephen is now severely handicapped, so that’s no longer an option for him. Debbie is in charge of government affairs, and David runs our East Coast hotels. What mattered most was getting the best person for the job.
Arne Sorenson became the logical choice to lead. I began talking about it with the board a few years ago, when he was CFO. They were obviously interested in who would replace me. After you’ve been CEO for 40 years, when you’re 80, it’s time to hand the reins to someone else. Arne reached out to my children, and they reached out to him. Everyone has embraced him as a great leader.
All my children still work in this business. The problem with most family companies is if they’re very successful, the children get a lot of money. When they get a lot of money, they don’t really want to work. A lot of people think that not working is a good life. That’s not our belief. Do I think one of my kids could become CEO? Maybe way down the road. But we just got a 53-year-old CEO, and I’m not thinking about succession. The next generation is already waiting tables. — As told to Diane Brady