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Frits van Paasschen says he has “always gravitated towards fun jobs.” Sure enough, his background includes (most recently) being CEO of Coors Brewing Co., running Nike’s operations in Europe and Africa and working for Disney.
Now, he’s about to head up Starwood Hotel and Resorts. For all the glamour of the hotel industry, Starwood hasn’t exactly been a paradise for employees in recent years. Its former chief executive, Steve Heyer, left in late March amid questions about his personal conduct and management style. He was seen to be cold. He commuted to the White Plains head office from Atlanta. He complained to me in one early interview that CEOs were not paid enough, when you consider the sacrifices they make.
Now comes van Paasschen, who’s due to start his job on Sept. 24. He’s quick to talk about the importance of global expansion and building out brands like Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis—this is the man, after all, behind the push to keep beer colder longer and fuel nostalgia for Rocky Mountain refreshment. But he also understands the importance these days of being a nice guy. “At the end of the day, these jobs are all about leadership and the softer side.” He’s so nice, in fact, that he says the hardest part of any job is saying no … “making trade-offs and staying focused.”
Despite the love-starved environment in which Starwood found itself several months ago, chairman and interim CEO Bruce Duncan says morale is now high. “We’re all very excited,” says Duncan, who took says the process of grilling potential candidates was a “very thorough” one. Along with looking for the right mindset and skills, nobody wants any hint of bad behavior in a candidate’s background. Even with names like former Gap CEO Paul Pressler bandied about, Duncan says van Paasschen was “head and shoulders above the rest.”
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