Build a support system and surround yourself with good people. Support from my uncle and cousin helped me to become a leader in the hotel industry, and my team has helped make our success possible.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vimal Patel.
Vimal is president and CEO of QHotels Management, which owns and manages hotels in Louisiana and Texas. He’s not only a hotelier and a developer; he’s also a visionary who stands up for what he believes. Vimal’s profile has risen as he’s organized to take on a global hotel franchise over what he feels are unfair business practices.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I moved to the United States in 1991. I was working two jobs: a doughnut shop at night, then I’d turn around and work at McDonald’s for the morning shift. I was living with my cousin at the time. I then moved to Tennessee, which didn’t quite work out. I left in 1999 with one suitcase and $2,500, essentially homeless. I did another restart of my life and moved back to Louisiana to live with my cousin again and work in his hotel as a night auditor. That was the launching pad for my career. I started managing the hotel, then partnered with him and bought my first hotel. That one didn’t do well at all — not anybody’s fault — but it simply didn’t work out. I started the company, QHotels Management, with my partners. That led to developing and managing a few more hotels and getting involved in every aspect of the hotel business. We slowly built up equity, took out more loans and paid them off. Today, we own and manage 11 hotels, most of them in Louisiana.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’m a small business owner in a small town in south Louisiana, taking on one of the largest hotel franchisors, IHG, in a class-action lawsuit right now. The franchisor/franchisee relationship has always been tested and sour in terms of profitability and survival for the small business owners. These are usually 10–20 year contracts, and the large corporations have a lot of power to add on brand-mandated guidelines and to require the use of approved vendors, which can raise costs. Many small hotel operators don’t speak up over concerns of retribution and retaliation, plus the fear of being kicked out of the franchise could be financial suicide. The pandemic magnified the problem. A lot of owners were upset, so I got a few together, and we’re taking on some of these unfair practices in court. As an immigrant who came to the land of the free, we have to fight against what’s unjust and untrue. If we’re not, what are we teaching our children?
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’ve navigated many financial hardships, from COVID-19 to several hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina. Overcoming challenges related to the financial health of the business, while raising two daughters and building my relationship with my wife, has been a journey that I never would have expected. My wife also works with the company and manages all of our finances, which has been instrumental for our success. In fact, our four partners complement each other really well. QHotels Management has a wider diversity of in-house experience than many small hotel operators. Some of us focus on day-to-day hotel operations, while others are working to rebuild and repair our hotels damaged by Hurricane Ida last year.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In addition to my cousin, who gave me my start in the hotel industry, I’m very grateful to my uncle. I barely passed high school back in India in 1988. I left and went to Malawi in southeastern Africa to stay with my uncle, who owned a factory there. That’s where I got my first exposure to corporate culture and more of a western way of doing things, even though we lived in a small country in Africa.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
The first part of resilience is having a support system around you. Nobody can survive alone. My wife is a key player in the business, along with my partners. COVID-19 was brutal because people stopped traveling and staying in hotels. That burned through the liquidity — all the cash. Some of our relationships saved us. We worked together to maneuver things around, and we reconnected with key lenders who knew us already. They helped us to avoid bankruptcy and keep our hotels.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is being willing to accept situations that you can’t control — and then moving onward and upward. In my case, that’s meant being ready to accept losses and failures. It’s also meant trying something different as needed. Something might fail, but then resilience is surviving that failure and having the courage to move on and try another method, while being prepared to fail again in case it doesn’t work out.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I would have to go with Elon Musk. He made Tesla the world’s most recognizable brand. Reading about Elon, I’ve learned that he almost sold his company when he was struggling to achieve his goals. But he didn’t, and today, his company is involved in the world’s most complex space projects — not just cars. His simple tweets of “hey” or “good morning” get thousands of likes and retweets. He’s not a typical CEO. He engages on social media, connecting with other people and sometimes roasting politicians. I really like that engaging approach.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
We’ve been told one of our hotels was doomed to fail during the pandemic — and that there was no way of getting out of the situation with the CMBS lender without losing the hotel. We were facing financial ruin and losing part of our life’s work, which we’d built over two decades. It took about eight months of working through the challenges to be able to salvage this hotel. There was pretty much a 0% chance of that happening eight months ago.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
We’re currently dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, which hit Louisiana in late August. The flooding and wind caused millions of dollars in damage to six of our hotels, shutting them down for months. We just reopened the first, while we’re still fighting with the insurance company. Rebuilding has been another struggle, with materials and workers in short supply. We’re working to bounce back stronger than ever, but it will be several more months before more of our hotels can reopen.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
English has always been my distant third language, behind my mother tongue, Gujarati, and Hindi. I’ve always been told bluntly that if you can’t communicate, if you can’t speak English, then you can’t survive. I first heard that when I moved to Africa. I could barely speak English, and some of my family and friends living in Africa would always tell me there’s no way I’d make it in the U.S. They said I didn’t know western culture or how to do very basic things, all of which was 100% true. The simplest tasks, from depositing money in the bank to driving a car, were a huge learning curve for me. I learned how to use a computer once I got here in the U.S., and since then, I’ve come a long way. I’ve even launched a hospitality technology solution for hotels called INNRLY.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Learn to overcome the fear of failure. This will keep you motivated and humble.
- Build a support system and surround yourself with good people. Support from my uncle and cousin helped me to become a leader in the hotel industry, and my team has helped make our success possible.
- Check the backgrounds of those you’re doing business with, especially if it’s a big business deal. One hotel we’re building — a $7 million project — was on track, with millions of dollars invested into the hotel. Then, the FDIC took over the bank that was our lender. We found out it had been under investigation. The FDIC gave us the option to pay off the loan or lose the loan to a larger bank, who could call the note anytime, which would cause us to lose the asset. Months later, we secured financing through another lender. Next time, we’ll do a better job checking into the health of our lenders, especially on major projects.
- Be open and forthcoming, while being a realist. This has helped us with financing during the pandemic.
- Keep calm and don’t make any hasty decisions.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think we need to be less fearful about standing up and voicing our opinions against unjust and unfair practices, whether it’s in business or life. We’re too scared. We play the victim role too much, rather than having the courage to take action and stop it. This is especially true for my generation. I think future generations are learning to speak up for themselves. I think that’s something my daughters are learning, and it’s something that I really believe the world needs.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I will go with Tom Brady, as he has crafted a legendary career where age didn’t matter. He had major success at the age when most will retire. He showed us how to be successful physically, mentally and in business, while navigating family life. Whether people like him or not, no one can question the level of success and commitment he brings consistently.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!