With its recent operational agreement to add 17 properties in the U.K., Valor Hospitality Partners continues its trajectory of becoming a global operator in the hotel industry. Its success can be traced to the strong company culture created by its founders.
Based on his early hospitality experience, Valor Hospitality Partners CEO/cofounder Euan McGlashan set out to build a company with culture at its core. When he was 27, he was given the opportunity to build a luxury hotel in South Africa. “The owners were an amazing family called the Brand family,” the Scotland native said. “I went through multiple interviews, but they took a real gamble on me. They surrounded me with some of the most amazing business leaders and mentors. I got to experience the building of a hotel from the ground up right through to opening. I was very involved in the training. In fact, that’s where I got my grounding, if you like, with culture.”
While preparing that property to open, he interviewed more than 1,500 people for 150 jobs. “We did something like 180 training courses over three months,” he said. “They trained me in ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey, using a lot of his leadership lessons to take through the entire team. And then we opened, and the culture and the energy was absolutely massive. And in the first year, we won best hotel in Southern Africa. And then in 2001, Best Hotel in the World from Condé Nast Traveler, which was massive, as you can imagine.”
That very early positive experience led him to the U.S. and other jobs in the industry, but it wasn’t the same as that first one. “I was really disenchanted,” he said. “They’re all different; some value culture, but they don’t understand commerciality; most love commerciality and really don’t care about the culture. And so, you’re always managing up instead of leading down and taking a team forward, and I just don’t like being in that situation.”
In 2010, he did something he thought he would never do. “I received an email [from a superior]and then sent back my two-page reply and walked out the door and turned the light off,” said McGlashan. He decided that he wanted to start his own company—one that would be different. “I wanted to start building a team with this incredible cultural backbone and this unbelievable service excellence ethic to create amazing guest experiences,” he said. “I really wasn’t sure about how I was going to do that. The growth in the first couple of years was pretty organic; I won’t lie, it was hard. I always joke with people that it’s really difficult to get your first property, but it’s much harder to get your second because when you’re going after your first you can beg people to give you an opportunity,; when you’re going after your second, they always want to know why you only have one.”
Nine years after managing its first property in Biloxi, MS—a former condo building that had been blown out during Katrina—the company now has 85 around the globe.
“We are called Valor Hospitality Partners for a reason—because we have like-minded partners around the globe,” said McGlashan. “The two partners in South Africa, for instance, are my two best friends in life and were also in the hospitality world in South Africa… We were all very like-minded and built the company together and it’s been incredible. We’ve grown at a fairly rapid rate, but we’ve held on to everything that was important to us.”
The company now has offices and properties in the U.S., U.K., South Africa, Dubai and Thailand. With operations around the world, he said that things aren’t that different from country to country. “It’s interesting when people ask me, ‘How do you understand the different cultures?’ Well, first of all, there are different cultures, but how a guest behaves and acts in a hotel is the same globally,” he said. “That service and that personal connection with the service staff is something that we all need around the world.”
For McGlashan, it is all about having the right partners. “I haven’t found it particularly difficult to operate in different parts of the world,” he said. “If you have the right partners, then it really is not that hard. It sounds harder than it is. You’ve got to put a lot of energy and time… When we go into a new market, we spend a lot of time finding out who are the good players and who are the bad players, and clearly align ourselves with the groups that we want to be aligned with.”
There have been projects that the company has decided not to be part of. “There are projects where we didn’t care for the ownership,” he said. “We didn’t like the CapEx that was going to be put in, and because of the combination of the factors, we just didn’t feel that we could add value. It’s critical to us that we grow businesses culturally and commercially. And if we don’t think we can do that, we’ll walk away.”
What continues to guide the company is that backbone of culture that McGlashan set out to create when he made the decision to create his company. “The glue that holds us to together is really the culture, operating philosophy and value system,” he said.
In fact, those who work for Valor are called hotelitarians. “I don’t like the term staff or employee or associate,” said McGlashan. “We actually spent a lot of time working on a better name.”
He added, “We spend a lot of time not only writing our own training programs, which are all around emotional and social intelligence, but equally about personal and professional growth, and training and development, and really meaning that. We see all of our hotelitarians as an asset on the balance sheet and not an expense on the P&L.”
That focus on culture and training has helped as the global staffing crisis has hit. “It’s actually served us well,” said McGlashan. “Our employee engagement scores around the world right now are over 90%. We even have young leadership programs that we’ve developed so we grow talent from within. Our staff turnover is actually very low compared to a lot of our competitors.”
The importance of culture was evidenced when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Despite having all 85 properties closed at one point, the company did not lay off or furlough a single hotelitarian. “We made a pact with all the partners that when this started, we were not going to lose one single person,” he said. “So, we took loans wherever we could. Yes, there were some salary cuts, but our hotelitarian population was so massively important to us, that our first goal was to hold on to every single one, and we did it… In fact, the effect that had on culture, going forward, was second to none.”