Break the shackles

BON Blog - Breaking the Shackles

Yes indeed, hindsight is wonderful. Reflecting recently, I have been completely taken aback at how one bad apple in the family can have such a profound effect, not only on the financial stability of a company but on what I didn’t realise – the mental effect – that such a burden places on a team.

In the start-up stages of BON Hotels, very eager (as are most hotel management companies) to get our portfolio numbers up, we were sucked into the proverbial question of ‘how many hotels have you got in your group?’ This proved to be a yardstick that we fell for, as we set out to prove our worth and impress our peers. All the while, in the back of our minds, we were actually aware that the numbers game is a useless game.

I was warned but predictably, we found ourselves carrying on with a few bad decisions. And when I say ‘carrying’, I mean CARRYING! We were trudging along with our very own bad apple: a hotel that was not only completely underperfoming but one that we realised had very little chance of performing; a hotel that if we had done our homework thoroughly, we would never have taken on; a hotel where we found ourselves ‘in bed’ with a challenging business partner.

Denial creeps in and takes over. We kept topping up financially, digging a well into our life-savings in order to keep everyone afloat while we waited (most definitely not sleeping), hoping for a miracle. 

What we now know is that we were irritating a few people in our mission to save the bad apple. Good people in our team admitted defeat and moved on, suppliers were let down while we spent time scrounging for funds to pay the one who was shouting the loudest. Complaints came in from all directions but our team kept at it.

Looking back, you could compare our situation to an abusive relationship, one where you know that you have to leave but there are seemingly too many factors keeping you there. Firstly, ego kicks in: ‘what is everybody going to think if we sink this boat?’ clouds the mind. Then, insanity prevails as you keep trying: doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. You exhaust all possible means until eventually a penny may drop or more likely, a boulder comes crashing down, and eventually you find yourself cutting the losses.

This was not an easy decision and not one we took lightly, but cutting the losses brought an instant shift in energy. We have literally felt, with great relief, a lifting of negative energy. We have shifted from sleepless nights, tense financial meetings and set backs, to a renewed focus on growing our company, looking after our people and adding value to the industry that we love.

The best news is this: we didn’t come out empty-handed. There is an old adage of ‘nothing teaches you more than your mistakes’ that we can certainly attest to.

If I could do it all over again, my advice to myself would be:

  1. Listen to the advice of others.
  2. Do your homework and then do some more.
  3. Use the expertise of others and outsource hotel due diligence to experts. This might seem costly in the beginning, but believe me, it will save you in the long run.
  4. Make sure you are structuring the deal to best suit both parties. We got involved in hotel leasing arrangements without enough consideration that circumstances beyond our control can change, affecting our business overnight.
  5. Listen to the alarm bells – get out of a bad deal as soon as possible;
  6. Don’t expect that your own financial interests are important to anyone who is not invested in your company. Make sure that the team making the decisions on the ground are feeling the financial heat too.

That a bad apple can drag a workforce into the doldrums is not something that we want to readily admit.

The shackles are off.

Author

Chief Executive Officer

Having grown up in the corridors and reception areas of Cape Town hotels, Guy Stehlik is no stranger to the hospitality industry.

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