Bradley Nelson – SPIRE Hospitality
The good news for Bradley Nelson—and all of the hospitality industry—is hotels are filling again after occupancy rates plummeted in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Occupancy rates are projected to reach 63 percent in 2022, increasing from 54 percent in 2021 and 44 percent in 2020—and approaching pre-pandemic levels. Revenue is increasing, too, with revenue per available room and average daily room rates each projected to surpass 2019 levels.
However, while Nelson, the corporate director of facilities for SPIRE Hospitality, can anticipate more guests at the company’s 30 hotels and resorts, finding the staff to maintain them remains difficult.
“The big challenge and focus is still creating the experience for guests that has value,” he says. “We have to ensure everything’s in working order, from a hall ice machine to the equipment in the fitness room.”
Since joining SPIRE in November 2021, Nelson has not only assessed what the hotels need; he’s also developing a leadership program to attract employees.
“We’re proactively meeting the challenges now because this was considered temporary at first,” he says. “That never became the case. This is where we are and will continue to be for a long period. We’re creating a new path and journey, so what does it look like?”
Founded in 1980 as Lane Hospitality and now headquartered in Dallas, SPIRE Hospitality operates hotels in 19 states for brands of Marriott, Hilton and Intercontinental Hotels Group. Its portfolio includes 7,000 rooms, 300,000 square feet of meeting space and comprises $2 billion in assets under management.
As Nelson learns about mechanical systems and the needs of hotels during his visits, he also faces a common industry problem—a labor shortage that’s made worse by fewer people entering building trades and property management.
It means he and other engineering directors need to occasionally “take off their ties and jackets and grab grease guns,” as he puts it, to help maintain the sophisticated building systems. As context, SPIRE has made $200 million in capital improvements the last several years.
While painting, caulking and other routine preventative maintenance tasks can be handled by less experienced staff, complex HVAC systems with variable controls and cooling towers require licensed professionals to care for them.
In response to the shortage of qualified staff, Nelson has created an emerging leaders development program that launched as he chatted with Blueprint in June.
Embrace the challenge
The program, which he’s still refining, differs from mentoring because of its level of involvement and training, Nelson says. It provides training to maintain HVAC and other mechanical systems. It will also familiarize participants with National Fire Protection Association fire and life safety systems codes and guidelines, which are required by local governments.
Participants will also learn how to create capital improvement budgets, including timelines for the work and how to follow up on projects.
Nelson says the program will also include opportunities for advancement. While someone aspiring to a full engineering position may lack the needed skills and experience, there’s a good a chance there’s a supervisory opening at another hotel or resort that fits their skillsets.
There’s no timeline for someone to complete the program—Nelson says if it takes a year to develop someone, that’s fine with him. However, the skills and qualities he seeks for leaders are consistent—high energy and passion are required. So is the ability to work independently and take risks.
“There’s nothing greater for me than someone coming into the office and saying they got it fixed,” he says.
In it together
For all his experience as an engineer and facilities manager, Nelson thought he might explore a career in the kitchen. But after earning a culinary arts degree from the Culinary School of Washington, D.C., in 1980, he found the work unfulfilling.
So he began his career in facilities management as assistant director of plant operations at what was then the Richmond Heights General Hospital in Ohio (now UH Richmond Medical Center). There, he helped manage maintenance and engineering for the 220-bed hospital, as well as six satellite health care clinics and two apartment complexes.
In 1993, Nelson joined the New York City-based Middex Development Corp. as corporate real estate operations manager for its Cleveland commercial real estate portfolio. In 1997, he became vice president of operations for Euclid Lumber & Kitchen Designs.
Nelson joined the hospitality industry in February 2007 as regional director of facilities for Concord Hospitality Enterprises. By then, he’d also earned an associate degree in Ohio real estate and law from Lakeland Community College and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Dyke College of Ohio. In 2008, he earned a bachelor’s degree in property management from Ashworth College.
Nelson was corporate director of engineering for Twin Tier Hospitality, area director of engineering at Intercontinental Hotels Group and director of engineering for Sage Hospitality before joining SPIRE.
“Everyone is searching for the new normal—that’s the meat and bones of what I’m trying to do now,” he says. “Whether in the medical field, hospitality or commercial real estate, you’re still in facilities management. I want to add value to our owners and investment partners and all the way down to the boots on the ground engineer who has higher aspirations to growing their career.”
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