Losing a true entrepreneur, John Q. Hammons

I first met John Quentin Hammons about a dozen years ago at The Lodging Conference in Phoenix. If memory serves, he had just published a book and was there doing interviews to publicize it. I had always heard about the legend of the man simply known as John Q., but I never had the opportunity to meet him until then.

What an impression he made on me — and not because of a snappy appearance or a cliché-filled dialogue about a robust pipeline and whiz-bang new amenities and design features of his hotel portfolio. What impressed me about John Q. was his natural, simple, understated approach to hotel development that started with 10 Holiday Inn franchises in 1958 and grew to more than 200 hotels in 40 states. For me it culminated in 2003 when I was fortunate enough to present to him HOTELS’ Corporate Hotelier of the World award.

The man knew the U.S. Interstate Highway system like the back of his hand because it was along those highways and in the university towns around the United States where he struck gold. Secondary locations and great brands helped him amass a real estate fortune estimated one time at US$1 billion.

Sitting with John Q. that first time we met was so comfortable, so heartwarming because he was so genuine and so much a part of Americana. He was a rags-to-riches, middle America story who as a teen trapped rabbits and sold their pelts, and to now know that we lost such an original last week at age 94 caused me to pause, appreciate what he accomplished and feel a bit sad that they just don’t seem to make men like John Q. Hammons anymore.

His name is plastered all over his hometown of Springfield, Missouri, as he donated millions of dollars to local hospitals, colleges and public television. He was a big sports fan, supported all of the local teams and just modestly went about his business.

Unfortunately, the last few years of John Q.’s life were controversial as in 2010 he was placed in “involuntary seclusion” in a nursing home by a group led by Jacqueline Dowdy, a former company administrative assistant and accountant who Hammons gave power of attorney years earlier. She took control of the company, released many of its long-standing executives and continues to run the company today.

I prefer to remember the John Q. I met at the Arizona Biltmore many years ago. He made such an impression as a genuine, honest and humble man who had a gift for buying and developing real estate in his own unique way. He had a style all his own, a style I hope does not fade away like this great man I once knew.