RLH Corp. senior VP: ‘There’s a brand crisis right now’

Calvin Anderson says in his heart of hearts, he’s a “liberal arts person, a creative guy.” However, he eschews the conventional wisdom that individuals are either analytical or creative, but not both. “Humans are remarkable and can do a lot of things,” he says. His role as senior vice president and chief of revenue of optimization in Denver at RLH Corporation, the company behind Red Lion Hotels, Hotel RL, 3 Palms Hotels & Resorts, and other brands certainly requires mathematical skills. It’s also creative. “One of my greatest delights in revenue management is data visualization. My horror of calculus collided with my delight of painting. I create pictures out of data,” says Anderson, 32.

Anderson is one of 20 rising stars (all 40 and under) HOTELS interviewed for our May feature. All shared their insights about their lives in the business and thoughts about some of today’s challenges and opportunities. In a Wall Street Journal-sponsored series, read Anderson’s responses to our questions and click here to link to the full list of interviews with HOTELS 20 Next-Gen hospitality leaders.

Calvin Anderson of RLH Corp.
Calvin Anderson of RLH Corp.

Contributed by Karen Kroll

HOTELS: How would you describe the evolution of hotel industry opportunities? How plentiful and varied are they?

Calvin Anderson: It’s a great industry with a ton of opportunity. People love traveling, the world is getting smaller, and flights are cheaper. And, because it’s founded in real estate, there are high-earning roles, especially in customer acquisition. For young people who are ambitious and have a great head on their shoulders, there is a fantastic opportunity. I’ve been able to explore and gain faster exposure to things than I would have in, for instance, a banking role.

H: How prevalent are glass ceilings and the old boys network in the hotel industry? How do you develop your network?

CA: I think there’s a lot of truth to the old phrase ‘It’s not what you know but who you know.’ You’ve got to find the people you relate to and then be a polite, diligent stalker. Read the articles they read, show up at their conferences, and when there’s an open seat at that lunch table, don’t let anyone else take it. You’ve got to be your own biggest fan and believe in yourself because no one’s going to fight for it more than you. I was really gratified by the people who wanted to help me.

H: How are company cultures shifting to ensure younger professionals are attracted to the hotel industry?

CA: At Red Lion, I bang the drum that we need to behave like a startup. That means if you see the problem, you’re part of solving it. There’s a beautiful culture in that startup world.

H: What does the industry need to do to become more attractive to potential candidates?

CA: The lodging industry doesn’t always draw the top talent out of colleges and universities. Understand who brings you value and allow them to be part of the desperately needed change, and realize you’re going to have to go through a lot of change. Let the people that are your brightest minds help take you through that. There’s nothing more depressing than being at a company, knowing that it’s in trouble, and yet having no voice.

H: What about the business keeps you up at night?

CA: There’s a brand crisis right now. You don’t need a name on the side of your building to confirm to a consumer that you’re a decent hotel. Trip Advisor or Google Places will tell you that just as fast and maybe even better. There’s a fight to redefine what it means to be a brand. It really is an evolve or die world. How do I place my skill sets to make sure I’m relevant for the next 20 years? And how do I make sure the company I’m at is also a candidate for that? 

H: To what do you most attribute your success and growth?

CA: I grew up with nothing. I worked full time to get through community college and then the University of Missouri, Kansas City. I hustle and work hard and am constantly growing my skill sets. For instance, I’m teaching myself to code. I want to be the best person in revenue in lodging that knows the most about media, marketing and modeling, analytics, business intelligence and revenue optimization. I also had the sixth sense in my early career to chase smart people.

H: What advice would you give people entering the industry now?

CA: It’s going to be survival of the fittest. Work your butt off, become incredible at what you do and then they will fight over you. Also, there is a real risk to the status quo.

H: Where do you find inspiration outside your industry?

CA: I live to travel, to meet people and understand cultures. I was in Tokyo and met this awesome Japanese grandma who made a comment in a Starbucks line. We shared a Werther’s butterscotch and then an hour later we were at the National Kabuki Theatre. Those experiences are what I remember.

H: Who inspires you?

CA: Sloan Dean (chief operating officer of Remington Hotels). He’s a strong, brilliant person and made an investment in me. I admire his transparency and charity in sharing some of his learnings. Also Greg Mount, my CEO. Greg is one of the greats in this industry in his ability to strike a balance between taking risk and driving innovation, coupled with a discerning eye that never stops managing the fundamentals of the business.

H: What’s one prediction you’re willing to make about your discipline in the coming year?

CA: A lot of autonomous jobs are going to get washed away quickly. Keep that skill set fresh and brushed up, and embrace your creative and visionary sides, because that’s the skill set of the future.