Michael Dell is best known as the founder of the eponymous computer company, which made him billons off the premise of selling PCs direct to consumers. All his money needed management, a job given to MSD Partners, the New York-based investment company set up in 1998 with the sole purpose of managing Dell’s assets. Some of that is real estate; namely hotels.
In the summer of 2020, Dell’s executive search team was in the last stage of determining if hotelier Daniel Hostettler would be up to the daunting task of leading The Boca Raton, the 950-room property that MSD Partners had acquired the previous year.
At the time, Hostettler was the president of Rhode Island-based Ocean House Management Collection, consisting of Ocean House, one of only four hotels in the U.S. to hold the designation of Triple Five Stars from Forbes Travel Guide, as well as a luxury sister property, Weekapaug Inn. He was also serving as president, North America, of Relais & Châteaux (of which his own properties were members).
As a final challenge, MSD handed Hostettler the resort’s financials from the previous few years and asked him how he would position the property for better future results.
Talk about being put on the spot. “I had 45 minutes to make a presentation,” Hostettler said. The concept he ultimately proposed was to carve the property up into five separate luxury hotels, each with a distinct personality and its own GM, accepting nothing less than the highest level of guest service across every property.
“My belief is that the luxury guest isn’t going to want to go to a 950-room hotel. But they certainly would consider a smaller hotel, even if it’s housed within a larger campus,” he said.
It was a bold strategy for a property that dates back to 1926. MSD didn’t hesitate: They bought into Hostettler’s stronger-by-division concept and gave him the job.
He packed up his sunscreen, bought some bug repellent, got over his Swiss-born aversion to humidity and headed for South Florida, where, he says, “MSD gave me all the resources I could possibly want to accomplish the vision I shared with them—and do it in style.”
The Dell organization got a bit more than it bargained for, as things shook out. Included with Hostettler would be a chunk of his Rhode Island-based senior leadership, who followed him down to the resort. (Their willingness to pick up and go is notable if you know Rhode Island, a dazzling but self-contained state with just one area code and a general wariness about life beyond its borders.) But, said Hostettler, his lieutenants’ decision to move was “motivated by what motivated my own move: to replicate and expand on our Ocean House success on a much larger scale with more resources and visionary ownership.”
The transformation has been dramatic—what was in ways a standard convention hotel, albeit one with an amazing pedigree and stunning original Addison Mizner architecture, was turned into five distinct properties that are now open for business after a first-round renovation of more than $225 million that began in the first quarter of 2021 and culminated in the reopening of the iconic Tower in November 2022.
But a hotel is far from just brick and mortar. And the question became, how do you unify and elevate guest service standards across five distinct properties? To answer, Hostettler takes a cue from a hospitality luminary. “I’m an adherent of the Danny Meyer principle that you can have styles of service that vary across an organization, but you never want to have different levels of service,” he said.
In service of this, Hostettler chose, as he’s done in the past, to use the Forbes Five Star standards as his north star—“a very rigorous and unblinking north star,” he said. (Hostettler dolefully recalls a time earlier in his career when one of his properties missed the fifth star because someone was seconds late greeting a guest and received a score of 91.8 on a 92 scale. “We lost the star over 2/10th of a point!” Hostettler exclaimed. They did win the star back—handily—the next year.)
The great unifier at The Boca Raton is an unabashedly ambitious goal set by Hostettler: to earn 25 Forbes stars (5 times 5) by 2025. Thus, “25 by 25” (25 stars by 2025) has become the rallying cry that his troops live and breathe every day.
“For us, being an independent property that in many ways we’re building from scratch, the goal of five Five-Star ratings is both a lofty goal and very concrete,” he said. The Forbes Travel Guide rating system has 600 service standards, and at The Boca Raton, this allows employees to focus on the standards one by one and management to drill down on how they’re doing at hitting these standards every day. “None of our component pieces are going to get five stars if everything isn’t at that level across the board, for every guest in every one of our rooms, regardless of the individual branding and positioning of where they’re staying,” Hostettler said.
“It’s one team, one dream,” Hostettler concludes. And the dream would seem, already, to coming closer to realization, as The Boca Raton has, right out of the gate, already been awarded two Five Star awards simultaneously (for The Boca Raton Beach Club and the property’s Spa Palmera) and “only” has three more to go. And just north of two and a half years to win them.
Micah Solomon is a customer service and guest service consultant, trainer, keynote speaker and author, having written five books around hospitality. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.micahsolomon.com.