To Sean Showers, life in the hospitality industry is even more thrilling than the life of a spy.
When Showers first graduated from Emory University with a degree in economics, he had “no inkling” of what it meant to work in the hotel industry. “I was always under the impression that it meant working at the front desk, or as a general manager or housekeeper,” he recalls. But Showers’s eyes were opened at PKF Consulting, where he learned all about how hotels are appraised, purchased, and financed.
The more Showers was exposed to that side of the industry, the more he was intrigued. But one of the highlights of his career, he says, was his tenure at Ashford Hospitality Trust. “My boss at the time, one of the greatest minds from an asset management perspective, actually sent me to work at a hotel for six weeks,” Showers says. Although he had been in the industry for over a decade, this was his first experience actually working inside a hotel.
“I worked the front desk checking in customers, I worked in the housekeeping department cleaning rooms, I worked in the kitchen, I worked with the engineers, and I worked with the sales and marketing team,” he explains.
By the end of the six weeks, “I had so much more respect for everyone working there,” Showers emphasizes. “I had no idea how much work went into making those hotels function the way we expected from an owner perspective; I’m thankful that I had that experience.”
With that on-site hotel experience as a supplement for his expertise in asset management and underwriting, Showers quickly moved through senior roles throughout his career and, in 2017, to his current position at real estate investment trust RLJ Lodging Trust. RLJ prides itself on investing in high-quality, full- and select-service hotels. As a senior executive in the company, Showers ensures that capital is deployed in a manner that maintains and enhances the quality of all assets by providing capital oversight and guidance to his entire fleet.
And that is no easy task.
“If you have over 100 hotels in your oversight, you can’t just approve capital dollars for them all without doing any research on what’s needed,” Showers points out. “You have to be diligent in terms of what you’re approving and ensuring that those dollars are actually spent.”
Showers and his team of experienced engineers manage the hotel capital budgets for spending, as well as execute the large building projects geared at protecting the physical assets, like roof replacement and elevator modernizations.
Beyond asset health, Showers says, another key area of spending will always be technology. As he explains, it’s becoming more important for all hotels to offer technological amenities and services, from high-speed internet access to guest entertainment platforms.
“You have to make sure that hotels get that capital they need so they can stay competitive in the market,” Showers advises, “but you also have to make sure hotels have the power and wattage to handle all of that.” But Showers’s task of ensuring quality buildings goes far beyond the implementation of new technologies and features.
“There’s never a dull day in this world,” says the senior director. “There’s always something different every day—it might be hurricane season and we have to go into action to make sure our hotels are prepared for the disaster. Or we might need to ensure that we’ve prepared our buildings for winter. We have to prepare for the worst.”
During his tenure at RLJ Lodging Trust, Showers has implemented a number of new initiatives and procedures to help his teams stay prepared for that worst outcome. Water safety and mold prevention programs are being formalized and rolled out to the fleet. One other initiative is a simple checklist to be performed on a biannual basis designed to identify key focus areas, such as roof and façade, plumbing, testing, and air balance. This is crucial for the safety and well-being of hotel customers and employees alike. It requires hotel teams to check periodically for mold, leaks in the roof, flaws in the plumbing, and much more.
“At the end of the day, we value our assets and make sure we do all that we can to make sure they’re taken care of, not only from an asset health perspective, but also from a shareholder equity perspective,” Showers says.
Trust in Transparency
Sean Showers knows full well that in any job—including those at RLJ Lodging Trust—there are good days and bad days. “But at the end of the day, it’s a great job, a great company, and a great space,” says the senior director of design and construction. “We have a lot of access to the C-suite executives—they regularly take groups of us out to breakfast and ask us how we’re feeling and what the company could be doing better. That kind of transparency speaks volumes.”