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On Thursday, April 11th, Darien Wright joined Cornell’s Baker Program in Real Estate to lead an insightful discussion on extended stay hotels. Mr. Wright began his tenure with Brookfield Property Partners in November of 2017 as Vice President of Asset Management and in February of 2018 ascended to his new role as the Chief Operating Officer of Brookwood Hotels. Brookwood Hotels is a portfolio company owned by a Brookfield Asset Management-sponsored private real estate fund. Brookfield Asset Management (BAM) is an NYSE-traded real estate firm with over 120 years of experience owning and operating real assets. Mr. Wright’s presentation to the program included an overview of the extended stay hotel space, a deep dive into extended stay’s management needs, and his vision for the future of Brookwood Hotels.
Mr. Wright began his impressive career as a CPA with five years at Coopers & Lybrand and then earned his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. After four years with both Accenture and Sprint/Nextel, Mr. Wright joined Marriot where he spent 11 years before moving to Brookfield and eventually to Brookwood. In February of 2018, Brookwood Hotels was formed to operate and manage 110 Woodspring Suites extended stay hotels. Mr. Wright is tasked with driving growth of Brookwood’s extended-stay platform with oversight of acquisition, development, facilities, asset management, legal and accounting.
Mr. Wright shared that both he and his team of 21 Brookwood employees think of themselves as a “start-up,” but they greatly benefit from the resources provided to them by BAM. Although nascent, Mr. Wright’s team has been active in trying to drive efficiencies through both the management of current assets and the acquisition of new assets. For example, each hotel has just six full-time employees – comprised of a GM, a maintenance technician, a front desk employee, and three housekeepers. The lack of amenities and additional services makes day to day operations of these assets low-cost and provides for opportunities to generate additional revenue including additional housekeeping, laundry services, and pet fees, among others. While some bottom-line growth can be driven by management efficiencies, Mr. Wright as well as concerns himself with top-line growth and thus has been actively seeking opportunities to expand Brookwood’s holdings, including Brookwood’s most recent acquisition of three hotels in Clearwater, Florida. Each hotel is nearly identical and is comprised of a four-story stick-built structure, 122 guest rooms, and a small lobby area. These simple and low-cost “boxes”, as Mr. Wright so affectionately calls them, are easily replicable.
While many of the 110 hotels may be great assets for Mr. Wright’s vision for Brookwood and facilitated Brookwood’s quick and meaningful entry into the extended stay space, the stock varies greatly in quality. Mr. Wright must separate the wheat from the chaff in order to ensure that Brookwood’s allocation of capital expenditures will not only be recouped but will drive future profitability on an asset by asset basis. Further, Brookwood is currently exclusively operating Woodspring Suites extended stay hotels and is thus subject to constraints imposed by their franchisee agreement and further stipulations from CHOICE hotels, as Woodspring Suites is a flag they own.
Finally, Mr. Wright imparted some career advice for the students of the Baker Program. First, Mr. Wright advised that in any instance when choosing between positions to take a “business” role in lieu of a “support” role. Second, Mr. Wright advised that, no matter what the context, if you are invited to a meeting, you should contribute. If you do not speak or contribute to the meeting, you may as well have not attended at all. Lastly, Mr. Wright advised that finding a sponsor is paramount to your career progression. While many of us focus on finding mentors (advisors whom we can reach out to for career advice/assistance), we often overlook the value and necessity of a sponsor (an advocate within your company to champion your name/contribution).