Tips From The Top: One On One With Bill Walshe

I spoke to Bill Walshe, CEO of Viceroy Hotels & Resorts, about his journey and best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people? 

Bill: I have spent my entire career in hospitality, from the age of 15 when I started by taking out the trash, twice a week, at my uncle’s guest house. I am the cliché of a career that has gone from the trash room to the boardroom, and on occasion, life in the former has been easier than the latter! People might be surprised to know that I put myself through college by DJ’ing on commercial radio and doing stand up comedy. 

Adam: How did you get here? ​What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Bill: The most impactful elements of my career that have helped me achieve the position that I hold today have been the people I have had the fortune to work with and work for. In many respects, my leadership style is a composite of the best parts of the leaders that I have had the privilege to work for. One example of an individual who taught me much and who is a mentor and inspiration to me still to this day is Gerald Lawless, the former CEO and Executive Chairman of the Jumeirah Group and became the Chairman of the WTTC. 

Adam: What would surprise people about the hotel business? 

Bill: There are many moments that occur in hotels every day that would not only surprise, but quite probably shock people, in particular, examples of guest behavior! But running luxury hotels means we keep absolute confidence and never tell! 

Adam: In your experience, what are the key elements to building and operating a successful hotel chain? 

Bill: When I was starting out in the hotel industry, I was always told that the three factors for the success of any hotel were location, location, location. These days, I think that has changed to be activation, activation, activation. Guests are looking for compelling programming and not just luxury surroundings, in order to create the content, both emotional and social, that they will use to create memories that will last them for a lifetime. To build a successful hotel brand, like Viceroy, I believe you need to find the appropriate merge of consistency and individuality. Today’s luxury hotel guest will not accept replication as luxury, and they expect every experience to be highly individual and bespoke. 

Adam: More broadly, what are the key elements to succeeding in a hospitality business?

Bill: A key element in succeeding in hospitality today is to understand what hospitality will look like tomorrow. Guest preferences are changing rapidly and our ability to understand what type of experiences our guests will be looking for and what service styles will be needed to deliver those experiences in the future, is key to creating a long term and sustainable profitable business. 

Adam: What are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level? 

Bill: I think that all leaders need to understand not only how their business does what it does but why that business does it. At Viceroy, we have a very present and activated ideology that speaks to our purpose. For me, the best leaders are those who lead through purpose and set out to create pride amongst all the stakeholders, rather than those leaders who try to go straight to profit. In my world, pride and purpose lead to profit. 

Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?

Bill: The best way to build, lead, manage and retain talent is to have very transparent communication within an organization, to be present as a leader, and to be the champion of the purpose that your business ideology stands for. Leaders who sequester themselves in the corner office and never engage on the frontline of their businesses are doomed to failure. Irrespective of the size of an organization, the leader needs to be present and needs to be a figurehead for that company’s ideology. 

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Bill: 1) Never be too proud to say “please” and “thank you” when engaging with your stakeholders, both external and internal. 

2) Have a vision of success and your business plan works backward from that to the point where you are at. 

3) Make sure that you are managing to an evident and highly activated ideology. 

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Bill: Never stand still – it is a lot harder to hit a moving target!

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Bill: At Viceroy, we believe very strongly in the idea of random acts of kindness and empowering colleagues to act spontaneously in the moment to do something nice as one human being making another human being happy. We need to make sure that the written processes, policies and procedures of the business do not preclude the opportunity for people to do the right thing in the moment, in the circumstance. 

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Bill: Two things that I do most that I think I am good at until I see a professional do them, are cooking and golf. In both cases, I manage to immerse myself fully in the experience, but watching the chefs across the Viceroy Hotels & Resorts do what they do and compare it to the way I do what they do, I realize that I am striving for mediocrity.

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