When Mitch Patel was seven years old, his parents leased an 11-room hotel and moved into the apartment behind the office. “We were pursuing the American dream,” Patel recalls. “My father continued to work as a research scientist, and my mother ran the hotel, allowing us to save money on living expenses.”
Patel earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil and transportation engineering, respectively, and began working at an Atlanta consulting firm designing highways and bridges. However, his upbringing came calling, and Patel now runs Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Vision Hospitality Group Inc., which operates 29 hotels with upwards of 1,000 associates.
“It’s amazing how my career came full circle,” Patel says. “I guess hospitality was always in my blood, and I just didn’t know it. I really believe I found my passion.”
Patel’s reintroduction to the hospitality business began in 1996, when his father and uncle gave him the opportunity to develop and manage a 76-room Homewood Suites by Hilton at Hamilton Place, in Chattanooga. “I built that hotel as a general contractor and opened it as the general manager,” he says.
Patel says he wanted to do the best job he could, but didn’t have a clear vision at that time. Three hotels later, he found his niche. In 1999, Patel founded Vision and developed a plan to diligently grow the company over time. Today, the company is operating at full steam, with several hotels under construction and more in the planning stages. That momentum, Patel says, is the result of Vision’s unique approach.
First, the company only develops premium brands, such as Hilton and Marriott. “We’ve been through two down cycles, in 2001 and 2009—which was one of the worst years in history for the hospitality business—but because of our focus on high-end hotels, we fared well,” says Patel.
Second, the company has a unique development strategy for the brands, spending money where guests notice—for perks such as curb appeal, swimming pools with waterfalls, and patios with fire pits—and saving money where they don’t. “We really push the envelope on design,” Patel says.
Third, Vision operates hotels well—so well that its hotels consistently rank at the top of their respective brands in guest-satisfaction surveys. “This is a service business,” Patel says. “A hotel is a pretty box, but with people, it comes to life, so you have to treat those people well.”
Operating hotels well, says Patel, starts with culture. To that end, he has appointed a director of culture and communication—a full-time employee who works on programs to promote Vision’s vision and values. “The most successful companies in the world surround themselves with talented people and take care of them, and we have embraced that model,” he says. “We recruit from all over the country, and we follow the Golden Rule in the way we take care of our associates. We want great people and we want them to stay.”
By traditional quantitative measures, Patel’s efforts are working, with turnover less than the industry average. Plus, when you enter a Vision hotel, you can feel the energy Patel brings. “I love this business,” he says. “I’m a social person, and I love the interaction with associates and with guests from all over the world. The business really suits me.”