Newsmaker Q&A: Steven Rudnitsky, President and CEO, Dolce Hotels and Resorts

Veteran hotelier Rudnitsky is taking Dolce down a new path.

After serving as president and CEO of a major hotel company, one might call it a day. But former Wyndham Worldwide Hotels Group head Steven Rudnitsky jumped at the chance to join a different organization—and hold those same top-level titles—late last year when he joined Dolce Hotels and Resorts.

He comes in at a pretty tough time, but it's clear he remains focused on the tasks at hand, both for Dolce and for the industry at large. A former chairman of the American Hotel & Lodging Association's Multicultural & Diversity Advisory Council, who also has served on the now-defunct Travel Business Roundtable and on the advisory board of a hospitality school, Rudnitsky is not one to shy away from a challenge.

MeetingNews talked with him about the long and winding road ahead.

Q: Why did you choose to leave Wyndham and why go to Dolce?

A:
I saw the opportunity to tackle a new challenge, which was to evolve a great brand to iconic status. I've known Andy [Dolce] for some time, and I knew the strength of his company; Dolce is the pioneer of the conference center concept, and its model is still the basis for centers around the world today.

Professionally, the opportunity to work for an entrepreneurial company backed by a private equity firm was compelling. I was excited about getting away from the short-term focus of publicly financed companies.

Q: What's your role at Dolce?

A:
I'm responsible for impacting all aspects of the company and its growth worldwide. That includes developing Dolce's strategic plan, which was just completed; making sure we deliver on our objectives; overseeing all departments; and sitting on the board of directors.

Q: How is the strategic plan different than before?

A:
Greater clarity and focus is the crux of the difference. Fundamentally, I'm focused on accelerating property and room growth, boosting revenue, growing brand presence, enhancing the value proposition, optimizing operational performance, and developing our people and practices in line with the business strategy.

Q: Early this year, Dolce announced aggressive growth plans; it intended to double its portfolio over the next five years. What's going on now on that front?

A:
The plans are still in place. Deals aren't getting done the way they were, so we've shifted our focus away from new construction—though we do have some new builds in the pipeline—and onto conversions. There are a lot of distressed assets out there, and owners and banks are looking for alternative ways of supporting these properties.

The cost structure we can provide and our value proposition are a way for us to deliver on our growth targets. (Or, put more simply, Dolce is a compelling enough operator to be able to take over a number of failing facilities and meet the company's growth objectives.)

Q: Are there particular markets or destinations you're eyeing?

A:
We're focused on key gateway cities, whether those are Chicago, Los Angles, or San Francisco, or, overseas, Milan, Rome, Lisbon, and London. Those are all cities that we want to be in as part of our growth platform.

Q: Dolce is always at the cutting edge in terms of providing what customers want; the recent programs dealing with the economy are good examples of that. Do you hope to sustain that, or maybe push the envelope even more?

A:
We're retooling how we go to market, in terms of our global sales structure. We're going to place a greater emphasis on corporate accounts, provide more value to longstanding customers, and we also want to broaden our customer base.

Q: You've served in volunteer positions, including some of leadership, with several industry organizations. Will that continue during your time at Dolce?

A:
Sure, if someone calls me. I have expressed to the lobbyist at the American Hotel & Lodging Association a willingness to help the industry fight the press it's getting. I think it's important for hotel companies to stand up and be counted. We have to encourage Corporate America to travel, and to not be afraid to continue to have meetings.

Q: What challenges lie ahead for you at Dolce, and for the company as a whole?

A:
It's the economy, and the backlash that's frightening corporate clients, and even nonprofits. But I would suggest that the AIG incident, which started it all, is an aberration. Meetings are very essential to business; they're the glue that brings people together and, hopefully, energizes them to achieve common objectives.

We support the industry organizations involved [in the coalition promoting meetings]. I'm going to send a letter to our property managers, executives, and staff within the next week encouraging them to write and call members of Congress and local officials—in a way that's productive, not critical—to show their support for meetings and events.

Originally published March 23, 2009