I’VE spent my career in the hospitality industry, and in 2008 started my own company, AJ Capital Partners. My business is investing in and restoring hotel properties to their glorious state, and right now we have about nine projects underway in cities across the United States.
Unlike earlier in my career where the focus was big cities, I now know a lot more about rental cars, as our properties are in smaller towns like Oxford, Miss.; Athens, Ga.; Madison, Wis.; and Nashville. Spending time in each of these smaller markets has really given me the opportunity to experience an incredible and diverse landscape of characters, dive restaurants and places where true hospitality lives. When I’m in these smaller cities, my favorite thing to do is meet owners of local businesses, which helps inform the culture of the project we’re doing in that city.
I like to sample the local food, too. One of my favorite local joints in Oxford, Miss., is called Taylor Grocery and Restaurant. I took them up on their all-you-can-eat catfish special and ate so much I could barely walk, let alone stay awake for meetings. I’m all about the fried stuff, too, like fried Twinkies and Oreos. I’ve convinced myself it’s all part of the business trip.
Getting to places is important to me, but flying is just a means to an end. I’m not one of those people who think flying for business is the greatest thing ever. I’m too impatient. Plus, business trips take me away from my family.
I’ve made this resolution that the only things I will travel with are my smartphone and a book. I’m done with taking anything else with me. It’s just too much of a hassle, and so far so good.
It’s easy to stand out on a midweek flight to the Caribbean when you are the guy in the blazer with no luggage in a sea of honeymooners and families heading out for vacation.
I do enjoy meeting people, and after taking that midweek flight to Anguilla or St. Barts weekly, I did start to notice the other people on the flight who don’t look like they fit in either, and eventually I start chatting.
I’ve met some great people from the diamond industry, the duty-free business, luxury goods and other industries. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve actually wound up doing some deals with a few of the people I’ve met on planes.
Since we’re in the restoration business, initial site visits to projects can be really interesting. You never know what you’re going to find.
One of our key projects right now is the storied Malliouhana Resort in Anguilla that we just reopened. This property had been closed for a few years, and I was touring the rooms with a potential investor. I opened one door and saw a body on the bed. I kind of freaked out, quietly, and quickly shut the door. I was pretty convinced I was seeing a dead body, which really isn’t that great for business, let alone for the person who died there.
I went back into the room and kind of nudged the leg of the guy that was sprawled on the bed. He made a noise and woke up. My dead body was actually just a maintenance guy who was taking a snooze. I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty sure I screamed a little bit when the maintenance guy woke up, which can be kind of embarrassing when you’re with an investor.
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