Growing up, Jay Patel (BSBA ‘04) spent many summer weekends at hotels — working not vacationing. He and his brother made beds, cleaned swimming pools, repaired furniture and landscaped at hotels his father ran in North Carolina and South Carolina.
It’s not surprising then that Patel’s first stop after UNC Kenan-Flagler was a New York Marriott, where he worked in the front office. “I never really thought about what else I would do,” he says.
He didn’t need to.
Now, Patel, his father, Pravin, and brother Anup own Wintergreen Hospitality in Chapel Hill, a company that recently bought The Franklin Hotel on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Anup is a 2005 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate. With the acquisition of the hotel for around $14 million from Chapel Hill alumnus Dr. Robert Capps, Wintergreen Hospitality owns three hotels in North Carolina and has part ownership in five others, with a total asset value of just under $100 million.
“We were drawn to The Franklin because it is a brand new property in a prime location of a difficult-to-access market,” Jay Patel says. “Our number one goal is sales and making people aware of the hotel and what it has to offer and getting people in to experience it.”
The Franklin’s amenities include balconies in rooms, glass showers with marble vanities and satellite radio hookups.
“What we bring to the hotel is the hospitality side,” Patel says. “If our hospitality isn’t there, and our people aren’t making our guests feel the way they should be feeling, none of the amenities really matter.”
Wintergreen Hospitality distinguishes between service and hospitality. Service is ensuring working televisions, good beds, an available breakfast. “Hospitality is are you getting a warm and friendly encounter, are we acknowledging your value to our business, when you have a problem do we go above and beyond to solve your problem, do we anticipate your needs,” says Patel, 27, who earned a master’s degree from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.
Patel applies his hospitality philosophy in his dealings with vendors, suppliers, investors and bankers. “Just like when you have guests in your home, the whole notion of being hospitable and engaging in the human connection, that’s the most fun part of business,” he says.
UNC Kenan-Flagler reinforced the importance of communication for Patel. A communications class with Susan Irons was particularly helpful. “It covered the very basic concepts of written and verbal communication, e-mail etiquette and delivering your message in the best manner so it will have the biggest impact,” he says.
A human resources class with Dan Cable was useful, too. “It really opened my eyes to what human resources meant, from recruiting someone to the time they leave the company,” says Patel, whose wife, Nimisha, is a graduate of Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health.
One of the most valuable lessons Patel took away from UNC Kenan-Flagler was accountability. “The expectation was very high there to perform. Things weren’t just handed to us. We were given the tools and some guidance with the idea that we had to work for results and make it happen,” he says.