Tyler MacDonald of Oxford Properties on navigating disruption in the Hotel industry and why business moves at the speed of trust
Tyler MacDonald is the VP of Hotels at Oxford Properties. Tyler is a veteran of the hotel business having previously spent time working internationally with Hilton International and as a member of PKF Consulting. As VP of Hotels, Tyler leads the asset management of Oxford’s Hotel Portfolio. He is a graduate from the University of British Columbia’s Real Property Valuation program and holds a Bachelor of Commerce from The University of Guelph.
Looking back ten years, where did you think you would be by this point in your career? How did you get here?
I wasn’t the kind of person who tried to map out my career in a prescriptive way. There are too many things that can happen throughout your life that can impact your trajectory so I never saw the value in doing that. I did however, have a pretty clear sense of what I was passionate about and those things guided me to where I am today. I’ve always loved hotels and at a young age, I wanted to run a hotel. Directionally, it makes sense that I’ve ended up in the industry that I’m in now. Ten years ago though, I made the choice to transition from working in Hotel Operations to the Real Estate side of the hotel business which I found to be more fascinating and aligned with my interests. At that point, I was a late twenty-something who was embarking on a new adventure. Looking back on it all, I’ve used a simple formula in directing all of my career moves: I’ve always needed to be passionate about what I was doing, intellectually stimulated and most importantly, working with people who were much smarter than I was. Intellectual curiosity, staying humble and always wanting to do more to make our business more successful have been important parts of getting me to where I am now.
Tell me about what is going on in the Hotel Industry. How has the industry responded to disruptors like AirBnb?
The fundamentals of the hotel business are quite strong right now. We are in the ninth year of an expansionary cycle and our hotel investments have been performing very well. There is a lot of development, financing and transaction activity happening at the moment, so things are certainly good. That being said, this is a highly cyclical business so we are mindful of that and are now taking measures to ensure we are well positioned for the next phase of the cycle.
When thinking about the AirBnB impact, it’s important to note that the sharing economy is only one of the many things that impact the market dynamics of our industry. What most people don’t realize is that the sharing economy has actually been impacting the hotel industry for years in the form of home sharing and traditional bed and breakfasts. What’s changed is that now there are platforms that aggregate the supply of these units which also has the ability to make them easily available to the masses. While we see companies like AirBnB as a threat, this industry has always welcomed competition because it keeps people sharp. I’d say things like ghost hotels made up of privately purchased condo units, which are not adhering to the same tax and regulation that regular hotels are subject to, are more problematic for our industry. Fundamentally, AirBnB offers a different product than a hotel and hotel operators are really getting back to basics around things like owning your customer, delivering amazing experiences and investing in new technology.
What is your favorite part about working in the Hotel business? What would you tell someone who is exploring starting their career in it?
This is a fascinating and dynamic industry that involves a lot of right and left brain thinking. It is a great industry to get into if you like marrying together things like finance, design, real estate and customer experiences. These are some of the main reasons why I’ve grown to love it so much. There some days where I’m just digging into the numbers and there are others where we’ll be working through things like business and marketing strategy.
What have been some of the most important business lessons that you have had to learn the hard way? How have they made you more successful?
First off, I’d say that there is no fast track to developing expertise in something. We often come out of school thinking that we know more than we actually do but ultimately, you need to put in your time.
Another thing I’ve learned is that making mistakes is inevitable and highly instructive for your development. When you make a mistake and take the time to reflect on it, that can lead to important growth. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes along the way but being in an environment that has let me make those mistakes has been so important.
Learning how to network and build real relationships has also been an important thing that I’ve learned. You can be the smartest person in your company but if you can’t connect with people and get them to like you in a genuine way, you will never get anywhere. Our CEO has always said that business travels at the speed of trust and if you are doing business with someone, do things like having them over for dinner at your house. Focus on getting to know people as people because that transcends things like purely intellectual conversations. While being people-first is actually quite intuitive, you aren’t taught to think like that in school.
What does leadership look like to you? What makes a great leader?
Learning how to be a great leader is an evolution and something that one never stops learning. It’s something that is different across people, levels and expertise. From my perspective, on a tactical level, the role of a leader is to be a provider of resources and a remover of obstacles. This means that I need to be providing my team with what they need to be successful and also make sure that they are not running into roadblocks. On a philosophical level, I believe that leaders show their people where they need to go and give them a compass (not a map) in order to get there. If you hire the right people, outline a strategy and avoid getting caught up in the weeds, it’s likely that your team will come up with better solutions to problems than you would come up with yourself.
I also believe that having humility is a very important part of being a leader. I’ve witnessed a number of occasions where lacking humility hurts one’s ability to build relationships and really learn.
What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?
If you only focus on getting ahead in itself, you will never be fulfilled by what you do. One of my professors in fourth year of undergrad once told me that there are too many rich and unhappy lawyers out there and the world doesn’t need more of that. Admittedly, I was heavily focused on solely getting ahead in my mid-twenties, but that is a common thing to do when you are young. We don’t tend to think about the long term during that part of our lives. With the benefit of hindsight, I think that focusing on finding something fulfilling first is a much better way to approach your journey. The rest comes over time.
If you are ever presented with the choice of taking a job that pays you a lot versus working for someone who you can really learn from, always take the latter. That will be much better for your career in the long run. When you are young, focus on learning and taking risks because as you get older it is harder to allow yourself to take the same types of risk.