New CEO and Navy Veteran Navigates Industry Waters of Disruption
Editor's note: Patrick Pacious became President and Chief Executive Officer of Choice Hotels International, Inc. (NYSE: CHH), one of the world’s largest hotel companies, effective September 12, 2017. Pacious has been with Choice since 2005 and, in this time, he has created significant value for shareholders and franchisees, including the integration of industry-leading global technology platforms that resulted in improved profitability and efficiencies for the company’s franchised hotel owners. He also spearheaded the company’s significant growth in the upscale segment with both Cambria Hotels and The Ascend Hotel Collection, as well as the successful transformation of the Comfort Brand.
A Navy Veteran, Pacious is also a big believer in the value of military service in Corporate America. He sat down and discussed his perspective in an exclusive one-on-one interview.
1. Where were you born and raised? What was your town & neighborhood like?
I was born and raised in the Washington, D.C., area. In fact, my mother’s family goes back four generations in the nation’s capital. My childhood home was an English Tudor-style stone house near the DC-Maryland border. It is in a neighborhood known as 16th Street Heights today, which was a great place to grow up, with lots of single-family homes. When I was a teenager, we moved to Maryland. Today, I live in Virginia with my wife and four children.
2. Tell us about your folks, and upbringing. What did you admire most about them?
My parents believed in extending a helping hand, especially to the poor and the sick. That’s why they became physicians. My father was an internist, and my mother was a pediatrician. I admired them both greatly. They were hard-working people who focused on their faith and their kids’ educations. My mother was also an outstanding role model. She was the first woman admitted to Georgetown Medical School, and she worked while raising 11 children.
3. Do you have brothers and/or sisters?
I am one of 11 children, and have eight brothers and two sisters. We would joke that we had enough for a baseball team. Big families run deep on both sides. My dad was one of eight kids, and there were four children on my mom's side.
4. What is your family history of military service?
My father served in the Navy during World War II. He had three brothers who served during World War II and Korea. On my mother's side, she had two brothers who both were in the Army Air Corps in World War II. Among my siblings, four of us were in the military – all Navy, just like my father. I used a Navy ROTC scholarship to pay for my education at Duke University.
5. What kind of child were you? Where did you excel in your early school years?
When I was younger, I was a bit of an introvert. The truth is, in my early high school years, doing well in school wasn't the priority it should have been. That all changed by the eleventh grade when I buckled down and got serious. It paid off. I graduated in the top ten of my high school class, and was able to get accepted to Duke University in North Carolina.
6. At what point did you know you wanted to serve in the Navy? What does the military & Navy represent to you? How do you look back on your times there?
First, the Navy taught me about leadership, how to inspire people and get everyone working in the same direction toward a common goal. There's a misperception that the military is hierarchical. It's not. You can't be successful if you're not connected to your people.
The Navy also helped me understand the importance of giving back. People who join the military are giving back in the most meaningful way. They are giving their time.
Finally, military service is a great melting pot that teaches one the importance of diversity and inclusion. You're surrounded by people from rural America to urban areas, college grads to men and women who didn't finish high school. During my first job on a ship, there was an amazing cross section of the country on board. That was a great shared experience.
7. Who were the most influential people in your life? In and out of the service.
Without a doubt, my parents had the greatest impact on me. In the Navy, there was a commanding officer who taught me that a leader can truly have a transformative impact on an organization. He took our cruiser, which was probably the lowest performing cruiser in the fleet, and transformed it into the top performing cruiser. He did it this through sheer will and personal leadership, and made people care. This commanding officer made a lasting impact and influenced the leader that I am today.
8. What's the number one common strength of veterans you have served with?
It would have to be resiliency and flexibility. When you serve in the military, you make a lot of sacrifices. You may think you're going home for a weekend, but can't because of a deployment or training exercise. Those who serve their country make a lot of sacrifices and must be resilient and flexible.
9. Why do you love doing what you are currently doing?
I love the variety that my job offers. It's fulfilling to roll up my sleeves and get involved in all aspects of the company on any given day, whether it is finance, marketing, strategy. Plus, the hospitality industry is experiencing disruptive change, and that's exciting. Similar to being in the military, the ‘threat' environment changes from day to day. The industry is undergoing dynamic change, so it's never boring.
10. Does leading a Fortune 500 company leave you free time? What are your hobbies and interests?
The concept of ‘free time' means different things to different people. Particularly in our industry, we are in a 24/7 operating environment. And, today with so many mobile devices, you're in an “always-on” mode. When I have free time, I enjoy spending it with my family. For example, I enjoy driving my kids to school and hearing them talk about whatever is on their minds. We also like to take road trips together. We drove to Cape Cod this past summer, and it was nice to get away, unplug, and just relax. The simple pleasures of being with my wife and kids leaves me little time for hobbies, and I'm fine with that. When I do have a moment to myself, I'm usually reading. I love biographies and history.
11. What would you tell those who are considering serving?
Serving your country is the best training ground for developing management and leadership skills. I go back to that story about commanding officer who turned his ship from worst to first. I respected and learned from the decision-making and leadership skills it took to do that. It can also prepare you for the type of life you're going to lead. That said, the armed forces isn't easy, especially if you're deployed. Personally, the Navy was a great experience.
12. What would you like to tell vets looking to break into Corporate America?
The transition from military service to corporate America is doable, and the skills you learn are transferable. Companies can learn a lot from the military about how to build effective teams, where the emphasis is on team, not the individual hero. The most effective teams are led by leaders who can take the initiative and act in a semi-autonomous fashion. The military promotes the ethos of leadership through small units. In my case, a division officer on a ship. In the case of Army or Marines, it's a platoon leader. Veterans can bring that small-team-mindset to the private sector.
13. What's the current state of the lodging industry today, and how is Choice positioned to succeed in the current climate?
The hotel industry is going through dynamic change. I've been working with Choice for two decades, and the rate of change is unlike anything I've ever seen. In particular, technology is playing a significant role in driving that transformation, and that's a real sweet spot for Choice Hotels.
I had the opportunity to lead our technology team. I'm proud of how we have embraced digital disruption, and pioneered technology for the industry, like being the first hotel company to come out with an iPhone app. It seems so obvious now because everyone has one. And soon, we'll have the industry's first modernized, cloud-based central reservation system in 30 years. We're taking steps today to drive tomorrow's profits for our franchisees.