BERLIN — After more than 30 years with IHG Hotels & Resorts, Group CEO Keith Barr has just weeks left with the company, and he said the impetus for that move wasn’t another job, but rather that it’s just “the right time to hand over the reins.”
“It was just the right time as a family for us to go back, and we’ll be moving to our house in Hawaii where my wife grew up,” Barr said from the main stage at the 2023 International Hospitality Investment Forum. “I’ll be contemplating life on the beach for a period of time, but I’m sure I’ll be back doing something. I’m just turning 53 this year, so I’m too young to hang up the cleats.”
Barr said he’s proud of transforming IHG into “a much more agile business,” although it has been stressful since 2020 trying to navigate the implosion then revitalization of the hotel industry in real time.
“We really had to prioritize and recognize what were the big things that were going to move the needle,” he said. “Now, understanding that conversions were going to be a play, let’s launch a new brand in the Vignette Collection. Recognizing that leveraging our technology infrastructure is going to be critical in helping our owners take advantage of the demand and the recovery. We actually needed to get more done even faster based upon building an agile company.”
Barr joined IHG in 2000 when the company bought Bristol Hotels & Resorts, and climbed the ranks through different leadership positions across the world before being elevated to the company’s executive committee in 2011 as chief commercial officer. He was appointed Group CEO in July 2017.
He will be succeeded in the chief executive role by IHG’s current CEO of the Americas region, Elie Maalouf.
Despite his decision to leave, Barr said he regards both the position and the company highly.
“When I made this decision, at first people said ‘Are you sick or are you dying?'” Barr said. “I said, ‘No, I’m not sick, and I’m not dying.’ You’ve got to take risks. I’m leaving, arguably one of the best jobs in this industry and one of the best CEO jobs that exists across industries. I just knew it was time to reinvent myself and take a risk and also do what’s right for my family.”
Among the accomplishments Barr is most proud of during his tenure, he mentioned the company’s broad-based growth, adding seven brands to its portfolio over a five-year span, and establishing better relationships with owners and customers, which he described as the company’s two biggest stakeholder groups.
He said learning how to better take care of customers, while defending bottom-line profits, is a key challenge for hoteliers.
“Customers are expecting a better experience in terms of service at our properties,” he said. “We’re going to have to work collectively. … When I talk to my team, I tell them we have two customers at the end of the day — guests and owners. … We have to make sure owners are getting a return on their investments and guests are having a great experience and then manage the tension that comes between the two in periods like right now.”
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