The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy that shook Wall Street is four years old, yet it still reverberates, even on the Gulf Coast.
The latest example: Bradford Jencks, the new general manager of the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota — one of the more high-profile executive positions in local hospitality circles — is here because of Lehman. In fact, Jencks, a 40-year hospitality industry veteran, was actually going to run the Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage in Palm Springs, Calif., not the one in Sarasota.
But Lehman financed the Rancho Mirage project, and construction stalled when the company filed for bankruptcy. The hotel was at least 75% completed, and three or four months away from opening, says Jencks.
The delay translated to an opportunity, both for Jencks and Bethesda, Md.-based Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., an independent unit of Marriott International. Jencks was named general manager of the Sarasota property late last year, and has since relocated to the area with his wife.
Jencks, 62, fills the vacancy left by Jim McManemon, who headed the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota for nine years. McManemon, who now runs the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, outside Jacksonville, was a well-known figure in the Sarasota-Bradenton tourism industry.
McManemon was an active board member in several groups, including the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Sarasota Tourist Development Council. The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, which opened in fall 2001, also won several company, industry and statewide awards for service and performance under McManemon's watch.
Jencks recently sat down with the Business Review to talk about his career, the hospitality industry and his life outside work. The following are excerpts of the conversation.
Downhill racer: Jencks grew up in Cumberland, R.I., where he spent a lot of his youth on competitive ski teams. He traveled the country for skiing, which is how he first learned about the hospitality industry. That interest led him to Cornell University, which has a renowned hotel and hospitality program. “At that time,” says Jencks, “the hotel industry wasn't that well known.”
Powder power: Jencks favors more obscure ski locales. A mountain in the Lake Tahoe area and Powder Mountain in Utah are two of his favorites. Jencks also likes to heli-ski, an off-trail skiing excursion accessed by helicopter. Says Jencks: “I've always been very athletic and competitive,” though he admits his jaunts have led to two broken ankles and two broken elbows. Jencks also does a few tamer sports, including golf and fishing.
Moving maven: Jencks has moved at least 25 times in his hospitality career. Stops, in no particular order, include: Seattle, Washington, D.C., Cancun, Mexico, and Honolulu. But Sarasota represents a first: It's the first time he will live in the same time zone with his parents and his two sons. His parents live in St. Pete Beach, one son lives in Washington and another son lives in Philadelphia.
Dream big: Jencks was named general manager of the American Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 1981. Jencks says the job was a longtime goal. “As a kid, I dreamed about living and working in Jackson Hole,” says Jencks. “It was pretty neat.”
History lesson: Jencks' interest in the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota position intensified when he heard about how the hotel was built, that it overcame early opposition and is now a local landmark. “This property was a significant milestone for Sarasota,” says Jenks. “Had it not been built, Sarasota would not be what it is today.”
Stick together: Jencks intends to launch a program, 7=1, for all 450 Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota employees. The message: To treat all seven units, including the main hotel property, the beach club and the golf course in east Manatee County, like one cohesive business. “This is a very complex property,” Jencks says. “It's a huge challenge, communications-wise. We have so much going on.”
Change agent: One of Jencks' goals at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota is to examine all costs and processes connected to the property's food and beverage unit. There's potential for new items, and changes in price and presentation. “We want to do things that are relevant to today's customer,” says Jencks. “We want to be friendly. We don't want to be intimidating.”
Good times: Jencks believes the economy in general, and the tourism industry specifically, are in comeback mode. “I'm very bullish about where we are headed,” Jencks says. “Things have started to come back.” Moreover, Jencks says a trend of the past few years, short booking windows, has started to dissipate.
Luxury lives: The AIG effect, where businesses stopped booking conferences for fear of appearing lavish in the downturn, has also started to dissipate. Jenks says he sees it in the companies that have come back for business. “Luxury is no longer a dirty word,” Jencks says. “The AIG effect is no longer with us.”