Nick Massad on Unpacking the Hotel Business

Unpacking the Hotel Business: Episode 03 – A Family Legacy in Hospitality with Nick Massad

Join Josh as he sits down with Nick Massad, a second-generation hotelier and Senior Vice President of Development at American Liberty Hospitality. Nick shares his family’s remarkable journey in the hotel business, from his parents meeting at a Sheraton in the 70s to their eventual acquisition of the American Liberty management company. Discover the challenges and triumphs of growing a family business, the importance of balance and adaptability, and the unique dynamics of working with family. Gain valuable insights into the evolution of the hospitality industry, the impact of technology, and the importance of local expertise. This episode offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of hotel management and the enduring power of family values.

Listen to the full episode and get the transcript below!


Full Transcript

Josh: Good to see you, Nick.

Nick: Good to see you too, Josh.

Josh: Yeah, just so glad to get a minute to connect with you. , I’d really love to understand more of your story and where You got started, where your family got started in the hotel business.

I think you said your first hotel job was, , cleaning out air ducts and doing work like that. So what’s the backstory there?

Nick: Yeah, so I grew up in the business because my folks met working in a hotel in 1973. My parents, Nick and Vicki Massad, met well, Nick Massad met Vicki Taylor

Josh: Mm hmm.

Nick: A Sheraton the Sheraton Oak Cliff in Dallas, Texas.

Josh: No way. Wow.

We don’t even have a Sheraton in Oak Cliff anymore. I live in Oak Cliff.

Nick: Yeah. well, it’s at it’s where 35 and [00:01:00] 67

Josh: mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Nick: The building is still there. It’s no longer a hotel,

Josh: Mm hmm.

Nick: but they met there in 73 working after my dad got out of school and my mom had been working in the hotel business because her grandmother and grandfather actually owned a small motel in Waxahachie where she grew up.

And so she was always around the motel and the restaurant and her parents dabbled in hospitality. So her whole family had , an upbringing around service in one way or another. And my dad got his first job at a, at a Dairy Queen when he was about 14. And so he kind of worked his way through school and like a lot of people did. And so they ended up just , getting good hotel jobs and fell in love and got married in 1975 and moved to Houston in 78 as my dad was rising in the ranks at American Liberty Hospitality, which at the time [00:02:00] was owned by a family out of Dallas and their parent company eventually. Wanted to exit the hotel management space And offered the management company to my parents in

the late 80s. And so right

Josh: And so was it a management company only at that point? Or did they also own hotels already at American Liberty?

Nick: So the company owned and operated and they

were Developing a small brand that was akin to a Hampton Inn or really more of like a It was more of like an embassy or a like a Homewood or residence in comp services

offering where there was a really great breakfast free every day and a manager’s reception every day. And the manager usually lived on property at these smaller hotels. They were called home place ends. , [00:03:00] like a lot of people around the country they, they were feeling out and figuring out the select service space. And so, as all of these pioneers were, kind of, developing that space, the brands were, buying up and crafting on, the space and rolling out these brands.

And so as my folks were able to buy the management company, they were also able to, dabbling in real estate by buying and building small hotels and began franchising. And the franchise companies had at the time quite a number of options growing. So, , the, these names that we take for granted now, like holiday and express, , that was kind of like huge in in its, in its infancy. And, that concept of , going from sort of an exterior corridor motel to an interior corridor , hotel, even though it was low rise, that was a big step up and then moving [00:04:00] to a mid rise building or something with a structured garage or high rise building, , those were

the next steps along the way.

And so they, they kind of played a little bit of a bigger and better on the real estate over the years as they continued to manage different product types going through the majority of product types and sub markets with the exception of, luxury and, some of those asset classes, but , really finding the sweet spot. in managing a select service product and taking that knowledge and being able to develop a very cost effective functional product that you’re building from the ground up. And so realizing a lot of cost efficiencies, because again, you’re very, aware of what, Is needed and cutting the things that are not needed and then, building the product for the [00:05:00] operational efficiencies that you want moving forward and staffing it appropriately.

And so finding that sort of balance between product and service was really the last couple of decades of getting into, a little bit bigger building where you have a little more. Efficiency and getting into a , a little larger key counts where, you’re able to generate a little bit more fees on the operation, which make things a little bit a little bit easier than the original 40 and 60 room motels that that they started out with.

Josh: Yeah. Wow. And so you were a kid going through all of this, with your parents, right? , were you around when they were working for American Liberty? And then when your dad and mom were able to, to purchase it or to take

Nick: we were, yeah. So I, so the, the earliest memories are growing up, crawling around the bar, crawling around Sunday brunch sleeping in

the [00:06:00] hotels when dad was MOD,

Josh: Mm hmm.

Nick: Getting to, , literally playing hide and seek in housekeeping hiding in the cooler in the kitchen or, , just going in there

because it was cool.



Nick: know, so that, those were the earliest memories of being in the hotels. And that was those were the operational days for my parents and then getting into their own business or, running, owning and running the business for themselves. Was a lot of traveling so weekends were spent on road trips, going and visiting hotels or going and shopping new sites or shopping properties to buy, meeting

owners, meeting investors, meeting bankers. And so from a very young age, we got, we didn’t know it, but we got exposed to a pretty broad array of what is necessary operationally and,

Josh: Mm-Hmm?

Nick: financially. For the real estate. And so

, we didn’t play as much little league as my kids do. But, but it was it was definitely, , what had to be done [00:07:00] because the company was spread out among these little hotels and you had to really be there and be hands on.

Nick: And so, my first job in the business was, Was that was very hands on. It was something that was needed, during

the summers. I cleaned air conditioners clean p tax and did other little odd jobs for the hotels and , that’s just one of many things that people do to work in this business the The the small hotel is still I think very relevant, but it’s really just whatever people need.

 I think times are going to change a little bit here and there, but I’m not going to deviate much from, still needing a a hotel room and needing to be able to maintain that building and maintain some training, for your people to be able to service it.

Josh: Mm-Hmm.

Nick: Still pretty simple, kind of always been

that way. And I think it’s always going to

be that way. We got, I think some of us have gotten a little bit over our skis in financing. , here and there and, in a market like [00:08:00] Texas, you’re able to build for 12 months of the year, you’re able to build for pretty low price. There’s land availability and and so that’s been one of our challenges. We’ve been, , heavily geographically centered in Texas and and Louisiana. And so that allows competition pretty easily, and the ability to build up a market a little too quickly. Yeah, it can kind of make financing, important. Gotta be conservative a little bit, but overall we’re still very pleased with where we are. We want to continue to build and and buy and, and, try to keep growing. Obviously we’ve got some unique headwinds right now.

Josh: Yeah, I’d love to , go back to the family piece a little bit more, having both your mom and your dad. In this business and like growing up within that space one, I’d love to hear, , what you learned from each of them separately. , what was you unique from your mom and from your dad that you picked up and learned, [00:09:00] whether they told you or by just observing them.

And then like two, I think it’s really interesting that you. Stayed in the business, right? Like you lived it as a kid and a lot of times people will want to try to get away from that. But what pulled you in? Like what, what keeps you in the hospitality space? What’s that deeper, drive for you that keeps you here?

Nick: Well, I think from my dad, I really learned I mean, so many things, gosh, to condense it is very difficult. I would say

, dealing, dealing with people, negotiating with people is definitely something unique that, you know, as a, as a young kid, being a fly on the wall and getting to, see and hear things is, is something that. Was a part of my life, really my whole life and [00:10:00] that it put me in situations where I was able to see my dad do things that, , were , taking risk, I guess is maybe the best way to say it.

Learning how to take risk, learning what to, what’s worth risk, how to know first with your gut what to spend time on. Is that, , just at a high level is this something that we can do? Let’s step outside the box, let’s step outside the situation and look at it with objective eyes. And and try to try to see the, the whole picture and not lose the forest for the trees. That is, I think, a really important element of business that a lot of people think they’re, they’re like doing a task.

And yes, like there are tasks, of course, you can’t get something done if you’re not work

oriented and, and, and results driven. But we can’t just be blinded.

And, and only see the thing in front of us, we need to make sure we [00:11:00] understand the full picture. And, , my dad has that ability. He’s he can see the whole picture. He warps at it though. I mean, he reads a lot. He is,

Josh: Mm

Nick: he’s, he’s been in the in the business a long time, but that’s not what it is.

I mean, he really works hard at. Knowing and understanding the situation that he’s in and the things that are going on. And so having that training has been maybe one of the bigger things from, from him. The, the, the value of, That high level awareness is really important. Now it was less important to me at a lower level in, in my work, in my career. But having that ability now is incredibly valuable and I’m able to apply that in a lot of ways. Now from my mom I’ve learned I don’t want to say the opposite of my mom, but my mom kind of, gets the the ready fire aim

Josh: Mm [00:12:00] hmm.

Nick: Label a little bit, which is I think for operations, a a fantastic approach that, we’re going to shoot first and ask questions later and, and be incredibly action oriented because you have to get stuff done. Let’s fail fast. And and really push it to to get, begin delivering results. And I’ve also learned so many things, Josh. Gosh, man, you

put me on the spot. But the, I think, I think also I’ve learned, a lot of the things that, that I could do better. Because working with family. You you’re able to do, it’s a double edged sword. You’re able to to, to get through things, some things faster, better and sometimes though it’s it’s selling uphill a little bit, you’re moving against the grain a little bit because it’s family and you, you communicate differently. You sometimes treat each other differently. So I’ve certainly also. the value of being having to be conscious about more conscious about [00:13:00] how you work together because it’s obviously it’s obviously different to be with a traditional environment than it is to be with your family.

Josh: Mm hmm. I, I I definitely resonate with the importance of that balance that you’ve seen with your parents. I see that with my work partner, Chris, right. , he’s, thoughtful, methodical, conscious of, risk, I’m pushing forward, creative, right?

Like there’s, the balance of the, of the marriage there is like so important. And I think it’s one of the things that’s helped us be successful is, We’re very different, but we’re also deeply committed to each other, and like I think you’ve seen that same thing like with your parents, right?

It’s very different perspectives, which then creates a whole level of tension That’s super valuable with how you grow as a company and Also, they know right that they’re [00:14:00] committed to Together, to, to solving it, like to getting through and that it’s like something that just one person I don’t think can ever do on their own, right?


Nick: I don’t know too many of those people.

, it’s also just a time

allocation. I mean, we need.

Josh: mm hmm,

Nick: hours to do everything we’re doing. And

so getting,

Josh: to play,

Nick: yeah, we need, we need to be, to, to be in concert.

Josh: mm hmm, mm hmm,

Nick: I think that’s one of the exciting things that we’re doing right now is. Further transitioning from a smaller mom and pop shop, which, I would say existed until. Maybe the 2005 to 2010 range.

When they started spending more time on the business itself and [00:15:00] formalizing elements of the business that supported the activity in the field and supported some of the additional development and acquisition growth that’s happened over the last 15 or so years.

 Maybe phase two of that is now occurring where we’re trying to reshuffle some of the core commercial services above property as well as add a a scale to our business development or growth that will help us to take on more and do it more quickly.

Josh: Yeah.

Nick: this is kind of, we’re, we’re, dependent a little bit on the nature of the

economy right now, which we haven’t completely figured out.

We’re trying though. That’s

Josh: at all. And then get, they’re [00:16:00] doing so well that the people who were running that company want to hand it over to them. I think that’s like amazing in itself.

Nick: Yeah, there were a few things there that were happening in the, in the lives of the owners of the parent company

that that drove them to make some exit decisions out of certain businesses that they

were not, they weren’t personally married to

Nick and Vicki, sort of found each other

pursuing their own work interests.

And, and so, I think that alignment. helped them, they had a partner in the business like you do

that they really felt, reliable. Like anything good, send two people out much

better than sending one, right.

There’s a reason for that, right. There’s power in, in, in numbers. And that I think has, was a huge part of their, Ability to create a little bit of culture and commitment

in those early years that [00:17:00] then gave them enough staying power of, and, and, and trust of management, which is, which is anybody that invests in hotels knows is really the core.

Then they earned the right to take on someone’s investment. Which still wasn’t their money when they began participating, or not a lot of their money when they began participating in, in ownership or, attempting ownership. So they, they kind of took this, you

know, small thing that wasn’t was, was really just management and management really of the small hotels because the parent company spun off the big hotels. In order to fund other things and to

drag cash for their other needs. And so, what was left were the small assets. And and so, it wasn’t like a giant fee engine.


Don’t think Ambridge or anything like that at all. It was just a very

small number of employees. And so they took that and with a base [00:18:00] of operations, which again is sort of the core to the

success. They were able then to leverage that knowledge into getting some investors to believe, get a bank to believe.

And then, wow, I really got these people to say yes. And now it’s sort of, it’s like, wow, it’s

a tiger by the tail.

Josh: Yeah

Nick: And now I own my own business and it’s like, wow, I

got to make it happen.

Josh: Yeah.

Nick: in those early years, there were, there were months where, they didn’t have enough money for payroll. They didn’t know how they were gonna make it, but they pulled through and you

Josh: Mm hmm.

Nick: know, like you hear a lot of people do you know, it’s just it’s what you

got to

Josh: then what’s this almost 50 years later, what a transformation, right? Can you describe to me the size of your company. So, if that’s like assets value of the assets or how many properties and what some of those are.

But it, it’s. Crazy to think about like in those 50 years all the things that have [00:19:00] happened, but like to look fast forward to today where, where are you now?

Nick: So, the, the company grew in third party management and and owned assets or, or in investments under management. The company is kind of fluctuated between 10 and 25 hotels for the last 20 years. And we’ve trimmed down to about a dozen hotels. Today we’ve got the ability to grow.

We’ve kind of maintained our above property scale. We haven’t really made a lot of cuts above property so that we can take on more. And we think that maybe 25 to 30 hotels is probably a good target. We could be bigger than that, but at a, at a, at much more scale than that, you have a tough time going to all the hotels.

And while [00:20:00] we, we trust the people we work with. It’s a very hands on business and so we’re trying, to think about ways that we could have effect or participate in and have a, an impact on assets that are further away or at a greater scale and, how can we bring how can we partner with local expertise or, sort of align with local expertise in different ways to maybe expand and, get us greater reach, but

Josh: Mm

Nick: know, probably traditional hotel basics is what’s going to continue to be successful. And so I think you got to be around, you got to get there to the hotels, you have to talk to the teams.

You got to, do all the normal. Things that are necessary. And so we just don’t want to be ineffective. We don’t want to be blowing smoke.

Josh: and like you said having

Nick: Not that anybody’s out there blowing smoke

Josh: Yeah, yeah, yeah But but you [00:21:00] found like what works for you and your family, right? So it’s That in that trust at the local hotel level and like the you know I would say you’re principled in your approach that you want any of these hotels that you do own, you want to be involved in and have their trust.

And some of that level of a relationship isn’t possible at scale a much larger scale than what you’re saying. Those like 30, 35 hotels.

Nick: Yeah, it is, it’s just, it requires a, an above

property network

Josh: Different strategy. Yeah.

Nick: employs a little different strategy, but we’re playing with a few things to, test out some maybe some different ways to deliver service that. has a little, better cost or can be scaled better where the cost is maybe still the same today, but it will grow less than our existing structure or system once we’re bigger.


there’s a few different ways that we’re playing with that. [00:22:00] That really is the nature of growing a business, right? So those are the things

that as a, as business operators. We’re less experienced and I can tell you what better about how to, grow hotel revenues

and make hotel profits than I can tell you how to best organize all of the commercial services necessary to grow an enterprise, right?

And so we’ve, we’ve tried to leverage outside expertise in doing

that in planning for corporate changes. Thank you. being smart business owners. And I think that we’re, I think that we’re set up very well to continue to grow. We’re excited about the future. I think that we will see more transactions in, in hotel real estate and that inevitably will create opportunity.

I think we’re also going to see more, more of us reaching for these innovations, both at the property level and how we execute service for guests. And how to how to make that [00:23:00] more enjoyable for the guest and more profitable for the owner. And then I think we’re also going to be playing with sort of, how can we become more efficient above property?

Is that different, different ways of doing things? Is it merging and, collaborating with our contemporaries Is it breaking down? Sort of the third party management structure. You represent some of that sort of splintering or breakdown and specialization maybe. So there’s a few things I think out there that everybody’s still kind of toying with and, and

aren’t, things that could be that aren’t completely, mainstream and flowing the way that maybe they will in the future.

Josh: That’s an interesting thought, right? Like I, I think about following the incentives within this business and I can see how they’re sometimes misaligned, right? So like if you have one person that’s an owner and then you have a brand and then you have a [00:24:00] management company, right? The brand the incentive for the brand is I want as much revenue flowing through this.

as possible to get the, the incentive on the end for the management company. , it is about top line revenue first. And then GOP second

but sometimes that’s not like, maybe what’s in the best interest of the hotel, I think that that’s, that’s part of like what we’re trying to solve in some way is how can we provide a service that , we don’t have skin in the game in the way that we’re trying to influence results.

Like our objectivity is our strength, sometimes incentives can drive the wrong behaviors. So you try to scale too quickly, or you try to push one side of things that then results in poor health overall. Yeah, I’d love to do some more of that exploration with you of, what would that look like, down the road in this world in [00:25:00] hospitality, because some folks are trying to do that at scale of , let’s have, the power of, thousands of hotels under one management company.

But I think that we’ve seen, some of the challenges that, that come from that.

Nick: Well, I think

 This is kind of goes to, I think management of anything. Let’s pick on the government right now.

Let’s pick on the federal government because they’re just such an

easy target, right? Washington DC can do some things incredibly well. All right. I mean, let’s give it up for them for the things that they can do incredibly well. The problem is. There’s just not that many of those things.

So if you’ve got one central, management for an array of, of

services necessary, it’s incredibly heavy ask

Josh: mhm,

Nick: one central

Josh: mhm, mhm,

Nick: management, right? It’s just not logical. Let’s, let’s [00:26:00] imagine that we’ve got, central oversight, but that we farm out the tasks to real experts.

Now we can’t always do that, right? We, we talk, on property about, the quality of a chief engineer and are they a yellow pages chief? A lot of people don’t even know what the yellow pages is anymore, right? But are they a chief engineer who calls for everything to be done by a third party or do they actually know how to do things themselves? Right? So, I mean, you, you, kind of need a hybrid of that, I think, and and I think that right now with, um, two things, the need for profitability to improve and therefore be tested, challenged, right? We need to be, creating some of this and I think the, the, the availability of tech today. These two things together. I mean, my goodness, we’re going to, create some new ways of doing things. And so, that could [00:27:00] be all new, but probably not. Probably just the continuation of things we’re already seeing. So I, I see like a big aim bridge and I wonder, like, or, or even, even companies that might be doing some of these big things. Broad services better, right? Like Highgate, for instance, not to tout anybody specifically, but they’re just who I think of first You know, they’re trying to sell individual services, right? A lot of companies are trying to do this All right So maybe it does make more sense that you have like the aim bridge of revenue management but that’s all they do and they’re the best and they’re the baddest and they have a way to silo your hotel from everybody else’s and they know everything and, and, and, and they become, but maybe not because yeah, revenue is, you start crossing over, but accounting, okay, so maybe accounting and we have the best hospitality accounting company and, and they sort of take over the space.

So maybe there is a specialty that kind of [00:28:00] everybody goes to. Instead of a manager who does, tries to do everything who who everybody goes to. I think

that’s I wonder how does that, how does that end up shaking out? And in any case, whichever way it goes, or a different way, You still have to have that local presence.

It’s still an incredibly local business. We are

still never going to get away from that, right? I

mean, for you, I would imagine that like, if you’ve got California covered up because you’ve got two people who are all over the state, like, if I come from California, you’re kind of like, Oh, I really need a Florida, experienced person because that’s where we’re, where we have opportunity, right?

And so, having that local presence. expertise for our business is still, absolutely

necessary for the top line.

Josh: yeah,

Nick: And then to be able to really be effective and have a quality team, you got to know people on the ground. You got to be likable. You have to be friendly. You have to have a fun place to work. [00:29:00] And so to have that, you can’t just be flying in from another city. It

just doesn’t work. So how do we figure out how to like get these second generation, the me’s, you

know, how do we keep that generation engaged and, and and effective in, in some of this, I think that’s really interesting.

We think a lot about that because so many of the, so much of the industry is owned by families.

It’s, institutions are owning more and, and certainly are, are the big, the big properties are owned by institutions, but the majority of the rooms are owned by families. And

Josh: hm,

Nick: to see how that’s going to change over the next few years. Anyway, that’s some nerdy insight. I’m not droning on.

Josh: I think it’s worth digging into because also there’s the, like the increase in specialization without an increase in transparency and accountability, I think leads to a loss of [00:30:00] control, right? So as an owner, I’m sure that that’s something that you’re very much thoughtful about is

, if I’m working with a brand that keeps all of our data and won’t tell us how decisions are being made. That makes it a lot harder to run a successful business.

Nick: At my heartstrings now.

Josh: , I think that we are, we’re entering into an interesting space, right? Especially you see what’s going on with.

AI and large language models and decisioning that there lots of, hospitality industry aside, lots of folks will be building these large language models like behind a wall, right? It’s like, this is our data and we have access to this data and we’re going to build decisioning on that. And we’re not going to tell you how, how we got to what we got to,

Nick: Well, I, I, yes, I think it’s still, that’s still a there’s a lot yet to be fleshed out.

It may be that, that those best practices are unavailable to everyone. At

first, [00:31:00] I have a hard time believing that eventually, that the cat didn’t get out of the bag and and everybody has the same tools. And so I, I think that maybe. The, the future gets better pound for pound as, as, as everybody has access to better and better sales, sales tools, things

that are affecting, top line

Sales, but, but still, still

Josh: mm hmm

Nick: those, AI formulas are generated by us. Right? They’re generated by people. You’re still having to tell it what to do. And secondly, the consumer behavior is still what it is. And the employee behavior, the service provider behavior, is still what it is

So, there will be people who work better and harder at trying to have the maximum you know, effectiveness to that formula, that logarithm or whatever.

And there’s going to be other people that are going to be like, look, I bought the whatever off the shelf. It’s good enough.

And [00:32:00] so there is still going to be, I think, human nature that keeps us grounded and forces us to still compete and,

Josh: Mm Hmm

Nick: Think, I think it’s still going to be a normal marketplace, but it might, some of this, some of these tools might bring us closer together and, and

diminish, Some of the competitiveness today

that’s out there because as you, as you streamline and best practice and make things more and more efficient. I mean, theoretically, the people that aren’t doing it as well today get a little better

and the people that are doing it

 Great today probably

Nick: don’t have as much upside.

Josh: It’ll level things out there. Yeah, there’s two interesting trends going on. AI is happening, and that’s a lot of times happening behind closed doors. But then there’s also this world of Web3, blockchain, which is decentralized ownership, or continuing to retain ownership [00:33:00] and transparency with the growth of something.

And I think that that space has a lot of like interesting where, you know, over the last decade, big brands have gotten bigger in the technology world. And then they put walls around their stuff. But I, I think that there’s a lot of new and interesting technology that’s going to help decentralize and increase transparency.

 It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out in this world. And, and in our world, it’s, it’s never only tech reliant. It’s so much, like you said, based on the people that you have. The principles that they’ve got and like as the technology speeds up It’s just so much more important that you’ve got wise people with a depth of expertise that are the ones behind the machine

Nick: Yeah, no, really, I mean,

Josh: in line.

Nick: I can’t stress enough how annoying it is that we have all this tech and yet it still doesn’t. It, it, it [00:34:00] still can’t, it’s useless if you, if you take your hand off of it for a day you feel panicked that you haven’t touched it. Right. I mean, is

that, I mean, there’s probably, there’s probably whole counseling

sessions for revenue managers now on, not opening your laptop for two days and don’t

Josh: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Nick: I think the business is going to change, but it’s still going to be the same. We still have to

be smart business owners, and we still have to be really smart operators. And the, the majority of what we need to do is is pretty basic. So

Josh: Yeah. Just taking care of people. Alright. Thanks, Nick. This has been great.

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