More than numbers
This COO is data and people driven
As chief operating officer for one of the largest lodging real estate investment trusts (REITs) in the country, Krissy Gathright enjoys learning all she can about a business. During her 17-year tenure with Apple Hospitality REITs, she has participated in mini-boot camps at two of the company’s 236 upscale hotels. During the camps, she works shoulder-to-shoulder with employees in every department — from the front desk to housekeeping.
“Numbers tell you one piece of the story, but from my perspective and Apple’s perspective we want to learn from the inside of the hotel by stepping into the shoes of employees,” she says. “That will give you a more complete picture.”
She found the experience eye opening. “You really get an appreciation of how hard the work is, and that it takes somebody special that understands people to bring it all together,” she says.
Apple REITs began in 1999 in Richmond with Apple Suites, and Gathright has been with the company since its inception. Over the years, the company established and operated a total of eight hospitality REITs, four of which were taken full cycle through private equity transactions.
Apple Hospitality REIT was formed following the mergers of Apple REIT Seven, Apple REIT Eight and Apple REIT Nine in March 2014. While Apple was a public company, its stock initially was not traded. That changed in May 2015 when the Richmond-based company joined the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker of APLE. This September, Apple continued to stretch its economic muscle by completing its merger with Apple REIT Ten Inc., creating an upscale lodging REIT valued at $5.7 billion.
Gathright joined the company after serving as assistant vice president and investor relations manager for Cornerstone Realty Income Trust, a REIT that owned and operated apartment communities in five states, including Virginia. Before that she was asset manager and regional controller of the northern region operations for United Dominion Realty Trust Inc., a REIT.
She embodies Apple’s simple, efficient and detail-driven approach to business. “We collect lots of data, and we analyze trends,” she says. “Early on we didn’t have as much data as we have now. We had to ask a lot of questions.”
Today the company is a big player among owners of service and extended stay hotel rooms. Apple’s portfolio consists of 22 different operators that manage hotels in 33 states. Its 30,298 guestrooms are split evenly between the Hilton and Marriott families of brands.
Gathright says her greatest challenge to date has been leading the company through the economic downturns in 2001 and 2008. “We are well positioned for downturns because we have a rooms-focused product, but we still have to be smart about contingency planning and lower occupancies,” she says. The hotels in Apple’s portfolio have limited staffing as well as limited food and beverage outlets.
She takes great pride in being the first woman to serve as president of the Courtyard Franchise Advisory Council, a position she still holds.
The hotel industry is ever changing, and one of the biggest trends today is consolidation. Marriott recently acquired the upscale Starwoods chain, making Marriott the largest hospitality company in the hotel industry. That’s good news for Apple.
“It’s exciting,” Gathright says. “It will create one of the strongest loyalty programs in the industry as well as a stronger platform for us. It will bring in new customers.”
Another trend is that consumers want unique travel experiences. Apple kept that in mind when designing the Courtyard Residence Inn in downtown Richmond by incorporating a small museum, The Valentine First Freedom Center, at the hotel's location at 14th and Cary streets. The center highlights the principles of freedom of religion outlined in Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that was signed into law in 1786. The hotel sits on the site of Virginia’s temporary capitol where the statute was enacted. The law was a precursor of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. “It gives it more of a unique, local, authentic flair,” Gathright says.
Her work schedule keeps her busy but not too busy to spend time with her husband, Jay, and their three sons who range in age from 6 to 15. With her sons involved in sports, Gathright schedules time away from work so she can sit in the stands like any other mom, “watching a baseball or football game.”
Favorite childhood memory: Playing tennis with my dad. He helped instill the value of being competitive – setting the bar high and pushing myself to reach goals.
What job she would have in another life: ESPN sportscaster.
What can’t you live without: Cool shoes, especially colorful pumps. More often than not, you will find me wearing a colorful dress and fun shoes to accentuate my personality.
Pet peeve: Inefficiency.
Favorite indulgence: A good spa treatment when I am traveling.
Something people don’t know about you: I can be self-critical