When Andrew Fay and Roger Hill met in the 1980s whilst registering for their freshman classes at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, they were oblivious to the wonderful professional and personal journey their future friendship would lead them on.
“It was a great coincidence and a stroke of fate,” says Roger. “It was wonderful to run into Andrew and then we became best friends, which was just magnificent.”
“One of the unique things about Cornell is that we had the opportunity to do a lot of project work together academically. We had a great professor, who’s now passed away – Professor Eyster – and in that class we did a case study about redeveloping a hotel back in Wisconsin. That case study began the conversation about whether there was an opportunity for us to do something together in the future.”
Fellow students Ariane Steinbeck and Julius van Heek were the final pieces of the puzzle and, after graduating in 1988, the foursome arranged to meet up in Chicago and start their own business.
“We were full of optimism and idealism, ambition, energy and passion, but candidly we pretty much lacked any relevant experience,” admits Andrew. “All of those things combined, along with the support, sage council and advice of Roger’s parents, were really pivotal to launching this business, which is now entering its fourth decade.
“It’s not what we were thinking of at the time. People say to us, “hey, what was your grand plan?” and the reality was that there was no grand plan. Our attitude was ‘let’s have a crack at this, see if it works out and if it doesn’t we’ll do something else’, and the good news is it seems to have worked out so far!”
If completing more than 1000 projects in 32 countries, with offices in three locations, and achieving global standing as one of the premier industry giants is your idea of success, I’d say The Gettys Group just about hits the spot.
“We’ve hunkered down and made sacriï¬ces, but have emerged each time wiser, leaner and more creative about how to get the job done”
As with every journey, however, there have been numerous challenges and hurdles to overcome. The hospitality industry itself has undergone seismic shifts over the past three decades, evolving from a formulaic, rather static entity into the fast-paced, experience-led model it is today.
When The Gettys Group first arrived on the scene, they were at the cusp of a changing attitude towards hotel design and guest experience. Their agile reaction to the opportunities posed by this seachange was instrumental in building firm foundations for the venture moving forward.
“When we started the business, hotel design was more about delivering a consistent product in accordance with stringent brand standards manuals, rather than creating authentic experiences for guests,” Andrew explains. “The hotel design business was highly reactive, often sitting back and observing innovations in other sectors.
“We understood early on the power of design and how it can directly lead to profitability for ownership. There was a clear divide between the “left and right brain” sides of the hospitality design process and by bringing creativity and pragmatism together under one roof, we were able to help our clients make much smarter decisions that had a strong impact on their bottom line.”
“We built Gettys ONE from the ground up to focus on the needs of the owner and brand, while still providing the meaningful, beautiful design that our interior design group is known for”
Of course, some storms can only be weathered and, as for many, the economic crisis of 2008 proved a real measure of The Gettys Group strength as a business.
“Because of our breadth of experience over the prior 20 years, solid relationships and strategic approach to our work, we persevered,” says Andrew. “By that time, we had established ourselves as a global company that could shift our focus to other areas of the world that were not so impacted. And, our work throughout the first two decades developed a reputation that was strong enough to be trusted with new investments following the decline.
“The key for us has been always having the right people around the table to assess the current environment and make thoughtful, strategic decisions for our firm. This has allowed us to continue to evolve based on the changing needs of the industry and our clients. We’ve hunkered down and made sacriï¬ces, but have emerged each time wiser, leaner and more creative about how to get the job done.”
Another way in which The Gettys Group has safeguarded its standing is its diverse and sophisticated in-house offerings. The firm was in fact one of the first to adopt an integrated approach to interior design and procurement services, and the addition of its branding and development arms since has ensured that the business remains agile and innovative in its operation.
“In order to stay relevant given these shifts in the industry and to be able to craft these immersive experiences, The Gettys Group operates at the intersection of design, branding, strategy and business,” affirms Andrew.
“We often think that what we do is similar to producing a Broadway show. The branding group writes the script, the design group creates the set to bring the story to life in the built environment, procurement provides all of the props and the management team brings the cast and crew. With those groups working together, the curtain goes up and the show goes on!”
After three decades in the industry, The Gettys Group has refined and perfected its internal processes and communication channels – building relationships with hundreds of respected brands and suppliers, helping clients conceptualise and position their brands, and creating unique and memorable stories that resonate with guests.
Never resting on its laurels, however, the firm has capitalised on this experience and expertise to build a division dedicated to the select-service hotel sector. Founded in 2012, Gettys ONE has worked on hundreds of projects across all major select-service brands, and comes highly recommended by Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott.
“We had always worked in the select-service market, but not with the success and frequency we desired,” explains Andrew. “The market, its ownership and brands are unique within the hospitality space, and we needed a fresh approach that allowed a dedicated team of professionals within our organisation to focus on the burgeoning sector.
“We built Gettys ONE from the ground up to focus on the needs of the owner and brand, while still providing the meaningful, beautiful design that our interior design group is known for.”
This diverse offering means that, at any one time, the firm’s 75-strong team are working across an immensely diverse roster of projects. Their present line-up, for instance, includes Rand Tower – the firm’s own development project to resurrect an iconic building in Minneapolis; The Madison DC – an interior design, branding and procurement combined services project with a spectacular brand story revolving around James and Dolly Madison, and LoveDay – a space designed to care for dementia patients and the firm’s first venture into the healthcare arena.
“I’m 100% confident that this company and our family of brands is going to continue to exist for many more decades, and that is incredibly gratifying”
The Gettys Group’s ever widening remit is symptomatic of an industry that is unrelenting in its forward charge. Heavily populated and consequently highly competitive, the hospitality sector is awash with brands looking to entertain, intrigue and ultimately retain their customers through curated and experiential interior design. As this ethos is increasingly adopted by other sectors, too, the expertise and creativity within The Gettys Group team will have plentiful opportunity to shine.
“As cities are rapidly growing, residential real-estate prices are increasing and apartment sizes are decreasing,” says Roger. “Hotels are becoming the living rooms of our cities; the place to gather, meet, eat, entertain and collaborate. They are also becoming the workplace for today’s untethered mobile professionals.
“Our industry is no longer reacting to the innovation and creativity of others; we are operating at the forefront of design, inspiring the infusion of hospitality elements into the retail, residential, healthcare and commercial office sectors.
“The future of hospitality design and development is all about experiences and really understanding your clients and their customers. Our focus on a guest-centric design approach will continue to lead brands, owners and operators to The Gettys Group because when they work with us, we get the work done better, faster and they have fun from the start of the process to the end.”
It is perhaps this focus on the human element of design, and of running a business, that is The Gettys Group’s winning formula.
Throughout the firm’s rise to the eminence it enjoys today, the founding emphasis on relationships – between staff and clients alike – have remained the same.
Beyond the close personal and professional friendship shared by Andrew and Roger, there is a wider network of past and present staff and clients, all of whom have contributed, and many of whom continue to contribute, to the firm’s success.
“We have a lot of clients and vendor partners that have been with us since day one,” affirms Andrew. “We have an incredible group of team members that work in the business today, but I would say we also have an amazing alumni association of hundreds of people that have worked in the company around the world over these 30 years that we’re still very connected with.
“People feel very connected to our family of brands and to The Gettys Group family and that I think is really thrilling to us. A lot of people who’ve left us and gone on to start their own businesses and have wonderful careers have later become clients. Some of our best clients actually started out as interns at The Gettys Group.”
“I think from a family perspective, that’s one of the things that we are passionate about because we really want to create that environment that’s going to continue on long after we’re gone,” agrees Roger. “I’m 100% confident that this company and our family of brands is going to continue to exist for many more decades, and that is incredibly gratifying.”
Should The Gettys Group continue to demonstrate the ingenuity, leadership and dedication that it has over the past 30 years, there seems little reason the firm shouldn’t enjoy the longevity and sustained success it so richly deserves.