25 years ago, four entrepreneurs from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, New York, embarked on the exciting – if slightly terrifying – venture of starting a new hospitality design business. The Gettys Group has since blossomed into one of the leading international names in its field. Hospitality Interiors’ Katie Sherry speaks with Andrew J Fay, president and COO; Ariane Steinbeck, MD and principal; and Roger G Hill II, chairman and CEO, about past highlights, present innovations and future aspirations.

The growth of Gettys

Gettys has reached the 25-year mark – congratulations! Did you imagine that the firm would have grown so much in this space of time?
Andrew J Fay (AJF): When we started 25 years ago we had no grand plan. Our vision was simple – to provide design and procurement services to the hospitality industry. We are delighted and proud that the firm has grown to the extent is has, not only geographically, but also in its service offerings.

Ariane Steinbeck (AS): Of course I had hoped that our venture would be successful, but it also depends how you define growth. Is it growth in terms of revenue, or is it growth defined by the new approaches you can take, the business lines we start, different approaches we explore and the opportunities we create for our team members. The latter has been quite rewarding!

What have been the key challenges in building the business?
AJF: Given the nature of our business, attracting and retaining the brightest, most innovative and creative team members in the industry is always our number one goal and also our number one challenge. We understand as a firm that provides a service, our team members are the most important asset to the firm – they are the firm.

Roger G Hill II (RGH): The biggest challenges are having things affect your business that are out of your control. Luckily, you learn how to handle new challenges as you face them, and one of the reasons we were successful during the recent economic downturn was that we had already had a lot of experience facing adversity in the past.

Managing growth while still maintaining the company’s core values and culture, both internally and externally, has also been a challenge, but one we’ve confronted head on.

How has Gettys built such an international presence?
AJF: Our global platform is the result of years of hard work on the part of team members in the US and around the globe. A lot of our initial work outside the US was fuelled by clients based in the US and we have grown the business from there. Our international presence is also due in large part to the support and counsel of our vendor partners.

How do you maintain a harmonious relationship with your clients?
RGH: We treat clients the way we want to be treated. It sounds really basic, but it is a fundamental ingredient for success. On top of that, we try to truly listen and understand the goals and objectives of our clients. At the end of the day, we are in business to create profit centres for our clients, using whatever resources and expertise we can apply, be it brand design, procurement, interior design or design architecture.

AJF: We’ve had the pleasure of working with extraordinary clients across the globe, and together we have accomplished amazing things.  For us it is inspiring and humbling to collaborate with many of them. Our client partnerships are built on mutual respect and trust, and the lines of communication are wide open at all times. The better the collaboration, the stronger the innovation.

“When we started 25 years ago we had no grand plan . . . We are delighted and proud that the firm has grown to the extent is has”

Designing the world

What excites you personally about working in hospitality design?
AJF: Who knew that this job could be so much fun?

AS: The travel, the cuisines of the many countries I get to travel to is a definite highlight. In addition, the diversity of people we serve – the clients, the many consultants and vendors we work with. Some of them have become great friends over the years.

RGH: The people I work with. I’m most proud of how we’ve been able to make our team members’ lives better, whether that’s putting them in a position to buy their first home, their first car, or send their kids to college. I really enjoy nurturing the growth of our team, and that ends up being reflected in the way we are able to develop and nurture our clients and their brands.

Which, in your opinion, are among the most prominent Gettys projects to date?
AS: You’re only as good as your last project, right? For me it has to be The Peninsula Hong Kong. To be involved in designing such an iconic hotel and to be so pleased with the outcome is definitely a professional highlight for my team and for me personally.

RGH: We’ve been so lucky to have many prominent projects, so it’s difficult just to choose one or two. And each year, we’ve been fortunate to have new opportunities to take on new and exciting work.

How important is it to instil a sense of the local culture in the design, and how is this achieved?
AJF: It is essential! Our experience tells us that engaging the local culture, capturing the character of the project locale, using indigenous materials and implementing socially-responsible and environmentally-friendly design will always lead to a more successful project.

AS: It’s definitely not just purchasing local photographs, that’s for sure. It really differs for every project and it’s certainly a learning curve, whichever culture you emerge yourself in.

How important is it to ensure that the projects you design are sustainable?
RGH: Whether the project is huge or small, bringing in sustainability is incredibly important. It’s the right thing to do, both from an environmental perspective and from a business perspective.

AJF: For us as a firm, we take the environmental and social responsibility seriously. On each new project we start we begin with the goal in mind to make the most of the many wonderful products that are available, creatively implement them into our design and work with other consultants to meet the goals of our clients.

We have one project we are very proud of, The Felix Hotel in downtown Chicago. Our design and procurement teams worked with the client and other consultants to successfully implement the first LEED Silver Certified hotel in the city.

How can branding and interior design work in conjunction with one another?
AJF: In our view the two are inextricably linked. The success of a project is directly linked to the creation of a unique brand experience, one that leaves a lasting impression at each and every touch point. One of the things that makes our brand design group unique is the collaboration with our interior design group, translating the brand design concepts into tangible elements in the built environment.

RGH: The success of Gettys ONE [a division of Gettys that merges customised design with brand standards] and the Homewood Suites project speak for themselves. One of Gettys’ greatest strengths is being able to do the thinking, research and intelligence behind branding, and then implement them through the interior design of built space.

“I really enjoy nurturing the growth of our team, and that ends up being reflected in the way we are able to develop and nurture our clients and their brands”

What’s next?

What projects do you have coming up?
AJF: We have projects on the boards all over the world – from Morocco to Miami, Hainan to New York, Manila, Riyadh, Doha and back to where it all started, here in Chicago. As a firm, we believe a large part of our success around the globe is having a diverse team and geographical locations around the world. This allows us to truly understand the needs and cultural impacts of our clients and the locations which we work. Embracing Cultures is not just our firm’s tagline – it is a way of thinking for each and every one of our team members.

In terms of sustainable design, we are currently working on a new-build hotel at Oberlin College & Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio. This project, scheduled to be complete in the spring of 2014, will take sustainable design for hospitality to the next level – something our team is working very hard on and proud to be a part of.

RGH: We have a procurement project coming up in New York City that’s going to be the tallest hotel ever built in NYC, which is a really exciting one to be a part of. We’re also working with Homewood Suites to revitalise the brand, and we’re creating brands in Chicago and Key Largo.

We’ve also just opened an office in Manila, the Philippines, and we’re excited about the opportunities there.

How do you hope Gettys will continue to grow over the next 25 years?
AJF: I very much hope that the company will continue to build upon its history and vision by constantly re-evaluating business opportunities and developing services and products to satisfy changing demands. For the company to be sustainable, it must be in a constant state of self-evaluation and prepared to change. We must also be continually evaluating and anticipating the needs of the guests and clients of the future.

RGH: I hope we continue to build on our centres of excellence, but I also hope we react to opportunities presented to us, and serve new and emerging areas of the industry that we’re not currently serving.

AS: Hopefully we can continue our path on the great variety of jobs in all our business lines, and that our long-term team members will continue to build their own legacies.

How has the hospitality industry changed in the last 25 years, and how do you think it will continue to evolve?
RGH: The speed of change has been incredibly rapid. Much like computer processor power, the acceleration of change has been hard to imagine as it continues to increase. It’s also exciting to see the ways in which consumer trends have become more influential in hospitality design. Fashion, wellness, and sustainability have all become more important to interior design, and will continue to be important and shape what we do and who we work with.

AJF: Given the advancements in technology, the way we do business today – and the way our clients do business – will change exponentially in the next 10 years. That will significantly impact the types of projects and the project delivery methods. Having said that, our view is also that despite these changes there will be no substitution for extraordinary creativity and innovation, which results in economically-viable, environmentally-sustainable and aesthetically beautiful projects.

“Embracing Cultures is not just our firm’s tagline – it is a way of thinking for each and every one of our team members”

A personal view

Andrew J Fay
Taking a 360° approach to hospitality design, Andrew has forged the company’s dynamic approach that has led to the completion of hundreds of successful projects. He is a founding member of Gettys|Blu, as well as a board member of Thailand-headquartered global brand strategy specialist, QUO.

Andrew says: “Time flies when you are having fun! We look forward to continuing our celebration of 25 years strong throughout 2013 – thank you for celebrating with us.”

Ariane Steinbeck
Following two decades of leading Gettys’ design expertise from its Chicago headquarters, Ariane is currently in charge of the company’s strategy in Asia Pacific, as MD of its Hong Kong and Manila offices.

Ariane says: “Thank you to all my clients who have supported us over the years, and thank you to the many Gettys team members who have been through our doors and to those who are still with us. Without both of those, achieving the dream would have been impossible!”

Roger G Hill II
Under Roger’s leadership, Gettys transformed the standard business model for hospitality design by taking its procurement and property development in-house. Today, Roger spearheads the company’s development efforts in the US and expansion to overseas markets.

Roger says: “I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and thrilled about what’s ahead. I look forward to continuing our success and growth.”