Build a great team and delegate.
Shreyas ‘JR’ Patel is the President and COO of Helix Hospitality, a hotel group based in Chicago with properties throughout the U.S. An alum of DePaul University, with a dual degree in Finance and Management, Patel founded Helix Hospitality after learning firsthand the ins and outs of running a hotel property. Over the last decade, Patel has overseen the expansion of Helix’s network of hotels and has grown the company’s investment portfolio.
Outside the office, Patel is committed to helping the next generation of hospitality professionals. In addition to mentoring undergraduate students, where he offers relatable, real-world advice and hands-on practical knowledge of the hospitality industry, Patel also serves as a board member for the DePaul University School of Hospitality Leadership and co-chairs the Academic Program subcommittee, further developing DePaul’s Hospitality program.
Where did the idea for Helix Hospitality come from?
Helix Hospitality started from humble beginnings–filled with hope and committed to hard work, I started out of college as an operator; running and managing a single hotel in Montgomery, Alabama. I enjoyed the successes and challenges of doing so.
As one hotel led to another, I wanted to legitimize the work I was doing in the business of buying and adding value to hotels. The enterprise needed to be recognized as more than just me, so a team of dedicated individuals that shared the vision, work ethic and willingness to accomplish our goals was built – one hotel at a time.
I started to think about and talk about what we were building. People kept saying “you have been bitten by the hospitality bug, it’s in your blood, it’s in your DNA”. That evolved into me asking myself what that means. What is DNA? The term helix came to mind and it made sense. It evolved and that is how Helix Hospitality came to be.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start in the evening and schedule or put pen to paper on things I need to tackle throughout the next day. I get to the office early, look at the prior day’s tasks to make sure there are no open issues. I then start on the day at hand and go through a checklist of tasks before answering emails. No two days are exactly the same. Each day’s tasks depend on the bigger picture. It is a balancing act of working in the business and working on the business.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It depends on the idea as ideas tend to grow out of conversations. When I have an idea I really want to pursue, I reach out to my trusted network to see if there is someone already working on something similar. Then I do research, read and connect the dots to see how I can solve a problem with my idea. I lay it all out on the table and if there are still issues, I go back to my network.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Experiences we previously associated with luxury brands are becoming more accessible. That is really exciting to me because it creates so many more opportunities.
For example, the first point of contact a guest has at a luxury hotel is pulling up to the valet. The valet asks your name and then radios in to the front desk. When the guest walks up to the front desk, they are greeted by name. This lays the foundation for your overall experience.
We are now seeing mid-tier hotels adopting some of these practices – small things that impact the overall experience significantly.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am notorious for detailed lists–I make lists for everything. I make lists on post-its and stick it to my ipad. It’s to the point that when I complete something that wasn’t on the list, I add it and cross it off for personal satisfaction.
What advice would you give your younger self?
1. Build a great team and delegate. Train someone to be able to manage in your absence. Learn to trust in their abilities while understanding that a team member’s mistake is equivalent to your mistake as a leader. That is the core of it.
2. Master the first point so you can learn to balance working in and out of the business. You can’t be a great operator and a great leader at the same time – but you have to be able to understand what it takes to be successful in both roles.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
My personal opinion is that a recession has already started. Our economy may seem robust but it’s inflating. This age-old concept of “robbing peter to pay paul” is catching up. My views are often interpreted as extreme on this subject but I’m confident we’ll be at the crossroads of a correction point sooner than most would admit.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Network, Build, Maintain. It is one thing to go out and meet someone one time, shake hands and connect on social media. Building and maintaining meaningful relationships sets the tone for 5 or 15 years down the line. You never know what person you met at a networking event could become a great friend, trusted colleague or key business partner.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Take care of your people so they take care of your guests. Being service-driven is the key to our business. When we make our team happy, they execute for every guest walking through the door.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I walked into an acquisition talking a big game. The seller asked me to put down a large non-refundable sum of money when the deal was too good to be true. I put down the money. I had my financing lined up but at the last minute, it fell through. The lesson I learned was never be too confident and always over-prepare.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Cannabis payment processing – there is no leader in the space. Essentially, all cannabis sales have to be processed in cash because the banks are governed at the federal level and cannabis is becoming legal only at the state level. If a payments player can figure out a way to crack that space and create a standardized system across the “legal” states, you will have cemented your success.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I recently spent was on an Amazon order of books. It’s a variety suggested for me by Amazon – books from founders of companies to sci-fi novels. I’ve been picking them up and reading cover to cover. It’s a good opportunity for me to learn about other people’s processes and how they’ve honed a craft in their industries and also a good escape from the day-today.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
There are two – Inn-Flow and Tallie.
Inn-Flow is tremendously helpful in the hospitality world. It keeps our team organized from top to bottom so we have the most high-level and granular information accessible.
Tallie helps us manage and track expenses and receipts. With so many properties and team members it is difficult to maintain receipts on record. Without Tallie, our accounting process would be awful.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy by Isadore Sharp. It’s a phenomenal story of hard work, perseverance, vision and relentless innovation to create one of history’s most iconic hotel brands without any background in the industry. Isadore Sharp created an iconic brand from nothing. It’s one of my favorite reads.
What is your favorite quote?
A couple come to mind:
“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they’re too heavy to be broken.” – Warren Buffett
Not really a quote but more an excerpt:
“I suppose in the end, the whole life becomes an act of letting go. But what hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye. I was never able to thank my father for all I learned from him. To tell him, without his lessons I would never have survived.” -Yann Martel, Life of Pi
- As an entrepreneur, each day is a balancing act of working in the business and working on the business.
- Network, Build, Maintain. You never know what person you meet at a networking event could become a great friend, trusted a colleague or key business partner.
- Never be too confident and always over-prepare.
- What problem can you solve with your idea? Research and read. Trust your network.
- Build a great team and delegate. Train someone to be able to manage in your absence.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.