By Kelly Villasuso
As a young lad in Limerick, Ireland, Bill Walshe made a personal commitment to ride his bicycle to take out the trash twice a week at his uncle’s guest house. It was the catalyst that helped him identify early on a serendipitous life-long roadmap that would motivate him time and again to achieve a career brimming with personal satisfaction. Mr. Walshe has followed this hospitality path ever since.
Decades later, Mr. Walshe is leading one of the most provocative luxury hotel brands in the industry ― the Viceroy Hotel Group ― with 14 properties throughout North America, Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and Asia, and five more in development. The maverick CEO continues to align his day-to-day actions with his long-term ambitions — personally and professionally — and does so with a great sense of pride. Eloquence Magazine recently sat down to chat with Mr. Walshe, whom we have respectfully deemed the “Viceroy of Pride,” to hear first-hand about his compelling ideologies and the positive disruption he is causing within Viceroy and the hospitality industry.
Eloquence: How do you think your innovative, “accidental ideology” of Prideology has impacted Viceroy Hotel Group and the hospitality industry in general?
Mr. Walshe: “I think the introduction of Prideology is the most important thing I have done at Viceroy … and, actually, the biggest thing I have done in my career. Initially, I called it an accidental ideology because it simply stemmed from me wanting to articulate where I felt the company was and where we needed to go. When I came on board at Viceroy, we could talk with absolute confidence about what we do and how we do what we do. But, there was very little expression of why we do what we do. Overtime, what I was calling my accidental ideology morphed into what I now call our Prideology because there was this eureka moment of recognizing the importance of articulating purpose ― unleashing the power of pride ― and driving that throughout the business. This has impacted Viceroy by giving us a sense of common purpose. It has allowed us to express our pride and to celebrate success. It has become the most powerful and potent force in Viceroy’s business.
Since we started to communicate Prideology outside the walls of Viceroy, it has become a significant recruiting tool, too. We are not afraid to talk about our purpose and it has connected on a very emotional and intellectual level with people who have said, ‘This is the kind of place where I want to be.’ It is really helping us recruit people, to retain people, to motivate people, and to celebrate people. And I am very proud of that.”
Eloquence: You have been quoted as saying, “Pride is a personal commitment. It is an attitude that separates excellence from mediocrity.” Would you provide an example(s) when your Prideology inspired personal commitment from someone on your team and his or her behavior made you proud?
Mr. Walshe: “When I think of some of the things we have achieved as a team over the past six years at Viceroy ― the coherence we have introduced and the way we communicate the brand … the visual aspects, the tone of voice … to the operating practices we have embraced ― I am blown away. I think we have such talent in our business today that I have started to consider myself the Remington Steele of the company ― I show up as the face and cut the ribbons. We are a proud team of individuals who have each made the personal commitment to pride … to take pride in what we do and to make others proud, to act with integrity, and to deliver respect and command respect.
For instance, one of our doormen at the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi was faced with guests who left it too late to get to an off-site restaurant reservation. There were no taxis and the hotel car was in use. It was clear it was a big deal to these guests to make it to the restaurant so, rather than simply say ‘oh well, your bad, you didn’t leave enough time,’ he made it very personal and drove them there in his own car.
Another example came to my attention when I was at Viceroy Snowmass recently. I spoke at the welcome orientation ― which I like to do as often as possible ― and I was later chatting with the Executive Chef. I had shared a story about how, back in the day, if you were to request the recipe of a dish while dining at a restaurant, you would likely be met with a frightened server who knew he would have a pot thrown at him and told ‘this recipe has been in my family for four generations and it is a complete secret and I could not possibly tell.” The Executive Chef laughed and took me into the kitchen at Snowmass and showed me the recipe cards he had printed up for every dish we serve there. He shared that all our Snowmass service colleagues had been trained ― whether asked or not ― to offer the recipe cards if they see that someone truly enjoyed, or they overhear them commenting about, a specific dish.
The servers share that ‘it would be a privilege and our honor if the guests would take a little piece of Viceroy home with them.’ In certain circumstances, Chef has even offered to FaceTime with a guest when getting the dish together for a dinner party. These are but two among myriad examples of actions I see of a purpose-driven organization filled with pride.”
Eloquence: If we were to interview colleagues from varied levels and roles throughout Viceroy Hotel Group about your leadership capabilities, what do you think would be key themes we might hear?
Mr. Walshe: “Honestly, I can only say what I would hope to hear and that is that I am present in the business. I once got a call from a production company. They had seen something I did on video and thought I would be good on TV. They asked if I would like to be on Undercover Boss. I said, ‘Quite frankly, in a company this size with my style of leadership, if I could stand in front of any colleague even in makeup and fake hair and not be recognized, I would resign in shame. That’s because I want to be present enough in our business that there is a relationship and there is recognition ― visual recognition ― and that we spend enough time together that we get to know each other. I think if a leader is present and is not ashamed to say please and thank you to his or her colleagues, to treat them with respect, to foster an environment of pride, and to share targets and successes, it will come back in spades.
An example I heard once is about kids and a trampoline. If two kids, like my 15 and 17-year-old, are jumping on a trampoline and there is no net, they will be very cautious. That is because if they try something and it doesn’t work, they could bounce right off and hurt themselves. But if you put a net around the trampoline, you are creating an environment of confidence through the removal of consequence. So, now when they try the triple flip and it does not work, they hit the soft net, which gently pushes them back. Then you will see them try again. That is what I think leadership is … being present as the net around the trampoline to remove consequence, create confidence, and encourage people to give it a go until they get it right. That is how I hope I am thought of.”
Eloquence: Please tell us about a few of your favorite Viceroy resorts.
Mr. Walshe: “When you run a hotel company, in many respects, the hotels are like your children. You love them all equally, although there are occasions when one is naughtier than the others or maybe one is a little bit better. But, at the end of the day, I try not to have favorites. I have hotels that I focus on at different times for different reasons, such as the most recently opened hotels. If you consider them like children, then these are the babies … the toddlers who are just starting to walk, such as Viceroy Los Cabos, which opened just over two weeks ago [as of this interview]. I am super proud of the way the team opened it and with the results of the first couple of weeks. Another recent opening was Viceroy Chicago. What the general manager and the team there have done in that hotel is incredible. I think there are 191-ish hotels listed on TripAdvisor for the City of Chicago, and our team took us to No. 1 within five and a half months, which I have never seen done before. But every hotel we operate and every hotel in the pipeline has its own unique personality, its quirks, its strengths and challenges. There are none I dislike, and I am lucky to be associated with all of them ― and I am looking forward to growing the Viceroy brand throughout South America and further in North America and Mexico in the coming years.”
Learn more about all the Viceroy properties throughout the world: www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com.