Spotlight on Chip Conley

Chip Conley, one of the most influential entrepreneurs in hospitality in recent years and a New York Times best selling author, is one of the keynotes at this year’s Aging2.0 Summit.

Ahead of the event, we put together 5 insights about his unique approach to business that we gleaned up from his four successful books (Peak, The Rebel Rules, Marketing that Matters, and his most recent, Emotional Equations) and sat down with him to explore how some of what he’s learnt in hospitality can be relevant to the business of senior care.

Chip established the Bay Area based boutique hotel chain Joie de Vivre at the age of 26 and spent the next 24 years growing it to become the second biggest chain of boutique hotels in America. Chip recently sold the brand holding ownership of some of the hotels. He is now Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy at Airbnb - a “startup” in the sharing economy, offering from than a million room listings across 34,000 cities in nearly 200 countries.

His books and management style reflect a blend of marketing and business savvy (he’s a Stanford MBA) with a more emotive, design-led sensibility that aims to “elevate” the experience of his employees, customers and investors.

1. Think deeply about people’s needs.
Chip’s first third book, Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow, applies the legendary psychologist’s work on the hierarchy of needs to the workplace. He lays out a framework for how customers, employees and investors aren’t just looking to have their needs met - get a bed for the night, receive a paycheck or get a return on their investments - but as flesh and blood humans are yearning to create connection, meaning and impact. By understanding these drivers we can delight customers in unusual and unexpected ways, foster better relationships at work, and keep investors happy.

2. Motivating employees is not just about the money.
Over the last few years, Chip has received the Pioneer Award (hospitality’s highest accolade) and was named the Most Innovative CEO by the San Francisco Business Times, and Joie de Vivre was named the 2nd Best Place to Work in the entire Bay Area. Given the stiff competition from deep-pocketed, high-waged, tech startups the latter distinction must have been particularly satisfying, and validates the culture and values he created. It is good news for those (for example in senior housing) with a large number of low wage employees who can’t compete with deep pocketed rivals for talent.

3. Customers identify with their product choices
In a Feb 2015 interview with Conscious Capitalism magazine Chip described how his hotels were “a mirror for the aspirations of the customers” He explained, “We are not boutique hoteliers; we are in the business of identity refreshment. This is why people fall in love with our hotels - it refreshes their identity. In that space, they are the best version of themselves.” Customers agree. In 2011, Market Metrix awarded the company the #1 customer service award in the U.S. in the Upper Upscale hotel category for 2010, beating out the Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, Westin, Kimpton and Peninsula hotels.

4. There are three kinds of investors. Know who you’re dealing with.
In Chip’s view there are three kinds of investors. Transactional investors (focused on the short term gains), relationship investors (looking to build relationships and make multiple investments) and legacy investors. Those in the latter category are focused on creating impact and delivering on their life’s mission. As partners for the long term, who can weather the volatility of ambitious entrepreneurial projects, legacy investors make the best partners. This fits well with the mission and goals of many of those in the business of senior care, where there’s a large number of people in the space driven by the urge to do something meaningful that impacts lives as well as makes money.

5. Emotions can be logical, too.
Chip’s latest book, Emotional Equations provides an easy-to-use guide to identifying and navigating emotions. Examples he cites are how ‘disappointment + responsibility = regret’ and ‘despair = suffering - meaning’ (there are more upbeat equations, too). Unpacking these simple equations provides pointers that help us understand how we got here, and more importantly, how to get back on track. This is particularly important in companies - which often do a poor job of relating to the human needs of their stakeholders. As a result of this, Chip thinks CEOs can be thought of as “Chief Emotion Officers” - driving the emotional health of a company, noting that emotions are contagious.