For those gazing out of the window during their MBA, dreaming of being a CEO of a hotel company, they could do a lot worse than Orient-Express Hotels. Sure, they've had some debt issues and their estate isn't terribly recession-friendly, but when it comes to inspecting the portfolio, it's not all bad.
However, Orient-Express Hotels' reputation for frequent boardroom changes seems to have struck again, with the resignation of president and CEO Paul White after three years in the role, for personal reasons. Despite White's severance agreement with the company requiring a six month notice period, the group said that separation agreement entered into covered the terms of his immediate leaving "in an amicable way".
The group has insisted on keeping his reasons personal, with chairman and interim CEO Bob Lovejoy telling analysts "when you have a resignation for personal reasons it's because one has things to do".
When former Andy Cosslett announced plans to leave InterContinental Hotels Group, he commented in the press about the extensive travel included in the role. White has a reputation for clocking the hours on the road, which was raised by analysts who asked Lovejoy if he was planning to match the previous CEO's schedule – which he said he was unable to promise to do.
Lovejoy said that the search committee was looking for a "strong, well rounded chief executive leader with outstanding leadership qualities and deep industry knowledge", with the group looking at internal as well as external candidates.
At the top end of the market, where service is so important, maintaining contact with those delivering the product on the ground is crucial. White has overseen the group's move towards recovery, including focusing on debt reduction through refinancing and the sales of non-core assets, which have strengthened what had been a highly-leveraged balance sheet. But unlike some other industries, the demands of the hotel sector are more than keeping an eye on the numbers, as he knew.
Those hoping to replace him must bear in mind Lovejoy's words: "I think that this will call for quite a lot of travel."