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Return Engagement

As a high school student in his native Minneapolis, Minn., Tim Walker got his indoctrination into the hotel business. He started working in a hotel in his senior year, and has been in the business ever since. “I’ve been in the hotel business my entire life, so it’s really all I know,” Walker says. “I started as a front desk clerk and worked my way all the way to the top.”

These days, Walker makes his home in South Florida, a far cry from the harsh Minnesota winters, but he hasn’t strayed far from his hotel operations roots. Today, he’s back for a second stint at Island Hospitality Management, based in Palm Beach, Fla. His return to Island Hospitality Management comes on the heels of his work as CEO of Innkeepers Trust USA, which recently put its high-profile bankruptcy saga behind it. Nowadays, Walker serves as president of Island Hospitality. And, it’s been a long journey to his current position.

He got his start in hotel management at a young age with Embassy Suites. While still in college he attended the Embassy Suites management-training program, and at 22 years of age, he took his first general manager position with Embassy Suites. He remained with the company for more than 10 years, working in Memphis, Tenn., before deciding to give a management company a try.

“I had a chance to be general manager for [Island Hospitality] for a couple of years,” he recalls. “I moved to Silicon Valley to be a regional director during the boom times of the industry.”

Eventually, he settled back in Florida, with an executive position at Island’s headquarters. He was named vice president of operations, and then president of the company. That stint as an executive with the management company lasted from 2001 to 2007, when Island was sold to Apollo Hospitality. “I was ultimately asked to be CEO of Innkeepers USA Trust,” he recalls. He ran the company through the bankruptcy process until Chatham Lodging Trust and Cerberus Capital Management bought the 64 hotels owned by Innkeepers.

That’s when he returned to Island Hospitality as president.

Walker describes the Innkeepers saga as the toughest experience of his life. “I learned a lot from it. We held tight to the hotels and continued to take care of customers. We didn’t lose one associate during the transition so I feel like we did a good job in maintaining relationships with our guests and vendors,” he says of the Innkeepers bankruptcy. “It was pretty challenging to say the least. I had a lot of sleepless nights. I was worried about our hotels and employees for two years, but we got through it.”

He says the company was bought at the peak of the industry and immediately after the purchase RevPAR dropped 17 percent. “We just couldn’t sustain our cash flows,” he says. “What ultimately caused us to file was our inability to fund our PIPs (property improvement plans).”

Now back at Island Hospitality, he finds himself in a good situation. “We’ve always been known as sort of a private management company. We’ve also been part of a REIT. Everybody kind of perceived us as a company that only managed for a couple of companies,” he says. Walker is looking to change that perception.

Walker will oversee an expansion plan that aims to double Island’s size over the next three to five years. Currently, the company manages 76 hotels for five different ownership groups.

“We’ve been managing for the same organizations for 17 years now,” Walker says. “We are looking for acquisition opportunities in which we can invest in a joint venture and obtain management. We’re looking for institutional investors who want to hold hotels for a long time who want a loyal manager. We’re spreading our wings.”

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