Founder, Joie de Vivre Hospitality, Head of Hospitality, AirBnB
"During my nearly 24 years as CEO of the company I founded, I experienced two once-in-a-lifetime downturns. In the first, often referred to as the dot-com bust, I was on the brink of bankruptcy and desperately looking for some kind of inspiration—or lifeline. During this time I revisited the work of famed psychologist Abraham Maslow and was reminded of why I had started my company in the first place. I named it Joie de Vivre because I wanted to create for myself and for others a sense of the joy of life in the workplace. I felt a real calling to the hotel industry. I really believed in what hotels could offer and the importance of making people feel comfortable and taken care of when they are away from home. Joie de Vivre helped me achieve the full scale of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and, at its best, it did the same for our employees and customers and even for some of our investors.
I wrote about this in my book Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, and I have shared and taught this method of management all over the world. It has been rewarding to witness the transformation that is possible when companies are able to see beyond the bottom line. Many businesses, from small to large, hang out at the bottom of the pyramid, interpreting their customer, employee and investors needs to be solely about money—saving it, making it, tripling it. But more and more businesses are seeing now that they have to think about higher-level needs— such as meaning.
The next downturn has become our current recession and led me to another famed psychologist, Viktor Frankl. After a series of life-altering events in my personal life—the suicides of a number of friends and colleagues, the end of a long-term relationship, a flat line experience where my heart stopped during the Peak tour, and near financial ruin once again—I revisited Frankl’s masterpiece, Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he details his survival in a Nazi prison camp and the meaning that he found there. His story gave me much-needed perspective and inspired a mantra that carried me through the roughest times in my own life: Despair = Suffering – Meaning. This prompted me to want to help others find a new way to look at their emotions through the most difficult of times. I wrote Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success to provide a tangible way to understand and manage the one thing we all have in common: our emotions. I am honored that the book has had such a positive effect on people in both their professional and personal lives, because I fervently believe the most neglected fact in business is that we are all human.
From the beginning, giving back to local communities was part of the Joie de Vivre ethos. During my era as CEO, we became a transformative role model for how a hotel company can give back to its community. We democratized the idea of corporate philanthropy such that our line level employees had a guiding hand in how we gave back to more than a thousand organizations. Our legendary Celebrity Pool Toss fundraiser has brought millions to the Tenderloin, the inner city neighborhood that is home to my first hotel, The Phoenix.
It’s ironic (and reassuring) that SVN started the same year that I founded Joie de Vivre a quarter century ago. Back then, when I talked about giving back to the community or the idea of “stakeholders” beyond shareholders, I got a lot of blank stares from the traditionalists in the hospitality industry. So, SVN became an emotional support group for me—a place where I could be both idealistic and pragmatic with a gathering of other entrepreneurs. SVN helped me believe it was OK to embody goodness in my quest for greatness."