5 Star Hotelier: Richard C. Kessler, Chairman & CEO of The Kessler Collection

Richard C. Kessler, Chairman and CEO of The Kessler Collection -- a portfolio of 12 artistically inspired boutique hotels and restaurants -- has become a nationally recognized industry leader through his entrepreneurial business sense and experience guiding The Kessler Collection, Marriott Autograph Collection and Days Inn, mixed with a creative energy and dedication to purpose.

How and why did you get into the hospitality industry?

I majored in engineering at Georgia Tech to become a real estate developer. In interviewing small entrepreneurial development companies, I met Mr. Cecil Day, who developed apartments in Atlanta. I passed up numerous job offerings with large companies in banking, stock brokerage, and engineering to pursue my dream. Cecil’s offer was to join him and become his partner, and President of the company in a few years at the salary of $9,000 / year in 1970. The other large companies offered more but not the opportunity to learn development by immediate and active involvement.

After his family summer vacation, I found three yellow pages in handwritten pencil. The top of the page read “Days Inn of America”. The three pages described a budget hotel chain starting with three. After reading he asked me to tell him my thoughts. I said it is exciting, and yes, I think it would work. That week on Friday afternoon, I designed the logo standing beside Mr. Day.

He soon asked me to gather the corporate apartment management folks to discuss. After a few hours of discussion, the team voted to support this idea. Days Inn was off to a quick start after Mr. Day completed a sale of his apartments. Serving as his right hand, I headed up construction doing all contracts including FF&E. During the day, I negotiated contracts and at night and after dinner, I approved invoices. WOW! We were off to a fast start. Two years later, I moved to Florida and started several development companies across the East coast all building Days Inns and occasionally apartments.

In spring 1975, Cecil asked me to come back to Atlanta to take over all Day companies including the operating / franchise company, Days Inn of America. Days Inn had gone through troubled times and was in weak financial condition. My new job was to build the company’s organization, profits, and consistent quality operations. My team accomplished this over the next 24 months. What a project – What stress – What satisfaction! 

(Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront)

What do you believe are your most successful decisions and biggest mistakes and what did you learn from your mistakes?

My most successful decision was to be an entrepreneurial real estate developer. To later pursue my passion of art and music in my hotel designs and concepts. To underestimate the difficulty of driving business to a remote location compared to an active urban location. Therefore, no more remote hotel locations.

How do you differentiate your hotel brand from other luxury brands?

The Kessler Collection brand is about creating “Inspiring Places”. Therefore, we see our business as the entertainment business. This is a different perspective than simply renting rooms and selling food. The high level of detail in architecture and design also creates as inspiring stage for the entertainment.

(Castle Hotel)

What are the most important traits in becoming a successful hotelier?

One must enjoy entertaining and serving people – happy people, sad people, and often tired and grouchy people.  Friendly relations with your team and your guests are essential for long-term success. Many types of skills are needed to experience the ways one can be successful in this industry.

What products do you cross-market with and how do you think they contribute to your hotel brand?

Cross marketing has not been a significant factor in developing our brand.

(Grand Bohemian Asheville)

What is your mantra / life quote?

“Always leave things better than you found them.”

Favorite travel destination?

Kessler Ranch – Colorado.

Vancouver, Canada

Florence, Italy 

Describe a great night out for you.

A seven course wine dinner with artists, musicians, and beautiful people.

What’s next for The Kessler Collection?

A secret. Come and experience new ones!

(Kessler Canyon)



5 Star Hotelier: Brandon Freid, President of the Sanctuary Hotel

Brandon Freid is COO of the Impulsive Group and Co-owner of The Sanctuary Hotel. A native New Yorker and graduate of the University of Miami, Brandon Freid began his career in business and real estate managing operations and assets for the Ameritania Hotel. Upon joining the Impulsive Group in 2003, Brandon quickly took on a leadership role, overseeing the operations and management of the complete Impulsive Group portfolio, which includes the sophisticated, four-star Ameritania Hotel located in the Broadway theater district and his newest acquisition, The Sanctuary Hotel situated in the heart of Times Square.  Brandon’s mastery of business and finance is coupled with a solid grasp of architecture and design, and he plays an instrumental role in the interior design and renovation work of all Impulsive Group properties.  For more information on Brandon Freid and the Impulsive Group, please visit

How and why did you get into the hospitality industry?

My father, Hank Freid, has always owned and managed hotels. I was always eager to work in them even as a young kid. I would make sure I went to the hotels with my father and work in every dept from front desk, reservations, sales, and management.  

What do you believe are your most successful decisions and biggest mistakes and what did you learn from your mistakes?

My most successful decision was pursuing and then purchasing The Sanctuary Hotel with my father. Also, always being so hands on has made me fully understand how every department must function properly to be completely successful. My biggest mistakes were just not purchasing a couple of projects that I was on the fence about. 

How do you differentiate your hotel brand from other luxury brands?

My hotel is so culture based from the core of essential managers, all the way down through every employee including but not limited to the bellman, concierge and front desk agents. I meet and interview every single employee before they are hired, no matter the position. And if I don't meet someone by some chance my father has interviewed them. Every person across the board has to be extremely personable and wanting to succeed in touching every guest that stays at The Sanctuary Hotel. We strive to really make an impact on every guest from the moment we open our doors to them. It's all about Service, Service, Service because our location in the heart of Times Square speaks for itself.

What are the most important traits in becoming a successful hotelier?

Leadership skills, perseverance, and focus

What is your mantra/life quote?

Live in the moment because you can't change yesterday and you can't predict the future

Favorite travel destination?


Describe a great night out for you.

Going to dinner with family and friends. I love to eat out at restaurants.

What's next for your hotel?

I'm very excited that we are about to open two new food and beverage operations. Tender restaurant opening early May, will serve up a new American / Asian influenced menu including sushi and Foxhole, which is a speakeasy underground at the hotel that will open in the early fall. 


Culinary Connoisseur: Alain Ducasse

(Photo credit: Pierre Monetta)

How did you get into the restaurant industry?

I was raised on a farm in the south west of France and surrounded by high-quality, specialty ingredients at a young age. My first restaurant job was at the age of 16, and from there, I had the privilege of working with famous chefs and restaurants including Michel Guérard, Gaston Lenôtre, Roger Vergé’s Moulin de Mougins. It was these early moments in my life that taught me so much about cooking and the restaurant industry.    

What is your personal favorite dish at Benoit?

I love them all! I order based on what I’m craving and the season.

(Benoit, 60 W. 55th Street, NYC, Photo credit: Pierre Monetta)


How do you stay successful within such a volatile and competitive industry?

I always tell myself what I have and what I know is what I do. In other words, combining the genuine flavors of local ingredients with the experiences I’ve acquired has cultivated my passion and respect for a “terroir” state of mind wherever I am.

How important does the design/architecture of your restaurant play into its success?

I am no longer cooking in my kitchens, physically. I think of myself as artistic director of sorts – providing the recipes, the atmosphere, the interior design, the tableware, and managing the talent. All of these parts play an integral role in the story you’re trying to tell with any restaurant concept.  

(Le Jules Verne, Paris, Photo Credit: Eric Laignel)

What is your life motto?

More, faster, better.

How important is location in selecting the creation of a new restaurant?

My main source of inspiration is the way people live. When I prepare the opening of a new restaurant, for instance, I spend a lot of time “wearing” the mood and mindset of the city and the neighborhood. The other major source of inspiration is the products and the producers. To a large extent, a cook’s talent is about upholding the qualities of the ingredient.

What is your go-to travel destination and why?

Peru. The Peruvian culinary landscape is incredible. The country benefits from a rich biodiversity of which quinoa and potatoes (but not only) are two emblematic ingredients. Gastón Acurio is leading a dynamic generation of cooks expressing the best of the produce and culinary traditions of the country.

What's next for the Alain Ducasse?

I’m publishing the ‘My 10 Best’ App collection featuring chefs like Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert.




Advertising Ace: John Barker, Founder & President, Barker/DZP

In 2003, John Barker left the ‘big agency world’ to start a new kind of ad agency: A place where people would look forward to coming to work, where creative ideas come to life outside of the big agency autocracy, and where others who felt the same could find a home.

John is a thinker, copywriter, artist and big idea strategist, which make him invaluable to clients and the champion for bold ideas that emotionally engage consumers. His 20 years of experience have made him a regular speaker at industry conferences, and you’ve likely read John’s articles and contributions in many ad industry and general business publications. 

John began his career in 1987 at Ted Bates, and later rose to become a senior executive with Sony Music and Grey Entertainment. As a Creative Director, he helped launch artists such as Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine, Fugees, Mariah Carey, and Jeff Buckley, as well as breakthrough TV series such as Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls, thirtysomething, NYPD Blue and Twin Peaks, for which he wrote the famous “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” headline. John later moved to Grey Worldwide as an EVP overseeing Hasbro and DoubleClick before establishing the Grey Digital Business Group in 2000. 

How did you get into the advertising industry?

At the age of 15, I was attending a very small school—classically old fashioned with the coat and tie and all—and we used to have Weekly Assembly in the chapel. It was the prep school version of a variety show, and that year, for some unknown reason, the Clio Awards came. They showed about 10 commercials from all over the world, one better than the next. I was completely transfixed. It was right then and there that I knew I’d somehow end up in Advertising. And to this day, I’m amazed that you can make a living doing something that you would do for fun anyway.

Which campaigns that you have executed are you most proud of and why?

There are a few that stand out for me. I wrote “Who killed Laura Palmer” to launch Twin Peaks.  That turned out to be a pretty big deal. About 4 years ago, we created “History: Made Every Day” for the History Channel, which helped them add over $3 billion in valuation behind new programming. But the campaign that I’m most proud of is “Be the Difference” for PDI Healthcare.  It just won 7 or 8 major international awards, but the real power of it is that we’re helping to save lives each and every day. That’s a reward you don’t often get in this business.

How does your firm stay successful in this digital era?

Well, we were built with digital in mind from the start, and we’ve been completely integrated since day one. That was our original reason for being ten years ago, and it’s still our most fundamental advantage. Basically, we founded BARKER to counter the verticalization that was ruining advertising. Everyone was working in silos, and no one was committed to creating big ideas anymore. So when we started our own firm, we re-integrated everything. Traditional. Interactive. Branding. Collateral. Content. And now, Social and Mobile as well. All sitting next to each other and working together. I see all the big companies now trying so desperately to integrate from traditional to digital or vice versa. And it’s an acquisition game that most often doesn’t work out, because it’s just not genuine. It’s logical that a digital firm is always going to think digital first. And an old school agency is going to start with a TV spot, of course. But what if the right idea is none of those things? What if the big idea is experiential or social or promotional or some dude in a chicken suit responding to S&M chat? It has to start with a big idea, and that’s our main advantage—and where we’ve got a ten year running start on the competition.

What is your opinion on publicly traded advertising companies versus privately owned?

The public holding companies have largely shaped the past two decades in this business, both good and bad. Essentially, they are the action, and companies like ours are the counter-action. The conglomerates play a critical role in the ecosystem, especially for multi-national clients. But I personally think it’s difficult for them to serve well the smaller – still large ­– but smaller brands. They get lost in the chaos, and it is hard for these clients to get the breakout work they need. As a private firm, we don’t make client decisions thinking about our quarterly results.  Our clients are the only ones we serve, and we serve them all the same way: Leave everything on the field. That’s very liberating. I personally think every Fortune 500 CMO should re-allocate 20% of their budget behind more entrepreneurial firms like ours. And there are a lot of good ones out there. The way I see it, it’s a hedge against irrelevance.

Define creativity.

At the most fundamental level, creativity is just problem solving. I think the most creative people are those who can make complex analytical evaluations in rapid sequence, rank them, and then re-assemble them as a new narrative. The best taglines and campaigns I’ve ever written came to me in seconds. But to write down how or why I got there could take hours. I think it’s that way as well with artists, musicians, inventors, and the list goes on. But creativity has to be accretive to culture. If it’s not solving a problem, I don’t believe it’s creative. That’s the difference between Jackson Pollack and the guy who says, “You call that art? My kid could do that!” Well, no. Because Jackson Pollock was solving a metaphysical problem about liberating art from representational norms and formalism, and your kid is just splattering paint on a canvas.

What are the biggest industry trends and how do you capitalize on them?

We’re advising nearly all of our clients to make the leap into Infotainment. Right now is the advertising apocalypse, and the days of a captive audience are over. Ultimately, it won’t matter how networks try to bake ads into On Demand or take the Skip button off pre-roll – the consumer will win. We’ve been saying for years that the best advertising doesn’t follow culture; it creates it. When you look at GEICO and Old Spice and Dollar Shave Club, this is advertising people want to watch. They do it willingly, not because there is some unwritten agreement about content being free as long as we submit to be tortured by the latest Toyota-thon. To win in the new game, you need to be worth watching. That’s the magic of Infotainment. It’s both informative and engaging, and it blurs the lines between commerce and content. It also stands to reason that people who are engaged in something by their own volition are far more receptive than an audience that’s tied down and screaming. And yet somehow, many clients see creating something highly interesting as being risky. It’s quite backwards when you think about it. The real risk is being boring in an environment where no one is required to give a crap about you or your products. And the power of consumers to filter you out will improve far more rapidly than anyone’s attempts to corral them.

Who is your greatest influence in becoming a successful CEO?

Every person who works here. There’s extraordinary responsibility in starting a company and building it up. People put their faith in you, not just for their livelihoods, but for their careers and their well-being – for opportunities. And the fact that they entrust that to me as our CEO is very inspiring and motivating. It certainly keeps a fire under me.

What is your life motto?

I haven’t written it yet.

What literature is currently on your desk or Internet browser?

“Boomerangs in the Living Room.” It’s a volume of poetry by Rex Wilder, who is a long-time friend and was the first creative director to ever hire me. He and Richard Wilbur have basically re-invented the haiku, and it’s completely addictive. Poetry was my first love, and to this day, I believe it is the only form of vocational education for a copywriter.

What's next for your firm?

The success we’ve had over the past few years positions us really well us for bigger clients now and more aggressive budgets. We’ve already proven that we can hit home runs again and again, and with the awards we‘ve won this year, we’re at a tipping point. It’s basically inevitable now that larger clients are going to want to take a look at what we can do.  It might be a large legacy brand that needs new life or a national start-up that needs to break through, similar to what Mitsubishi was for Deutsch or Mini was for Crispin Porter. As I look at the history of those shops, I think we are at a similar point in terms of where they were when they started to break out. It took a lot of planning to get to this point, and as they say, luck is the residue of design.



Prolific Designer: Lisa Jackson, Creative Director & Founder of LJ Cross Jewelry

Lisa Jackson, the Creative Director and Founder of LJ Cross, has travelled the globe searching for extraordinary examples of fine art and rare finds. During her career, her exacting eye and vision for detail established Jackson as the go to interior designer and her clients include such boldfaced names as Renee Zellweger, Vera Wang, Tory Burch and Michael J. Fox.
In 1996, the New York native launched Lisa Jackson Ltd., an interior design firm with its own signature furniture line and tabletop business. Business flourished and her reputation grew; in 2006 Jackson purchased Lucca & Co, where she also took on the role of both CEO and designer at the store, creating a signature line to be sold along with a well-edited inventory of international antiques, made to measure furniture, and decorative and fine arts. It was a natural step for the designer to delve into the world of fine jewelry. In February 2014, Jackson will unveil LJ Cross, her stylish line of cross earrings and necklaces that are sold exclusively at Phoenix Roze on Madison Avenue, with an e-commerce website coming this Spring to

1) How did you get into the fashion industry?

I have an interior design background and I love product design. Over the years, I've designed so many things for commercial and residential interiors: Furniture, tabletop items, candles, lighting...Fine jewelry is what was next. It is a natural evolution for me.

2) Of all the designs, why did you pick religious symbols to accessorize people with and which ones are your favorites?

The LJ Cross brand is an homage to my late brother, who used to wear a lot of crosses. For me, the cross is not necessarily a religious symbol — it’s a spiritual symbol and an iconic fashion symbol. Chanel, Lanvin, Lacroix, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana...they have all designed collections based on the cross. I am attracted to rectilinear forms and I have been collecting crosses for years. It became a symbol for Christianity, but it existed well before that. It was an ancient Egyptian symbol for life and fertility, predating Christianity. And there are cave drawings of crosses dating back to the Stone Age! As to my favorite crosses: I do not offer up any designs that I would not personally love to wear myself!

3) Describe your transition from interior design to jewelry design - difficult or smooth sailing?

Design is always a process. Ward Kelvin is my design director, and he has an intensive fine jewelry background. I've been dreaming up this collection for five years, but I had never designed jewelry before. Sometimes though, you do find your match. We have a blast! Now we have signature looks that LJ Cross really owns. I'm very proud of that.

4) Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

I have wanderlust and I shop the world. I draw inspiration from nature, architecture, and art from different cultures. LJ Cross creations play with scale and proportion, have a sense of hand, and are ultra-feminine. 

5) What is your favorite travel destination?

Mykonos - It's the most beautiful island, with everything that I love: White buildings, white linens, diaphanous clothes…It's a curated experience. I always find a beautiful cross at one of their flea markets. Nothing like weaving through the white-washed buildings to find hidden treasures.

6) Who is your typical customer - rockstars, celebs, socialites? 

There's an LJ Cross for everyone. Our smallest crosses start at $1,200. On the high end, statement crosses with over-scale gemstones can be $30,000 up to $100,000. We have rock stars and socialite clients who typically purchase three crosses in small/medium/large sizes and wear them layered. An artist recently bought seven in the same size, though. And then there are young clients who buy just a single small cross, too. There are no rules.

7) What is your life motto?  

As we are launching with fine jewelry, my current motto is: "The more diamonds, the better!" But there is a Gore Vidal quote I also adore: "Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."

8) What person, living or not, do you try to emulate?

Of course it's my brother. He encompassed sartorial splendor but also had attitude and a love of life and people. He had individual style, confidence and an infectious smile. LJ Cross is an homage to Steven. 

9) What's next for LJ Cross?

We are just getting our feet wet in the fine jewelry world now, so we are singularly focused on this category. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I do see LJ Cross as a luxury lifestyle brand with a clear point of view. Over time, there are other categories that I would love to enter, including fur, evening bags, leather goods, and even shoes and fine fragrance! 


Whether it be a beautifully crafted, minimalist cross starting at $1,200, or a grand statement piece featuring large gemstones, organic pearls and halos of diamonds priced at $100,000, Jackson has created something to fit each of her discerning clientele's individual style.

Lisa Jackson lives with her family in New York City and has a home in the Hamptons. In addition to launching her new business, Jackson is currently attending Harvard Business School's Executive Program. She received her Masters of Business Administration from New York University's Stern School of Business and her BA from New York University.