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Posted on
Feb 03 2015

The Kellogg Real Estate club had the privilege of being joined by Diane Morefield, EVP & CFO of Strategic Hotels and Resorts, for lunch at the Allen Center on October 15th, 2014. During the meal Ms. Morefield shared her background, stories from her more than twenty-five years of experience, and took questions from current students in what was a very enjoyable and lively conversation. 

Ms. Morefield started her career as an auditor with Arthur Andersen & Co after earning an Accounting degree at the University of Illinois. Before joining Strategic Hotels and Resorts, Ms. Morefield spent time with Barclays Bank, Equity Office Properties, Deloitte, and Equity International. Ms. Morefield held roles at these firms in commercial real estate lending, corporate finance, investor relations and also served as CFO at Equity International and eventually with Strategic Hotels & Resorts. Ms. Morefield highlighted her investor relations role at EOP and encouraged students to think about taking a similar role due to the experience and skills that can be gained from working directly with investors.

As CFO at Equity International, Ms. Morefield had the opportunity to sit on the board of many of portfolio companies, where she decided on major capital investments, interviewed potential CEOs, and created leadership succession plans. She commented at length on the differences between board governance and executive management roles, explaining to the group about the importance of listening and careful questioning to be a good board leader. She explained that as an executive you always get to add your opinion, but as a board member, it is prudent to carefully choose how often you influence decisions. When asked about working with Sam Zell, Ms. Morefield shared that Mr. Zell was deeply loyal and that he has an amazing ability to ask the unseen question. As a result, she learned that one must always be prepared.

Ms. Morefield recounted her early years as CFO at Strategic Hotels describing a messy debt structure, but shared with pride that her team was able to restructure the firm’s debt without losing any assets and were able to improve the net debt to EBITDA ratio by a significant amount. Ms. Morefield discussed the hotel industry and the unique nature of fixed management contracts that are typically 30-40 years in length and are inherited with the property when ownership changes hands. When asked if she favors private or public real estate ownership, Ms. Morefield leaned towards public, citing an appreciation for the transparency that comes with a public business, and the more palatable IRR thresholds they target.

The conversation ended with general questions and requests for advice from the group. Ms. Morefield shared that her best experiences have been the variety of roles that she has held within public companies (IR, operations, CFO, etc..) also adding that her MBA was as asset in her career development.

About the Author

This article was written by Troy Vernon '16.