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Jun 26 2012

Real Estate Executive Speaker Series: Raymond “Rip” Gellein ’74, Chairman of Strategic Hotels

“If you’re going to do it, do it right…” The Chairman of Strategic Hotels, Raymond “Rip” Gellein, speaks with Kellogg students about the real estate industry.

By Doug Faron '13

Raymond “Rip” Gellein
Raymond “Rip” Gellein
When Raymond “Rip” Gellein was a student at Kellogg, he claims “organizational behavior was my worst subject.” Today, it has become Rip’s passion. Rip shared his story with a packed room of Kellogg students and faculty at an Executive Speaker Lunch sponsored by the Real Estate Program on January 25, 2012.

Gellein graduated from Kellogg in 1974 and went to work for Continental Bank in their Real Estate Lending practice. In 1974, the US economy was in the middle of a downturn, but Gellein saw it as an opportunity as he spent his time learning about workouts and what makes a deal go “right” or “wrong.” Following the advice of a mentor at Continental Bank, Rip stayed for almost 6 years to learn the “art of the transaction” until a group of his customers brought him an intriguing opportunity.

His friends and family thought it ill-advised for Gellein to leave his prominent job as a vice president at a well-established bank to pursue a 96-unit timeshare deal in what was at the time an unproven Orlando market, but Rip knew he wanted to take a chance. So Rip quit his job, left to become CEO of a nascent time-share company and went about building the best business he could. His first project, the first timeshare in the Orlando market, was very successful and paved the way for what would become the largest time-share market in the world.

As CEO of Vistana, Rip was passionate about building his business the right way with the right people and as a result was instrumental in the company’s development. From Vistana’s sale in 1986, through reacquisition of the company’s assets from General Development Corporation, to its successful 1997 IPO, Rip’s leadership and commitment to excellence were instrumental in Vistana’s success.

After Vistana’s acquisition by Starwood, Rip was asked to serve as President of the Company’s Global Development group where he oversaw the asset management, management and franchise contract development, and acquisition of 250 – 300 hotels a year. In 2008 Rip left Starwood and fairly soon thereafter joined the Board of Strategic Hotels where he now serves as Chairman.

Today Gellein is one of the preeminent hospitality experts in the world and the students present at the lunch had the unique opportunity to ask Rip questions. Addressing everything from “where do you see opportunity” to “what type of assts should a hotel company own” to “What’s it like to work for Barry [Sternlicht – Starwood’s founder]” Rip gave the attendees a candid look at his career and his outlook on the industry.

In the end, Rip attributes his success to building a business he could be proud of and never cutting corners. “If you assemble the right team and inspire them to do their very best, then you will find you have likely built a successful business.”

About the Author

This article was written by Doug Faron '13.