CEO of the Year: The Broadmoor's Steve Bartolin
By Becky Hurley
Photography by Jeff Nelson
"It was 1991. I had just been offered the job as president of The Broadmoor by Mr. (Ed) Gaylord Sr., chairman of the Oklahoma Publishing Co. and the hotel’s new owner. I was almost afraid to take it. There hadn’t been much capital invested in the property in the past decade or so. I knew it needed a lot of work. In fact, a month after I took the job, we learned the hotel was in jeopardy of losing its five-star rating. Taking it over was going to be a tremendous challenge."
– Steve Bartolin, CEO and president, The Broadmoor
Twenty-one years later Broadmoor Hotel CEO and President Steve Bartolin laughs at his initial trepidation.
"I had just come from the Greenbrier, which was the gold standard for luxury resorts back then," he says, adding that the famed West Virginia resort was an historic widespread enterprise as well, but had been impeccably maintained.
Bartolin knew the historic Broadmoor property would face growing competition from national hotel chains, now focused on the luxury hotel market.
J.W. Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Four Seasons, Westin and Ritz-Carlton hotels had all entered the four-and five-star market in the 1980s with posh new properties. In view of this looming competition, The Broadmoor’s aging infrastructure would require major investment, or it would lose further market share.
"Fortunately I worked for an owner with great vision," Bartolin says of the Broadmoor Hotel’s second owners, the Gaylord family who purchased the 2,400-acre resort in 1988.
Headed by Edward L. Gaylord Sr. until his death in 2003, the family controlled the Oklahoma Publishing Co.
"Mr. Gaylord had come to The Broadmoor as a boy. He loved everything about this place, and wanted to preserve its wonderful history," Bartolin recalls.
"I’ll never forget preparing to meet with him (E. L. Gaylord.) in 1992. I was proposing that we upgrade the property by investing $40 million for construction of the West tower, a new golf club and a spa and other facilities. We had charts, graphs, slides, models and business plans – and experts out in the hall, ready to come in," he recalls.
"Instead of sitting through a lengthy presentation, he simply asked me, ‘Do you think I should do this?’"
To which Bartolin responded: "Mr. Gaylord, if I owned it, this is exactly what I would do," adding that he’d stake his job on it.
"I guess he figured that if I believed that strongly in it – to put my career on the line – that I would be successful. He trusted me. It was a great lesson in business, as I could never let him down."
Over the next 18 years, Gaylord and his daughter Christy Gaylord Everest invested $350 million in expansion, upgrades and restoration under Bartolin’s watchful eye.
Fast-forward to October 2011.
The baronial resort with three championship golf courses at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain has not only maintained its AAA and Forbes (formerly Mobil) five-star ratings, it has added five-star dining recognition for the Penrose Room. And the hotel has just sold for the third time in its history to Denver entrepreneur Philip Anschutz.
"Phil Anschutz has already demonstrated that he will be a terrific owner as well as a great steward. He really gets that piece. I’ll bet you won’t find another owner who drives to a 7-Eleven at 4 a.m. to bring donuts for the night-shift staff," Bartolin says.
The recession of 2008-2009 only temporarily cut into The Broadmoor’s impressive annual group meeting business, and high-season leisure bookings remained strong.
Bartolin credits mentors like the Greenbrier retired CEO and President William Pitt and Opryland Hotel’s CEO Jack Vaughn for teaching and inspiring him. Through their leadership he learned the importance of cultivating management and employees who really care and will deliver excellent customer service.
Vaughn also taught him that to be successful it is not good enough to provide quality and service at the expense of profitability, or to profit at the expense of quality and service. In Bartolin’s words, "He emphasized the ‘art’ of the business is to do both."
Outside core hotel operations, Bartolin was also instrumental in the formation of Broadmoor Development Co., which built and developed three luxury communities at or near the hotel. Construction and sales of 19 Broadmoor Brownstones, 32 West Residences and 241 home sites in the nearby Broadmoor Resort Community have been very successful.
"Steve’s a great leader," says Tom Schmidt, vice president of development for Broadmoor Development Co. "He has a keen sense of what will and won’t work. He stayed away from fractional or time share projects. He’s also had the courage to expand into a field outside his area of expertise. It certainly paid off."
Schmidt also points out that there’s almost no turnover on Bartolin’s management staff.
"More than one (manager) has expressed to me they’d leave the business if they couldn’t work for Steve," he says.
Bartolin’s focus on ensuring The Broadmoor legacy is preserved and that the customer’s experience exceeds expectations extends throughout his management team. Most say the trust he places in his department heads, for example, propels them to excel.
When Resident Manager Ann Alba accepted her job 13 years ago, she noticed that Bartolin purposely stood back, "letting you just do."
"He believes it’s better to let a person find their way, to decide how they want to handle things. He’s there if you need input, but he gives you the freedom to make decisions," she points out, adding that "anyone’s biggest disappointment is to let Mr. B down."
Bartolin has also promoted the hotel’s famed golf program headed by director of golf Russ Miller which has attracted three successful – and profitable – USGA championship events: the 1995 U.S. Women’s Open, the 2008 Senior Open and the 2011 Women’s Open.
Like other department chiefs, Miller describes his boss’ management style as "hands off, but always engaged."
Miller recalls applying for the job of golf director in 1993. Bartolin didn’t hire him at that time.
"Here’s why," Bartolin told Miller. "My heart tells me to hire you but my head tells me I cannot – you’re not ready yet."
"I knew he was right, but I asked him to leave the door open should the opportunity open up again," Miller says.
"I left with no hard feelings because Steve was so honest. We remained friends. He called five years later to ask if I’d like to interview again. By then, I was ready," Miller recalls.
Respected by his management staff for providing the resources to be successful without micro-managing, Director of Human Resources Cindy Johnson says her boss inspires loyalty by the way he treats and trusts his manager.
No one is more important to Steve Bartolin – or "Mr. B" as he is often called – than his "team."
"The resort is beautiful, but Steve understands it’s our employees who are our most valuable asset. They help shape our culture and our business success," she says, noting that even through tough economic times, Bartolin has stood behind his managers and employees.
During 2008, for example, he held 12 all-employee "State of the Hotel" meetings.
"He didn’t bury his head in the sand," Johnson recalls. "Instead he said, ‘Here’s the situation we’re in, and here’s what we’re doing.’"
Employees’ benefit hours were also grandfathered so loyal employees wouldn’t lose coverage.
"Our people appreciate that. It’s part of what motivates their buy-in. They realize, ‘I’m a small part of this organization, but I’m treated with respect,’" Johnson says.
The result is obvious, even to casual observers.
Lodging Hospitality Managing Editor Eric Stoessel spent two days with Bartolin prior to writing a cover story for his magazine.
Asked his take-away from that visit, Stoessel cited a strong connection between Bartolin and the staff.
"During his rounds … Bartolin must have passed 30 different employees – from restaurant servers to managers to the front desk in the spa to the bell staff – and he greeted probably 25 by name. ‘Hey Mr. B,’ was the friendly response he got from most," Stoessel wrote, calling Bartolin a surprisingly "down-to-earth and straightforward guy."
But a genuine, approachable demeanor is just one trait that has enabled a young room attendant at the Greenbrier to rise in the ranks and ultimately earn recognition from his ownership and his industry as one of the country’s finest luxury resort hotel operators.
"His contribution to this community has truly been one of the reasons – maybe foremost – that we have not suffered in this recession as much as we could have," says Bill Hybl, El Pomar Foundation chairman and CEO.
Whether serving on a local hospital board, co-chairing a fact-finding committee to chart the city’s economic options or hosting dozens of charity benefits, Bartolin has made his mark.
And as head of the 94-year-old resort originally built for $3 million by Spencer Penrose, he remains motivated by what he considers an "honor and stewardship of The Broadmoor’s legacy."
In view of this year’s announced $60 million capital investment by Philip Anschutz, he’s likely to stay busier than ever.
Anschutz is a frequent visitor to The Broadmoor, both for business and pleasure. He offered the following observation on what it’s like to work with Bartolin.
"In the approximately 50 years I have been active in business, I consider him to be one of the best CEOs I have met and have been privileged to work with," Anschutz said. "His attention to detail, his ability to get things done, and particularly his emphasis on providing the very highest service standards to his customer base, are the most impressive I have ever seen.
"Service discipline in the hospitality industry is paramount, and at The Broadmoor it starts at the top. Steve is a role model of what good CEOs should be."
Now in its eighth year, the ColoradoBiz CEO of the Year award seeks to recognize outstanding professional achievement and community impact while taking into account obstacles surmounted, career-long body of work or other unique elements of the CEO’s life and work.
Nominations from Colorado’s business community, ColoradoBiz readers and staff are evaluated by a judging panel made up of the magazine’s editorial board and, this year, representatives from the Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry.
CEO of the Year winners
2005 – Jeff Potter, Frontier Airlines
2006 – Marc Katz, Mercury Payment Systems
2007 – Steve Ells, Chipotle Mexican Grill
2008 – Kim Jordan, New Belgium Brewing Co.
2009 – Mark and Annie Danielson, Danielson Designs
2010 – Mike Gilliland, Sunflower Farmers Markets
2011 – John Horan, Horan & McConaty
2012 – Steve Bartolin, The Broadmoor