Deepak Ruparell, president of Silver Hotel Group, is renowned for his modesty. He actively shuns the limelight, downplays his success and accomplishments — unless it’s about his staff — and that mindset trickles all the way down through his executives to the team members on the frontlines.
But this year, says Shivani Ruparell, vice-president, Silver Hotel Group, “we do strongly feel that it’s about the industry and our people — how resilient, understanding and compassionate everyone has been. With everything we’ve been through, the amount of changes we’ve gone through, [they’ve] been incredible. So, the award is really about those two things, not necessarily about the hotel group in general.”
Like every other hotel company in Canada, and around the world, Silver struggled during the pandemic. There were closures, losses, layoffs and setbacks. At the height of it, the company laid off nearly 85 per cent of its 1,150 staff (it’s since brought back 75 per cent); saw revenues drop as much as 90 per cent from 2019 levels (back up to 45 per cent); and occupancy still lags 50 per cent behind 2019. But French and Shivani credit Silver’s president with helping not only the company get through the pandemic, but the industry in Canada as a whole.
“Deepak was instrumental in the lobbying efforts, from guiding and directing some of his partners, from lenders and financial [experts], all levels of government and all the associations,” says Melissa French, vice-president, Operations. “He made everyone recognize that we, as an industry, have to come together. It’s not about Silver Hotel Group getting through this, it’s about the industry surviving.”
Susie Grynol, president, Hotel Association of Canada (and Hotelier’s 2021 Supplier of the Year winner), agrees. “Silver Hotel Group really stepped up and acted as a leader when it came to building our survival strategy,” she says. “They supported the association in its fundraising efforts, they were at the table developing policy and strategies and they executed in a big way. Deepak was a champion. When our industry started to unravel, he stepped up. He’s been a tireless supporter of the association. He didn’t miss a meeting, and he put in the work at the ground level, to make calls to MPs and to deliver the message that needed to be delivered in order to move our advocacy objectives forward. This industry hit a point of massive crisis and there were a few people who really stepped up and provided leadership, and he was one of them.”
Typically sidestepping the praise, Deepak is quick to point out, “It wasn’t just a one-person effort, it was a team effort of various players in the industry, including HAC, some of the peers in our group. The hardest-hit industries — the restaurants, hotels, airlines — the government saw how quickly we exemplified [that] our revenues had dropped; we had shut down, basically, and had to demonstrate that.”
So, he led the way with proposals for numerous programs, including wage subsidies, rental subsidies, and interest-free loans through the federal government.
“On top of that, they were able to pivot effectively as a company and implement strategies to protect their hotels and re-purpose assets where possible,” says Grynol.
Re-purposing included offering up many of Silver’s hotels — which total 23 across the country and include the Aloft Montreal Airport, The Anndore House, Novotel, Hilton Airport and Radisson Blu in Toronto, Holiday Inn Express in Edmonton and Delta Hotels Vancouver — as housing to the military, first responders, the homeless, students, fire evacuees, refugees and as government-approved quarantine centres. One, the Fairfield in Kanata, Ont., was used as a hospital.
“There were people in hospital waiting for beds in long-term care facilities, so they moved them into the hotel,” says French. “They were using it as an extension of the hospitals. They still are.”
To mitigate layoffs and job losses, the Mississauga, Ont.-based company instituted shift reductions and reduced hours for the leadership teams and offered other work to staff. Says French, “Even in our closed hotels, instead of bringing in [outside] security companies, we gave our staff the first opportunity to work those shifts, walk the floors, play that security role.”
Deepak downplays the gesture. “A lot of companies did that; we helped each other,” he says. “We needed to contain expenses and help where help was needed.”
Beyond the blood ties, Shivani says the entire Silver Group staff of 30 is considered family. “If you were to ask anybody in our company what sets us apart, the answer has always been the people. The fact [is] we have a small, humble, nimble team that does work so close together; it is family. Everyone knows everyone. It’s not unusual to see Deepak out at the hotels talking to all the team members from line staff to management. Within our [company] culture we have a mantra: You Matter. It means different things to different people but, at the end of the day, it becomes an important part of who we are.”
Guest satisfaction is equally important, she says, and team members are enthusiastically committed to creating exceptional experiences through personal touches. They are trained to listen for cues from guests so they can respond in creative ways. Whether it’s a family with a child going into hospital, a birthday or anniversary, they’ll slip a card into the room, even decorate with balloons and stuffed animals. Shivani recalls one such event in which a child had left behind a teddy bear, so the staff took it on an adventure, taking photos of it travelling around the hotel, then sent it back with the pictures.
“Most of our hotels are small to mid-size; we’re not big boxes,” says French. “There are limited teams on property, so limited resources, but we encourage them to do things that are manageable to personalize and customize it.”
The Ruparell Foundation allows the company to give back to the staff and community through initiatives such as university scholarships for employees’ children, professional-development courses, team-building initiatives and volunteering with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, and Meals on Wheels. At each leadership conference, there’s a focus on a particular charitable activity, such as providing lunch-bag meals for the homeless or building bikes for kids in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood through the Dixon Hall Music School.
But COVID-19 forced the company to scale back these activities, along with everything else. “It’s been a very challenging couple of years,” says French. “As much as we tried to maintain these initiatives, you have less staff, [there are] restrictions… we had to pivot. I remember after March 16, we got our first forecast and [I thought], if things continue, how do you sustain these types of losses for who knows how long? What will things look like? And it was not a pretty picture. That was before we knew any programs or subsidies were going to happen. Some of the decisions were so hard to make and we were concerned about how people would react and how they would deal with it, but they were so resilient. They just did what they needed to do. Some of the hardest-hit properties, those were the teams that adjusted the easiest and fastest. That gave you the hope and confidence and inspiration that we’re going to make it through.”
Adds Shivani, “We’re doing what we can to make sure all our people can come back. Every single decision we make was based on that.”
Roz Winegrad, area vice-president, owner and franchise services for Marriott, who has worked with Deepak and Silver Hotel Group for six years, says, “They’re notable and outstanding for their corporate culture, and they’re focused on doing the right thing. They’re extraordinarily driven, which we love, and we love working with them. Not only are they great in the business but they take the people’s side and their culture to a new level.”
As an example of taking “the people’s side,” Winegrad points out that the company had hydraulic bed lifters installed in some of the hotels so housekeepers wouldn’t have to bend to clean under them. “Dee’s also been a tremendous leader,” she says. “He’s sort of like the elder, regardless of age. He’s the go-to, the touchpoint for many people in the industry. Throughout COVID, he provided enormous leadership around the need to invest in government outreach through our hotel association and funding it to do great advocacy work on our behalf, which in fact saved the industry in many ways, and our associates. He personally put pressure on the other owners in our community to give, because it’s so important for saving the industry. This award is not something they would ever aspire to, but given everything Dee’s done over the last couple of years through the pandemic, the timing is right for them to receive the honour. And they’re completely deserving in every respect.”
You just won’t hear it from them.
By Robin Roberts | Photography By Margaret Mulligan