The Breakers is the only large, historic luxury resort still in the hands of the original family owners. Founded in 1896 by Henry Flagler, the hotel is now owned by the Kenan family, Flagler’s descendants. As the hotel aged so did many of its policies and practices. Fortunately, the family had the wisdom to bring in non-family executive Paul Leone to make changes that dramatically improved the company’s customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, financial results and social impact.
Leone, CEO of The Breakers, is a shining example of a successful non-family executive. He embodies the values of the family while bringing a needed financial discipline and new ideas to the growing company.
When Leone spoke to our family business class he shared a few keys to The Breakers’ success.
Leone embodies everything it means to be a servant leader. He is people-centric, humble and truly believes that the employees are the Breakers’ greatest asset. After being hired by The Breakers in 1985, he spent a little more than 30 years working in various roles before becoming CEO in 2016. He never forgets what it is like to be a line employee. He treats all employees – who he calls “team members” – with respect and gratitude, giving them the autonomy and responsibility necessary to reach their full potential.
“We are proud of the asset, but we don’t sell rooms, we sell experience,” says Leone. While The Breakers prides itself on its five-star rooms with lavish amenities, the experience is the reason guests return year after year. Guests are treated like family with the world-class service of a bygone era, providing a respite from the stresses of everyday life.
The Breakers has implemented important green environmental initiatives and programs for the “greater good” which focus on improving the lives of team members and the community.
As a family business, The Breakers maintains a long-term perspective when making decisions. Instead of making decisions that lead to short term gains, Leone has the support of the family owners to think long-term and invest in strategic initiatives to ensure the growth and sustainability of the business. This is a major advantage in the high-end resort industry because it allows the business to “rig for bad weather” and withstand financial turmoil, such as the 2008 financial crisis.
By identifying strong non-family executives, like Leone, professionalizing financial and HR processes, and maintaining a long-term, patient-capital approach, The Breakers is sure to thrive for many generations to come.
By Caroline Pevonka (BSBA ’18)
The Family Enterprise Center prepares next generation family business students for leadership and ownership in family firms.