Networking is so important. You can’t always depend on self-reliance. Leaning on the power and impact of collective effort is inspiring because it allows you to broaden your perspective by gleaning unique and different cultural or life experiences from others whose lives traveled different paths than the one you’re most accustomed to envisioning. Leveraging what you get out of 3, 10, or more people rowing in the same direction will always beat the efforts you can achieve on your own.
Ihad the distinct pleasure of interviewing Galen Barrett, Vice President, Strategic Franchise Initiatives, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.
Galen Barrett is vice president of Strategic Franchise Initiatives at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, the world’s largest hotel franchising company with approximately 9,100 hotels across 24 brands spanning more than 95 countries. In his role, Galen leads the strategic growth and development of Wyndham’s Black Owners & Lodging Developers (BOLD) and Women Own the Room initiatives, which have the goal of elevating and advancing Black and women entrepreneurs, developers, and owners on their path to hotel ownership.
A longtime veteran of Wyndham, Galen has nearly a decade of experience at the organization and its predecessors supporting development efforts, and he’s also a member of the Company’s Affinity Business Group, SPECTRUM, which focuses on empowering, leveraging and developing African American, Black and People of Color team members through leadership, education, innovation and networking. The group is also responsible for the inception of BOLD by Wyndham.
Before joining Wyndham, Galen was an investment banker with the Royal Bank of Scotland and Morgan Stanley, primarily advising on capital markets and corporate finance. He graduated summa com laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from Morehouse College and resides in New Jersey with his two young daughters.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Istarted my career in finance and banking working for Fortune 500 companies as a consultant and advisor. Throughout the years, I discovered the importance of capital allocation — not simply because finance drives business decisions but also because capital allocation is a fundamental component of community development and job creation. When I joined Wyndham, my role was to provide senior management with profitability and investment analyses that ultimately influenced how the company allocated capital resources. As a graduate of Morehouse College, a men’s HBCU, I’ve always been passionate about building a skill set and gaining credibility to advance my personal career, such that I could influence and shine a light on the Black community and other underrepresented groups — I’m proud to see how far Wyndham has come on that front.
When I started my career, I didn’t specifically know how my skills would apply to hospitality, but I had that “aha moment” after seeing the relationships we had with our franchisees up close and personal. We drive guests to our franchisees’ hotels with global brands and support services but there’s so much more that goes into operating a hotel, and capital management and finance is the key to that success. With my background, I try to communicate with franchisees in ways that bring to life the connection between development, operations, and finance.
In my new Strategic Franchise Initiatives role, I’m able to collectively present a variety of perspectives as I oversee the growth of our BOLD and Women Own the Room initiatives. These initiatives were created to elevate communities that are underserved in our industry by giving them tools and the keys to successful ownership, and capital management is a huge part of that. To date, we’ve awarded more than 50 hotel development agreements — more than a dozen of which are already open — in support of aspiring hoteliers who historically have not had the support system or resources, and I’m thrilled to be on the journey to grow these programs to new heights.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Rather than an experience early in my career, I think back to growing up in Indianapolis, where my family was part of Jack and Jill of America Inc., an organization founded by Black mothers with the intention of nurturing future African American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving, and civic duty. Growing up in suburban Indianapolis, there were few black families in my neighborhood and close community. In Jack and Jill, I interacted with Black parents who were doctors, lawyers, and business owners which was something I would not have experienced immediately around me. However, since I had access to an organization broader than my community, I was immersed in a network of different people with unique thoughts and different interests. I saw and experienced representation with people who told me I could do anything.
I share that story because this is something I reflected on early in my career, and it continues to be a personal motivating factor that drives my efforts as I strive to make a difference in the lives of others. To see Wyndham’s commitment to representation in hospitality and with the opportunity I have in front of me with BOLD and Women Own the Room, it feels full circle to help young people see others who look like them have success and open doors they might not have known existed. We’re in the process of planning our second-ever BOLD Symposium, which is an event that brings together prospective Black owners for an immersion day inclusive of roundtable discussions and presentations meant to give attendees tools and information to start and continue down their path to ownership. Our goal is that the more time and energy we can invest into BOLD, the more diverse owners we will have in hospitality and, in turn, more young people who will be inspired to walk a similar path.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Whether it’s a funny experience or not, I think you learn the most from your mistakes, and sometimes you may not recognize a mistake until you reflect on it after the fact.
In finance, I work a lot in spreadsheets and with hypothetical situations, and neither feel like reality at times. It’s easy to get lost in the data. At this point in my career, I’ve gained the perspective that those spreadsheets inform business decisions that ultimately affect people — hiring decisions, compensation adjustments, and more. Earlier in my career, I simply didn’t have that perspective, but understanding that really opened my eyes and made me realize the importance of respecting my work because there are real impacts.
It’s so important always to pause, think about your work, and really understand it. Think beyond the screen of cells or to-do list. When I experienced that realization (my “aha moment”), it really gave my career purpose, made me appreciate my job more, and really reinforced my commitment to my own career growth.
Can you share with our readers why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?
There are many reasons why diverse leadership is important for any business and it’s a core value at Wyndham. In any situation — business or otherwise — it’s critical to have people with different perspectives because we all have blind spots. When you only have a single perspective, you miss opportunities in the marketplace, and you won’t even know it. It won’t even be on your radar. Having a diverse perspective improves your own awareness and gives you a more well-rounded view of the community you serve.
BOLD by Wyndham is a perfect example of this. I am part of one of Wyndham’s eight Affinity Business Groups called SPECTRUM which focuses on empowering the Black community. In conversations with other team members in the group about what we could do to better the hospitality industry, we sparked the inception of BOLD by Wyndham. That team highlighted the fact we could do more for Black owners in hospitality, and it’s why we’re on the path to growing this program today.
More broadly, can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?
Diversity brings about two things, awareness and representation. Awareness is the first step toward understanding. Once you can better appreciate the world, you’re positioned to uncover unique perspectives and opportunities. Growing up in Indiana, I didn’t know how New York worked — I didn’t know they don’t drive cars, but instead rely heavily on public transportation. When you gain awareness about something that’s different from what you know, it opens a path to reconsider and be more proactive about finding solutions for the many challenges we face.
Perhaps even more important is representation, especially for aspiring youth and entrepreneurs. It’s important for young people to see reflections of themselves having success — the thing we call “role models”. Role models are a way to see yourself in that picture. It allows people to take risks and dream big, even if the vision is not within their current life experiences.
Can you recommend what the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?
When you think about community, society, and the corporate world, I think they all feed into each other in terms of how young professionals and students look at the future. The most important thing that people can do is to continue finding solutions for representation and actively engage young people who are thinking about what their future looks like. The path to executive leadership is long and requires a vision, but you can only get that vision as a young person if you’re told it’s possible. That happens in some communities, but it doesn’t happen in all — and that’s where societal change and then change in the corporate world all comes together. I think all institutions can and should prioritize actively engaging these audiences and driving resources to support representation, and it’s why I’m proud of the work I get to do at Wyndham.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is within all of us, and it starts with our ability to have a defined perspective rooted in values that will then drive an impact. We lead when we take that perspective and have the courage to walk a path to inspire others. It’s an ongoing process, we must reflect our commitment in everything we do while the vision drives others to walk that same path.
Someone who I think reflects this type of leadership quality is Bruce Marks, the founder of The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. The organization strives to build strong, healthy neighborhoods nationwide through affordable homeownership. Starting out in Boston with hotel union workers, Marks saw the need for stable housing and helped people find housing in the areas where they worked. Over the course of his career, he believed in that vision and expanded it outside of lodging and really focused on delivering capital to underserved communities. He took his skillset and coupled it with a passion and vision. I’ve never met him personally, but his work is something that I am in awe of, and it truly inspires me every day.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
When I reflect on my experiences, three things come to mind. Take your vacation seriously, bring your lunch to work and network frequently — and those first two are no jokes!
With vacation, it’s all about balance. You have work, family, and free time and you need to be careful that you’re not just focusing on only one thing. A life without balance is not a fulfilling life.
Similarly, eat your lunch. Have balance. Prioritize your well-being. Work-life balance brings about a healthy lifestyle. If you’re so focused on being efficient and getting work done, you might not make healthy choices. Eat the peanut butter sandwich, make time for yourself in your day and think about how you can plan and organize your life to make healthy choices.
And, of course, networking is so important. You can’t always depend on self-reliance. Leaning on the power and impact of collective effort is inspiring because it allows you to broaden your perspective by gleaning unique and different cultural or life experiences from others whose lives traveled different paths than the one you’re most accustomed to envisioning. Leveraging what you get out of 3, 10, or more people rowing in the same direction will always beat the efforts you can achieve on your own.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would start with the youth and find ways to get more resources and support for our educators and educational institutions. It would be a movement where we can come together and find a way to do more of that and do it more frequently because we are laying the foundation for what our future will be by investing in young people — and that benefits all of us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Believe it or not, I think about a lyric from Drake where he says, “What I tend to do is to think of today as the past.” Planning well out into the future makes it so you have time to consider and plan for an uncertain world. I think this quote captures that, because the things that happen today are a result of what you have done in the past. The more you can think about that, the more success you’ll have.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would have to choose my great-grandmother Annie Lee Minor (but we all called her Gonnie) and would love to have my daughters join us. Just knowing her story is inspirational to me. She was born out of slavery in Virginia and had the courage to get out, move to Kentucky and ultimately relocate with her husband to Ohio. After which, she became a member of her new community, an educator and ultimately had a large family that flourished. To even just speak with her about her experiences, motivation, and perseverance… I would love to hear it — but even more so, I would want my daughters to hear it. It would be so amazing for them to experience that, appreciate their lineage of real effort, persistence, and courage; in addition to understanding and appreciating the legacy that they have been challenged to maintain.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!