Jim Merkel pushes Rockbridge upward from a strong foundation

In order to ensure that new employees are team oriented, work collaboratively and will fit in, a large number of the Rockbridge staff meets with job candidates.

“We spend a lot of time recruiting. We look at a lot of people. We have an internship program that we invest in. These things all support getting to the very best talent,” Merkel says.

Making the right moves

The company has a philosophy of looking at a lot, but doing a little to make sure what it does do always works.

By looking at a lot of people, Rockbridge can pick the very best. By looking at a lot of potential hospitality investments, it finds the very best.

Merkel says the firm only does roughly 2 percent of the deals it looks at.

“We have great reach across our industry and our network,” he says. “We look at a lot and we do a little — and that enables us to be very selective.”
With highly trained people, the firm’s employees understand what components are necessary to make a deal successful. They use that knowledge to look at potential deals quickly.

Once they are vested in a deal, which only happens about 8 percent of the time, the hit ratio is high — anywhere from 20 to 50 percent.

And it’s always important to keep the end user in mind — focusing on each deal, every time to make it work, Merkel says.

“We focus on each investment and how we’re going to create value,” he says. “Because at the end of the day, we have to continue to do that in order to continue to attract investors to our platform.

“Our investors are our lifeblood. It’s a pretty simple equation: If we continue to take care of our investors, they will continue to take care of us and support us.”

Investing in your assets

In order to create more value, Rockbridge focuses on where a hotel can go — its potential.

Merkel says they look at demand. Who will use the hotel? What do those customers want? And is what they want underserved in the market?

Then, once they get the product right, it often comes down to the people.

“The best people want to work at the best properties or for the best companies that are good owners — that take care of their properties and take care of their people,” he says. “And so what happens in the hotel business is people under invest in their assets.”

Over time, that makes a property less competitive. Good people leave because they are tired of dealing with customers who are unhappy.

It can be a cycle where the least competitive properties get hurt the most, so Rockbridge seeks to break that.

“Can we create a product that the customer wants?” he says. “And if we can do that — if we can put that equation together — then we’re going to be able to attract the best team members to execute on that strategy and realize the potential of the property.”

Pushing to be better

Today, in the post-recession era, Rockbridge still pushes itself by reinvesting in the organization and infrastructure in order to better serve its customers — their investors.

For example, after the global financial crisis, the leadership of institutions, which invest with Rockbridge, more closely scrutinized how investments were performing.