The Shah file Featured

10:02am EDT June 16, 2006
Born: Morristown, N.J.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, economics, Wake Forest University

First job: When I was growing up in my family’s real estate business, I worked the front desk at one of my parents’ hotels.

What was your biggest business challenge, and how did you overcome it?
It was really waking up on Sept. 12, 2001, and having the reality of the unknown that was there. It was the first time that I really didn’t have a full grasp on what it was that we were going to have to do.

That was one of my most difficult times. It was also one of the greatest times when I look back on it, because that’s when I come back to my team of executives. I had a group of executives that all showed up in my office Sept. 12, all carrying the dashboard ... and all of us sitting by and saying, ‘We don’t know what’s next, but let’s talk about what we have to go do and accomplish.’

My executives treat our business like partners. When times are great, we all are the beneficiaries, and when times are tough, everybody digs in and gets it done.

The reason that we’ve been so successful over the history of our organization, and we’ve had a lot of success recently, is because our team knows how to survive. They know what they’re doing. They’re talented professionals and they’re committed to the success of our organization.

What has been the greatest business lesson you have learned?
Maintaining the commitment to your company’s ideals will allow you to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. When you start wavering from those company ideals is when you start getting in trouble. Maintaining those has been the greatest lesson because we’ve really achieved and learned from that, and it’s made us the company that we are.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?
My dad gave me an opportunity in the early ‘90s to a kid who hadn’t accomplished nearly as much to be afforded that opportunity, which was to invest the family’s entire savings and earnings. People may say I’m still a kid now at my age, but I really was a kid then.

My dad taught me the value of quality and metrics before there was a balance scorecard. He ran quality control for RJ Reynolds, and he taught me the value of measuring and quality. He also taught me the value of surrounding yourself with great people and giving them the keys to be your partners and treating them like partners.

I’ve made him chairman emeritus of our company because people love him so much. The business things he has taught me and what he gave me at such an early age to start this business, I doubt I could search and find anybody else who would do that given the circumstances.

We didn’t know we were coming out of a major recession. This was the recession of ’91, ’92. These were very difficult times in our business.