Finding Success In Constraints - Dan Welborn- Defining Hospitality - Episode # 145

Dan Ryan: Today's guest is a global design and development leader who excels at hospitality. He's worked with global brands to create innovative projects, both on land and in the water. With over 25 years of experience, he helps developers and owners turn their vision into reality. He is the principal at DW Design Strategy.

Ladies and gentlemen. Dan Wellborn. Welcome, Dan.

Dan Welborn: Thanks, Dan.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, there's a lot of Dan. ing going on right now. I guess, um, just don't call me Daniel. That's what my mom calls me.

when I'm in trouble.

Dan Welborn: Same. And then she adds an Ashley.

Dan Ryan: oh, is your middle name Ashley.

Dan Welborn: Indeed.

Dan Ryan: Oh, wow. I didn't see. We learned something new.

Dan Welborn: Right out of the gate.

Dan Ryan: Okay, let me tell everyone what I love about you. What I love about you, I love many things about you. Your wife is one of them. Um,

Dan Welborn: The best part.

Dan Ryan: best part.

Yep. Um, but also, We've kind of been on this career journey on a similar kind of timeline, right? And I've seen you grow and try a lot of different things and go a lot of different places and pick up a lot of different experience.

And then in the hotel, on the land, and then you went off. Into maritime stuff, like cruise ships. And I'm really intrigued by that because I know it's kind of the same as like a hotel on water, but I'm sure it's radically, radically different. Um, and now you're back on land and you're looking at things rather than as a, from a design interiors perspective, you're looking at things more from an ownership strategy perspective. And I'm really curious how your journey, um, from earning your stripes, so to speak, working on, from an interior's perspective and traveling everywhere to working like within, within, with constraints there, but then working with incredible constraints in the cruise ship world to now, um, saying, okay, ownership group, set of investors, you want to do X with this kind of return for Y.

let's come up with a really good strategy and team that can help do that. So, but before we get into that, um, along the whole journey for you, it's been within hospitality. So you've stayed within the world of hospitality and why, what, what keeps you here? Why, what does hospitality mean to you?

Dan Welborn: I, you know, I started my career, did a few other things with architecture and interiors. Um, found my way into hospitality fairly early, but, glad to have had some other experiences as well, because what it really taught me when I got to the hospitality world is like, this is a very special place to work.

A lot of very special people. And what I love about, you know, what we do physically is I love that hotels touch All of the aspects of design, if you think about it, you're doing residential and guest rooms. You're doing, um, offices, um, in and convention centers and meeting spaces. You know, you're doing, um, you know, lots of, restaurants and bars.

So you're hitting that piece. So you're really hitting, you know, a lot of the typologies that many architects and designers actually just niche into. And we get to really explore all of those things, put them together into one building and, create a unified experience. I love that about hospitality is that I really got to sort of, you know, take some of the office work that I'd done before, some golf clubhouse work that I'd done before, you know, things like that.

And then really, you know, take it in and. you know, expand upon it in hospitality. And, you know, just to expand on your question there in terms of my journey post hospitality, you know, what I love about what I've done over the last 20 years in, in hospitality is, is really probably more about the people that I've done it with at this point.

Then, you know, the, I hate the question of what's your favorite hotel in the world. What's the favorite hotel you've designed? You know, it's, it's really, at the end of the day, it's not about that thing. It's really, it should be, who did you have the most fun designing that hotel with? You know, those are the things I really remember, you know, what, what was that, what was the best restaurant you ate at while you were, you know, on that site tour?

You know, those are the things that really appeal to me in hospitality is, it's that, that world has taken me to places I never would have gone to otherwise. expanded my worldview from a guy that grew up in North Georgia and went to Georgia Tech for architecture school to a person that's now lived multiple cities in the U S traveled extensively in Asia, in Europe, you know, all over North America.

And, you know, I would not have had the privilege of, of, you know, gaining that worldview without. This, you know, without those jobs that were in hospitality and without that focus. So it's a long winded answer, but, you know, that's kind of where I

am on that.

Dan Ryan: I'm, hearing it's the people and the relationships and I, if I really look back at my life and where I've come, it's also that it's why I enjoy talking to you and and other people. And I think, and why this podcast resonates with others in our world, in our tribe, because. It really is all about the people.

And if, and it's also putting yourself and meeting others where they are and creating experiences for them. For me on, on furniture, it's not so much the furniture. It's like, do they feel cared for along the whole journey towards opening their hotel? We have, we got their back. We have them supported. Um, I am curious about the Georgia Tech in architecture.

So you, you studied undergrad architecture, you got a master's in architecture. How did you wind up? And I'm always intrigued by this because I do talk to a lot of architects that.

make the transition over into interiors. Like, what opened your eyes to the interiors and, and kept you in there? Like, because I feel like there's always this oil and water thing.

In many cases, the architects and designers get interiors, designers get along, but like, what helped, what was your thought process or experience to go over to the architecture side or to the interior side?

Dan Welborn: So, you know, where, where that transition started was working for Gensler. in Atlanta in the late 90s. And, you know, I came into, uh, Gensler, you know, on the architecture side, um, started helping really on some office interiors and things and realized like, wow, you know, this is, this is more about solving problems for people and how people are going to experience these spaces and not about, did I use, you know, the right insulation in my wall detail?

You know, did I get the flashing right? Um, you know, buildings, you know, I, I applaud all architects. I mean, it is a, you know, definitely a art and science, um, world. And, you know, I still play in that world for sure. But for me, I was more passionate about design than probably project management or documentation or those things there and, you know, coordination of.

multiple disciplines to create a building, you know, it's, it's a lot. And, and I would say that in the architecture world, you know, it's maybe like, you know, 10 percent can be design and concept and 90 percent is, you know, a lot of coordination and, and, you know, it can take four or five years to get things built.

That was the other thing I really enjoyed, particularly about interior renovations. And it's where I focus my practice today is really on the renovation and repositioning side, because. You can get in, you can do the design and get to an end point, you know, in like nine to 18 months, call it. Um, as opposed to sort of waiting the four or five years to see that vision finally come through.

You know, there, there's something to that. I respect the heck out of people that can really put their heart and soul into that one project and make that happen. Um, but I really liked that, um, maybe more instant gratification, if you will, of interior design.

Dan Ryan: Yeah. And I think it also ties back into. The idea of really the people and the experiences of bringing them together and you're in, like, how you were thinking about hospitality when we first spoke, um, Yeah, I'm just always intrigued by pulling, pulling on that. And I also, you know, talking about, oh, what's your favorite hotel or everything else?

The other one that bugs me too is like, what trends do you see? I just don't, I don't know how to answer that. It seems like everyone, that's the question that's always asked everywhere. Like, what trends? I guess it's a valid question, but for some reason it just irks me. Um,

Dan Welborn: Yeah, well, how about give me the definition of timeless design?

Dan Ryan: yeah, I, I guess you wouldn't notice it, right? It's just, it's just there. your answer.

Dan Welborn: It's been around long enough that people don't notice it anymore.

Dan Ryan: Yes, exactly. I want to get into your slight sojourn into maritime and cruises. Specifically, go with that idea of constraints. All projects have constraints. What was like the most surprising constraint that You Encountered in work, in working with cruise ships.

Dan Welborn: You know, probably not surprising, but the biggest constraint tends to be weight, you know, as you know, everything

Dan Ryan: have thought of weight. I would have thought of just like ship frame or, um, I don't know. That was just the, the structure of the ship and working within that. But keep going on the, on the weight thing. I'm intrigued.

Dan Welborn: now it's fascinating, you know, so you have a whole different set of material manufacturers that really focus on, you know, You know, on, on shipbuilding and, you know, one of the primary materials, you know, that kind of surprised me was this, you know, stone look that was literally just like a sliver of stone sitting on a foil kind of aluminum backing to keep as much weight out of it, but to give it some rigidity so that the stone stayed in place.

Um, yeah. And it was just always like, you know, how much is that going to weigh, you know, or, or it's also, you know, the, the, the, the. The naval architects in terms of, you know, balancing that ship, you know, like where do you, where do the rooms go? Where do all these heavy things go? I mean, you know, it's a, it is one of the most complicated, um, sort of engineering feats that I've ever sort of been a part of.

And I mean, it's literally building a city. I mean, the things that you don't think about when you're doing regular buildings, I mean, yeah, these ships have, you know, they're on a full electrical power plants, right? They have, you know, all the mechanisms for dealing with waste and everything else. And, you know, those things.

aren't that different when it gets to where we're working with them. You know, yes, you've got a drain, you've got a toilet, things like that, but the processes to, uh, deal with it are incredible. And some of these ships, uh, you know, Royal Caribbean, uh, just launched Icon of the Seas and that ship holds, don't quote me on this, but close to 10, 000 people between, um, crew and passengers.

And I mean, that's a city that's bigger than the city I grew up in.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, totally. And it has to deal with what Mother Nature throws at her as well, right?

Dan Welborn: And, and that's, yeah, absolutely. And you know, they have such sophisticated weather monitoring within those companies that, you know, they're mostly able to just avoid that kind of weather. Um, you know, they take those, if there's a hurricane coming into Port Miami, those ships are out and going somewhere else.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, I mean, you've got to protect those investments too. I mean, they're, I don't know, how much does it cost to build a ship, like one of these new ships?

Dan Welborn: I mean, the, the, the biggest ones can be $2 billion with a b.

Dan Ryan: wow, that's wild. okay, so back to your journey. Architecture, interiors 16 years, you're off to, um, Royal Caribbean doing cruise ship. But now, dealing with a different set of constraints, you're working with ownership groups to help them. And as you said earlier, just focusing, and you prefer interiors and thinking about repositioning and interior renovation.

How did you make that jump? And what are, what are the constraints or what's exciting you the most about this new journey you're on?

Dan Welborn: Well, you know, the, the, the journey was unplanned as many journeys are. Um, so, you know, I was loving what I was doing with Royal Caribbean and, uh, you know, due to COVID, it was cut, you know, mightily short. Uh, but you know, in that short time, you know, what I learned there was, was invaluable and, and, you know, being

Dan Ryan: that COVID put on you too, right? So it helped you,

Find the next step, right?

Dan Welborn: No doubt. Um, yeah, for sure. And you know what, what I saw in working with Royal Caribbean and the reason that I went from Gettys to Royal Caribbean was, you know, I very much enjoyed all of my time at Gettys. That's really where I really cut my teeth in the world. Um, and you know, I would have never left there to go to another design firm.

You know, it was really the exploration of. Yeah. Owner and brand, which, you know, Royal Caribbean, you know, there aren't a lot of entities that are both right. That own, you know, their, their brand, they do their own design, you know, everything's there. So that was intriguing to me. So after having that experience, um, you know, coming out of that during COVID with a bit of time on my hands to think about what was next, you know, certainly thought about is there, are there design firms that I'd be interested in going back to, you know, are there.

Would I be interested in going to the brands? Um, you know, so just really thinking through that. So I went through a process and again, I was lucky. I had a bit of time on my hands to essentially, I wrote down everything I thought I was good at. Um, and I took that list and said, okay, what, what, how can I add value to an organization, whether I work for them?

Or work for myself, you know, what are the things I want to be doing? I took that list and really culled it, if you will, by saying, okay, I'm good at these things, but what do I love doing?

Dan Ryan: Yes. Everyone listening to this right now, if you get a piece of paper and just draw a line down it, and say, what are you really good at on one side? And what do you really enjoy doing on the right side? It's a very instructive exercise. Keep


Dan Welborn: yeah, no, it really is. And, You know, what I found in that was there was a absolute theme that was emerging. Um, it was not surprising to me once I had gone through the exercise, but it wasn't where my head was at the beginning, right? So it was very instructive. And, you know, so I made sort of two key decisions.

One was, you know, do I want to create a company? with employees, um, or do I want to, you know, try this on my own? And the decision was, you know what, let's create something that I can do on my own for now, um, you know, that I'm not, you know, trying to be overly broad in the offering and then is it something people really, you know, need, you know, would value.

Um, so I kind of went through it, through it that way. And that's why I really narrowed things down to. Uh, this design due diligence phase, if you will, you know, a lot of what I did as a principal at the Gettys group was meet with owners, tour their hotels as part of a business development process. You know, a lot of times, you know, you're going in and you're saying, okay, you know, here's what, here are the things I think we can help you with.

Here are, you know, the things that. You can add value that you can create something both beautiful, but you know, there's a return on investment for you. Um, cause you know, the Roger Hill, uh, CEO of Getty's, you know, really taught all of us there, you know, that great design was table stakes for the firm, but yeah, doing it with an owner's perspective.

And creating value for ownership at the end of the day is the real secret sauce there. And I think that that's absolutely right. You know, As designers, we can all make beautiful things, but if they don't make financial sense, um, you know, if they don't add value to the property, but also add value to people's lives who are coming, you know, back to those properties, that's why people come back, you know, they appreciate great design.

Thankfully, that's another thing I love about hospitality is. You know, great design is part of the brand strategy and ownership strategy to attract guests. So we're very lucky that, you know, great design has to happen, but you've got to spend those dollars in the right place and doing that's the real magic.

And that's what I help my clients with is, you know, looking at the asset before they've engaged a designer before, um, you know, they've written their RFP and said, You know, the planning at the very beginning is critical to a project success. I mean, you know, that should probably go without saying, but it doesn't happen as much as it should.

You know, uh, too many times an owner, you know, has their property, they're like, uh, you know what, we need to do a renovation here. The brand wants us to do a renovation. Here's the pip, you know, we should just follow this and do these other things and, you know, let's go. Somebody hire a designer, you know, without really Taking that property improvement plan and saying, are these all the right things?

You know, maybe there's a couple of things we should be trading out with the brand. Like maybe we should do more in the public area, a little less over here. Yeah. Okay. Boom. Then what are the other things that we can do to add value? Now let's create a program that's really tight that we can send to designers, the right designers that we know can help us with this.

And now you've got a plan in place, right? Some vision, you know, we've typically do a budget during that time so that the owner is aligned with the program with how much it's going to cost them and some buy in to at least a conceptual vision that then the designers can take and run with. without stumbling in that concept and schematic phase to, you know, you're, while you're trying to figure it out, but you're on the clock and you're spending money to do so.

So, you know, that, that's a bit of how my business works.

Dan Ryan: So two things, actually, maybe three things. Um, Roger put it really eloquently. Like, I struggle with this all the time. I, I, when I talk about furniture as Bur, as Berman Falk, and we talk about the process, I don't say the furniture is table stakes or the quality is table stakes. I love that. What I say is like, look, We and all of our competitors at this level, we've been in this game long enough, our quality is good.

What we obsess over is the experience of bringing your furniture to life and getting it delivered on time. And we obsess over it. But it's really like that idea of table stakes, like all of our competitors, And I guess everyone that's in any niche or any type of business, if they've had competitors for a long time, that's table stakes.

It's really what separates you differently. And it comes back to like your definition or why hospitality for you. It's, it's the people, it's the relationship, it's making sure that people are cared for on their journey. And I love that. Table stakes. Roger. I'm doing some R& D on that. I'm calling that rip off and duplicate.

So please. Table stakes. Love it. I'm not even a poker player, but I think I might take it up. So I, I thank you for that. in going through that exercise of finding what you enjoy, like what you're good at and what you enjoy. Did you just come up with that? Like, how did you, how did, I think it's a really great exercise for everyone to go through, but like, how did you find that tool?


Dan Welborn: So I've been really fortunate over the last, I guess, eight, nine years that I've worked with an executive coach. Uh, his name's Art Wild. He's great. I met him. Uh, through Getty's and contin and have continued to work with him, you know, from there, you know, into Royal Caribbean and then into building this business and continue to do so now.

And, you know, whether it's a a, an executive coach or a trusted mentor or, you know, just peers, you know, asking that advice. Asking for, you know, yeah, Hey, here's what I'm doing. Do you have any ideas? But of course, the executive coach. Has those tools for you. You know, they, they, that's what they do.

Dan Ryan: What's like a trainer at a gym, right? You want, you can go to the gym and do all that, but, or if you're an athlete, you can get better just by practicing and playing tennis. But if you bring on a pro or, or, or a real expert, they give you, they have all these tools and tricks that help shorten your journey. Art, Art Wild. Okay, keep going.

Dan Welborn: I mean, great name too. Um, so yeah, you know, and I, on that note, you know, what, what art helped me with, it's, it definitely is a journey with him, you know, the very first, um, bit with him was him teasing out of me. What was my business persona, if you will? Like, who was I in business and naming that? Like, what are the things that you're great at?

What are the things that are holding you back? And then kind of creating a persona around that. Like, this is who you are today. It's gotten you this far.

Dan Ryan: Was the persona's name Daniel or was it Dan?

Dan Welborn: Well, it's probably, Art would say Daniel because we've had to, uh, we've had to punish him. Um, so. But I just thought that was fascinating to, you know, name it, talk about it, and then name the, you know, the person you want to be.

Um, and, and then, and work towards that goal. And, you know, here's

Dan Ryan: name, the name of the person you want to be was Lee.

Dan Welborn: yeah, exactly. Or Dan Ryan. I just want to change the last name. Um, so. I, you know, the one big takeaway to that, you know, I'll share with you was this idea of, you know, my executive coach helping me with my life sphere and we define the life sphere, you know, as work and family and personal relationships and, you know, self enriching hobbies, et cetera.

So when we evaluate. Decisions together, you know, whether it's something in the business or, you know, the next thing to tackle, you know, we always look at it through that lens. Like, does it hit all of these life sphere goals? So take, for example, like I say, Hey Art, should I spend 3, 000 to go to this conference?

It's like, well, you know, are you going to get something out? You know, Hey, I'm going to see my friends check. I'm going to get some, I'm going to learn something. Check. You know, it's good for my business. Check. You know, so it's checking the life sphere. It's not just saying, Oh, I'm going to go and meet a bunch of people who are going to help make me rich.

Dan Ryan: And Lee could use a break from you out of the house. Check.

Dan Welborn: Check, check.

Dan Ryan: So your sphere is complete.

Dan Welborn: Exactly. And, and, and those things have been really helpful. That's just a couple of tidbits. Um, you know, that I've, Learned, you know, through having an executive coach, uh, you know, would totally recommend it, whether it's somebody you pay or somebody that's just a great mentor.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, I think I equate that to just, um, being aware of the, your 360 degree self, like a sphere. I love the sphere. Um, and a lot of people. Don't invest in that. And really, you know, if you read any of the books from all the big self help personal development books, or even just, you know, listening to Warren Buffett talk is like always pay yourself first and the pay yourself first, it's not necessarily monetarily.

It's like, how do you go through these exercises and think about yourself and think about vision of where you want to be? And, um, it's a really cool exercise. I remember, uh, I don't know if I shared this with you, but, um, Business was really, really tough. Uh, in 2019, I, I wound down my company. It was very, it was really tough.

Um, and before all of that happened about a year before I went through this group of entrepreneurs, we did these, um, uh, vision boards, right. And Alexa, Alexa and I did a vision board exercise after doing that one. And I made it and then, I think I put it, we were living in New York, so I made this vision board.

I put it under my mattress, between my mattress and box spring, because I didn't know where else it would fit in our apartment. And I remember like in the deepest dark part of like that whole experience, I was like, This is never going to work. I found I was like down on the ground looking for something.

I saw it and I was like, this is not going to happen. I tore it up. I was like,

Dan Welborn: Wow.

Dan Ryan: and, uh, it was very Dramatic.

I was very upset. And then, uh, I don't know, like 2 or 3 years later, I was meeting up with that group of entrepreneurs again, who we focus on life or personal family business. Um, and they're like, yeah, let's look at those, uh, vision boards we did.

And I pulled it up on my phone, and I'd moved to Connecticut, um, like, we have a yard, and dogs, and a barn, and like, these particular chairs we got, like, at a, at a, like, an estate sale, um, And all these other things. And I had, I finally had my bees, my beehives. Anyway, I was like, Oh, I tore it up, but Oh, I took a picture.

It's in my Evernote. So I pulled up the picture and I was like, holy shit. My life became what was on that vision board. And it was all because of that exercise. Even though I didn't, I was like, Oh, this is never going to happen. Like if you go through those exercises, everyone listening and you really think about it and see where you want to be in 10 years, It might be wrong.

You're not, it's okay to just have fun with it, but it becomes almost like a North Star. And whether you realize it or not, you kind of pull yourself in that direction.

Dan Welborn: Yeah, absolutely. You know, that kind of resonates moving with me. you know, it's where we started, you know, I met Lee in college. We got married right after, you know, we've moved to Philadelphia, to Chicago, to Southern California, to Miami. You know, we've kind of lived all over. We've had this amazing journey and there's something really interesting about landing back where you started that journey.

And You know, it's almost like the places you remember as a kid when you come back, they look smaller. Um, you know, it's like just thinking about that journey through, you know, it's like we've come and look, the journey is not over. I'm not saying we've come back to Atlanta retiring and we're done, but it's a really interesting point to sort of reflect and say, wow, you know what we, we did this, you know, we've done, you know, we've, we've.

Done a lot of interesting things. Here's where we started and we're coming back. These way more complete people.

Dan Ryan: Well, and yeah, and that's, it's kind of, it's really putting in the time to think About the self and that sphere. I like the sphere cause it's kind of like a spaceship going in one direction. You gotta like, you gotta plot the course. Um, so as a, as a budding entrepreneur, right, how long has it been now? Two, three years.

three years.

So what have you, What are your biggest

Dan Welborn: You know, the biggest learning for me is, you know, particularly as a sole proprietor

Dan Ryan: learnings?

Dan Welborn: is that every day I'm selling me. And, you know, so I'll, you know, every interaction. That I have, whether it's, you know, with the CEO of major company, you know, to, you know, the, the analyst that's working there or the contractor out in the field, every single one of those interactions is important.

And I have to really, you know, bring it for all of those things, because at the end of the day. I'm not selling a product. I'm not selling, you know, I'm, I'm selling me and the expertise that I bring. But frankly, a lot of people know the things I know. It's about how you deploy it, how you make people feel in the process.

Um, and then, and I think how you tie things together, if you will. I mean, really, I see myself. I mean, just kind of expanding here, but I see myself as really a facilitator in a lot of ways, you know, where, where I sit in the process, there are a lot of unknowns. There are a lot of people that kind of need to be brought into the picture to weigh in, and I often find myself as kind of the key facilitator of those conversations, the translator of design and construction things for a lot of folks that don't speak that language, you know, to get that.

In front of then architects and designers that can execute on it, but, you know, at the front end, you know, it's valuable when you're sitting in a room of, you know, financial folks, mostly, which is who our clients are, um, you know, to really help them with that. So anyway, I see that as a huge learning for me as well, is just how to.

Learn to collaborate, facilitate, speak their language, understand their business enough that I can then translate that into design speak.

Dan Ryan: So in those three years, you've, you're midstream in a bunch of projects. Have you completed projects?

Dan Welborn: I have, yeah, I've completed a few projects, some interesting things too, you know, so what's, what's been fascinating

Dan Ryan: before you get there, where I was intrigued, because I want to go back to, you know, as an architect, it could take 5 to 10 years to do start to finish. Interiors, you're doing You know, 18 to 24 months, right? Three years, you've completed a handful of projects. You have other projects that are midstream. For the ones that you've completed, if you were to think about the work that you did with art, right? The things that you're good at, the things you enjoy. Okay, so we've established the things you enjoy. Now, on those completed projects, If you were to go to your client and say, or if they had written a testimonial or something for you, does the testimonial that that, that those clients would, that they have written or would write, do they line up with your, what you enjoy doing the most?

Dan Welborn: You know, I believe they would, you know, just cite a small example where a client said to me, you know, there, we were having some issues, um, with, with some other folks. And, you know, my client said to me like, she's like, gosh, you know, I just really like picking up the phone and talking to you. You know, I, I don't really like that for everybody, but I really just, you know, I'm happy.

When I get to pick up the phone and we're chatting and you know what, we chat about lots of good things and hard things and you know, but that resonated with me that as aligning kind of with my life sphere, it's like, you know, we're connecting at a different level and that allows for some of these harder conversations to happen as well.

You know, so the, just a small example,

Dan Ryan: And acting as a translator, right? For, for your world of knowledge to their, like, I don't know if they're more financially minded or whatever, but um, you know, I think it's really important that you're, you're able to translate the sheet of music to their sheet of music or transpose. I,

guess it would be,

Dan Welborn: Yeah, absolutely. Um, but yeah, you know, all the things that I, in the project we just recently completed, you know, it was very much, you know, I was, did, you know, some conceptual things at the beginning to help with the, uh, you know, planning, et cetera. We had a designer work through it. You know, I just attended calls every couple of weeks and, you know, opined on the design, but without getting in the way.

And that's really my goal with these things is like. You know, if I stay through the project and work with a designer and architect, you know, I see myself again as a advocate, you know, for them. Um, and, and, and again, helping with that translation,

Dan Ryan: would it be safe to say, actually, this is really interesting. Would it be safe to say that you're like art, art wild and an executive coach for a project and all the teams, right? That's actually really cool.

Dan Welborn: yeah, no, that's a, I've never thought about it that way, but

Dan Ryan: What would


Dan Welborn: absolutely, yeah, he would love that, but he would somehow turn it into a lesson.

Absolutely. It aligns. And so at the end of the most completed, uh, most recently completed project that we did, you know, we were at the grand opening party and, you know, with the designer, with the owners and, you know, the, the feedback, what I really had liked about it is that the feedback was all like, um, the space feels great.

The designers did an amazing job. Uh, you know, the process was fun. Everybody got along and, you know, I think that that's the hallmark of a great project. You know, there's plenty of projects that look beautiful and that that's not going to fill my life sphere. That's not going to meet art's objective. You know, it's that.

You know, those other comments, like this was a fun journey. This is one of the easiest projects I've ever worked on. You know, we have a project manager that's like, wow, that went really smoothly. No, not everything goes smoothly, but when you get those comments, it means that the team is gelling. And, you know, I definitely see myself as, you know, a facilitator of the gel.

Dan Ryan: And then how many, if you go back to your experience before starting design strategy, or DW design strategy, um, how many projects do you think you, you have under your belt from when you started to where you, to when you hung your shingle up?

Dan Welborn: God, you know, of, of various. Right, sizes and things. I mean, you

Dan Ryan: And even as a manager or leader, like, even counting all those in, Right. Because then you get pulled into when things get a little gnarly, right? Like, how, like, what's that breadth? Like, it doesn't have to be exact, just. Is it a hundred, two hundred, five

Dan Welborn: Yeah, I mean, it's over. It's between 100 and 200 projects, I would say, right? Depending on scale and complexity. But yeah, to your point, you only really are part of it full time when you are kind of at the, um, you know, when you're cutting your teeth. And you know, you're on it the full time, but yeah, as you become a leader, you've got to get really good at setting the tone early, getting it off on the right foot.

And that's really what my business is coming in at the right times and, you know, making sure, you know, for a maritime analogy, yeah. Making sure that you're doing those course corrections, um, before the ship can't be steered back into, uh, position and, and really where I think, you know, I've fallen down in the past.

I think, you know, where you really have to think about is how you finish. Um, too many times the projects kind of peter out and you may not go back and really sit down with the client and say, how, you know, how, how was this experience for you? How did this go? You know, what, what can we learn from this?

Being there at the end. Is critical. It's easy to be there in the beginning. It's easy to be there for the celebrations. Um, but you know, as it gets to the end, leadership can kind of peter out. And I think it's really critical that you don't let that happen.

Dan Ryan: I think you left out a part there also, and I think just from virtue of your 200 projects, setting it up, being there at the right times throughout to make sure that you're there, but I think also where you become an expert or a genius. As a leader or manager is when your team is stuck or the project is stuck.

Oftentimes that like, when you don't know what the next step is, that's like stress inducing, right? But I find that sometimes the small, and it could be a huge stuck. Or it could be a minor one, but they both cause stress and noise. And I would say for you, you would like, and I call that an escalation point or something, just being able to come in at that other right time when things might not be going as well, but you're, you're very good at getting things unstuck, or have you considered this?

It's as, again, as a coach for all the stakeholders in a project, um, what could be a small problem or a big problem, but I'd like the small problem stuck as a better example, because you're just like, Oh, have you talked to this person or have you thought of this? Like, do you have any experiences of like, share something along that, of, of like that escalation or coming in at the right time when things might not be going well, because you can smell it.

Dan Welborn: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Um, And to your point, you know, I mean, I think some of it, it's hard to pinpoint, right? I mean, you just know it's the right thing to do, but it really helps folks. You know, kind of a bigger thing. I got brought in on a project that, you know, the group was stuck in schematic design, struggling to get approval.

Um, you know, so in this case, I was a new face, you know, coming in, um, to take a front to with a fresh set of eyes and, you know, so did that. But instead of just taking it back into my office, right. And saying, well, here's what I would have done. You know, it's getting the, getting the right people on the phone.

Hey, what's the history here? You know, what, what's your perspective on this? And then lining up, uh, you know, doing some thinking, but then bringing everybody back for a bit of a workshop for a work session on that. And let's talk about it. It's like, okay, here's what I've heard from you guys. Um, I think there's some really great things that have happened here.

Sounds like we're stuck here. You know, how do we get, how do we move this forward? It's really just about, you know. getting people talking again and sometimes being a fresh set of eyes can really help that. Um, but to your point, if it's an existing team and you're trying to get unstuck on things, I always think that a workshop approach is always a good one.

Um, you know, when you get stuck to say, you know, let's just pull out the, you know, the, a pad or a whiteboard. And let's just jot some things down. Let's get this out of our head. Cause a lot of times when you get stuck is that you've gotten stuck in your head or you, you know, you, you just need to like suck some things out and put them up on the board and, and, and, and think about it in a fresh way.

Um, so, you know, part of what I do is also workshop facilitation for folks. Um, and. You know, there's, there's magic to it. There's not a, there's not a lot of magic in the facilitation itself. It's really about being a great listener and pointing out the things that are coming up that are good or interesting and might facilitate more thought.

Right. And so I think that workshopping philosophy can be used on a big master plan and it can be used for the smallest piece of, you know, stuckness.

Dan Ryan: I call that like, just mind mapping things out or do some kind of natural planning. You put everything on a board, markers or stickies, and it, it could look like that beautiful mind. What was that Russell Crowe movie? Beautiful Mind, where it almost looks insane. But if you keep talking about it and drawing lines and connections between them, things are, develop different weights and different, um, like line weights and just different scribbles and marks.

And, and then eventually everyone in the room is like, Oh, like I see the matrix. Like that makes sense. This is the way out of this cul-de-sac. Right.

Dan Welborn: you know, I think it's, uh, we're all creative thinkers, you know, in, in this field. And I think sometimes we don't lean on the skill, the skills that we have, you know, like visually working your way out of a problem that you don't necessarily think is a visual problem. Like you wouldn't try to solve your planning problem by going to a spreadsheet.

You're going to like draw your way out of it. You know, so I think that for creatives, particularly getting it out, you know, getting some visual things going can just help, you know, get the right gears moving.

Dan Ryan: But it's also a, another, I, I love all these reminders you're giving me because there are those times where you're, where you're stuck on something and you do whip out a spreadsheet or a, a, a bulleted document or, uh, like a bulleted list or a, or a outline, and it's like, I bet you I could get to the answer quicker if I used my pencil or pen and just some white paper.

Because again, like all that noodling, um, winds up becoming a treasure map.

Dan Welborn: Yeah. Yeah,

Dan Ryan: Um, if you were to, so going through all the work with Lee, uh, not with Lee, with Art, sorry. I'm sure Lee is a big supporting, uh, coach in all

of that. Uh, probably the most important one. But, um, as you're, as you've gone through all that and you've thought about what, what you're good at, what you enjoy doing. And then we were talking about those testimonials, like, if they were to write a testimonial and they would line up. In your mind, like, what is the best type of client for you? What is the best type of project for you? Like, where do you add, where does that Venn diagram of, of client, superpower, and project type line up?

Dan Welborn: So starting with client, um, for client, whether they're, Big, experienced hoteliers doing it 40 years or it's their second hotel, doesn't matter. Um, you know, to me, the right client is one that is willing to collaborate and doesn't come to the table with kind of preconceived notions of where things need to go.

So somebody that can have a conversation, um, and, and, and, and is a bit open, um, to solutions. sometimes I'd enjoy a client who hasn't done a lot of hotels because it's fun to help teach them. Um, you know, but it's also nice to work with a really experienced hotelier who knows what they want, and then you can push the boundaries.

So, you know, so that to me, size and experience is not as critical as openness. Um, in terms of projects. To me, the more constraints and the more complicated, the better. I enjoy going into a hotel that when I walk in, I'm like, whew, this is a mess, you know? And yeah, and just really thinking about how do you turn this around?

And do it cost effectively. Yeah, you can always throw money at things. To me, it's really interesting when you've got a budget as a constraint, you know, it needs to be reasonable, but you know, it doesn't have to be extravagant. Um, you know, when you've got, you know, brand constraints, when you've got, um, physical constraints, all of those things I think lead to great design, um, and lead to solutions that.

I think oftentimes you would never have arrived at in a blue sky project. So I love a difficult, highly constrained project and problem to solve. Like, give me the Sunday New York Times crossword, not the Monday.

Dan Ryan: Oh, Yeah, because they get harder as the week goes on. Um, I also like how you're talking about, um, how you spoke about the clients where, who may, maybe have not done one where you can teach them. I also feel like if they're new to it, yes, you, you know, you're the maestro, but oftentimes the, the, the lack of experience can also teach the teacher, right?

Because again, you mentioned it earlier, that idea of fresh eyes, um, have, have you come across any. examples where the teacher was taught by the, by the student.

Dan Welborn: Yeah, you know, I do. There are definitely clients, right, that have not done it before, that come from different walks of life. Bring a different perspective, um, you know, into it. Yeah. I can't think of an example, uh, solid, um, right now, but definitely know that the conversations that come out of working with those clients force, definitely force, um, you into a different decision making matrix, if you will, because you've got to, like they're asking questions.

that are really intelligent, but because they don't, you know, have a basis, right? So you, I think you, you definitely have to approach it a bit differently and you have, um, yeah, I think you learn from having to really be on your toes with, you know, answering those questions to some that, that you don't speak their language.

You're in translation mode, right?

Dan Ryan: When you're working on a new project that needs to be repositioned as a renovation, there's a lot of different ways to skin the proverbial cat, but at what point do you typically take on like a, a branding Consultant or someone to just help, not For the brand of the hotel, but like if it's a more of an independent, um, one, do you do that on every project or some projects Like, at what point do you, do you bring in someone with a brand, creating a brand, uh, a brand book, if you will, right, right from the get go? Um,

Dan Welborn: For projects that are independent, to your point, or soft branded, absolutely as early as possible, bring in those, those branding folks, you know, somebody that you really like to work with, you know, whether it's an interior designer who happens to be great at branding, an independent branding firm, uh, you know, bring them in very early, you know, for projects that might be a more traditional brand, bring Um, you know, many times you can absolutely lean on that brand and their standards, but I always would recommend in the F& B side of things to, if you know, engage with a branding agency, because that's where you want to differentiate.

That's where I think traditionally branded hotels can lose some oomph is, you know, if their food and beverage program. Isn't excellent. And it just sort of feels like the rest of the hotel, you've missed something. So, you know, I think that there's, you know, a hundred percent bring in those branding folks early when you are creating a story and you have to create a name.

You have to create, um, experience mapping, et cetera. Uh, bring them in early. Uh, but yeah, you have to evaluate it. I think on a brand by brand case by case basis.

Dan Ryan: I'm also, I, I also forgot that you were, you were a teacher at one point or a professor.

Dan Welborn: That's right.

Dan Ryan: How did that come around?

Dan Welborn: so I was living in Philadelphia and was working for a kind of mid sized architecture firm doing both architecture and interiors. In fact, that's probably where I made the final transition is like I was the. Liaison between the two departments. So I worked in both departments. Um, but anyway, you know, I was coming up and I was looking for a little more challenge, not traveling the way we tend to travel in hospitality.

Uh, so got hooked up with, uh, Philadelphia University, which is now Thomas Jefferson University and their interior design program. Taught for a couple of years and that experience was invaluable. You know, if, uh, you know, clients can smell your bullshit, but nobody can smell your bullshit like a bunch of, uh, 18 to 21 year olds in design school.

So unless you have to have a clear understanding of your design perspective. You cannot come in and fake it. You have to know you have a conviction, uh, for what you're teaching and why. And, you know, so it was probably some of the best training that I had. I certainly learned a lot more than my students.

I'll guarantee you

Dan Ryan: oh my God. So then that's the example of, of really the teacher learning from the student, literally. Um,

Dan Welborn: in there. I'd be like, okay, I have to teach, you know, X tonight, you know, we're, we're doing a restaurant. So. What is my opinion about restaurants? You know, where do I really stand on this? Have I really thought through it that much? You know, could I design one? Yeah.

Can, you know, can I tell somebody how to start thinking about it and, you know, the areas they should focus in and what, you know, you really just, you have to think about it differently, you know, doing is very different than teaching, knowing how to, you know, having experience doing both is invaluable.

Dan Ryan: okay. Three years in, working on some exciting stuff, growing your book of business, still a sole proprietor, As you're looking forward, like, what's exciting you about what you see medium term and long term for you?

Dan Welborn: Well, what's exciting at this point, three years in is that I've proven to myself that there's a viable business here. I've been busy, you know, worked with multiple clients. So it's exciting to sort of have that chapter, um, sort of behind me. So looking forward,

Dan Ryan: Proof of concept, check.

Dan Welborn: check. Um, You know, looking forward, what I'm excited about is, is building, you know, on that, of course.

But I think industry wise, we're just starting to see things sort of fall out a bit post COVID. I mean, it's been a pretty tough journey, you know, so even the work that I've been doing, you know, there's been an awful, as much as, you know, thinking about design has been a part of it, I've also done an awful lot of thinking about where these hotel hotels have been from a deferred maintenance standpoint, you know, post COVID, you know, there's, there's a lot of things that, that, that COVID did to these hotels that sucked up capital that, that hasn't allowed a lot of owners to move forward, uh, with their vision.

So what I'm really excited about is I think within, you know, towards the end of this year and in the next year, We're going to see a lot of action. Um, I think transactions are, are, are, you know, starting to come back. It's going to force some pips. The brands are definitely starting to say, okay, enough's enough.

We have to do these renovations. So I think there's going to be a lot of opportunity for folks like me and designers and architects, um, in the hospitality world coming up. And I think, you know, from a, from a longer term

vision, you know, And I mean, 100 percent suppliers, um, you know, the longterm for me, you know, I'd like to explore some more sort of strategic partnerships with folks, you know, collaborate, uh, with, with peers, you know, cause that's the one thing you miss as a sole proprietor, you know, have great relationships with clients, you know, I feel like I definitely, um, fill that part of my life sphere that way, but, um, You know, the thing I miss about working with a team is, you know, that, that camaraderie.

So, you know, having some strategic relationships or potentially even, you know, pulling in some folks into my business. You know, it's kind of a long term vision that I'm excited to think about.

Dan Ryan: Cool. And what would be like, what would be like the perfect addition to your business, person wise, like type of person?

Like Liam Neeson says, they have a very specific set of skills. Like, so thinking about it from there, like,

Dan Welborn: I think to do consulting, there has to be the base level of experience. You know, that you've just done enough hotels, traveled enough, you know, there's got to be some base level. Beyond that, it's number one, you're a people person. You're great with clients, you listen. And I think having a creative problem solving mind is important.

You know, I think for my business, you know, to compliment, so to compliment what I do, you know, probably the thing for a strategy business would be to have somebody come in that had more of an operations, um, or more full project management construction side. Um, you know, to sort of compliment more of the design management, um, that I do.

So, you know, just from an expansion of the offering, I think that's the type of person, you know, that could create a more holistic, uh, strategic vision is, is, is that, so look, mostly I'd just be looking for somebody that I enjoyed working with that got along with my clients. And we could have a drink at the end of the week and a laugh and enjoy what we did together.

Dan Ryan: how long does it have to be before you can hire Camp Robbins?

Dan Welborn: Look, he's coming along. I think that, uh, you know, I've given him two more years, um, to when he, yeah,

Dan Ryan: He is really special.

Dan Welborn: he, he really is like, as soon as he can stop spilling his cereal on the floor, he's in. Um,

Dan Ryan: Good. Okay. We'll work on that. Um, so I like how you framed up like almost that fear of being the teacher to the students, right? It's like you learn so much and you better have your shit lined up. Um,

if you think about yourself being in front of your student self at Georgia Tech, either undergrad or grad, like what advice do you have for yourself preparing for this journey?

Dan Welborn: you know, I, I think the biggest thing I would tell that sort of scared young guy that, you know, was worried about, you know, success. I mean, not even success, you know, just making a place for himself somewhere in the architectural world, is don't get too ahead of yourself. Focus on the moment. Focus on the thing that's right in front of you and finish those things and finish them to your best ability.

The other things are going to come. Um, you know, that guy worried a lot about the future. And, you know, I think if you just take every opportunity, do your best at it, it opens up new opportunities. Um, you know, it's easy to say in hindsight. But it's a hundred percent right. The one thing I'll say about Georgia Tech is they did a great job of preparing by doing really ruthless juries and critiques and, you know, making you, forcing you to defend your ideas.

Um, and you know what, that's been invaluable. It sucked then, but if you like, that's the thing in this world that, you know, you, you can be a great designer, but if you're can't sell it. Um, it's going to make your life a lot harder. Yeah,

Dan Ryan: the most brutal form of feedback, right? So as you're building teams or a part of teams, like, maybe you don't go that far, but you also learn how to give it in a way that everyone can digest it more easily. I just find sometimes in some of those crits though, like, there's a lot, like, yeah, that you can get eviscerated, but, um, And I guess that's good as a student because you're like earning, learning and learning, earning your stripes, thickening your skin, but like out there in the real world, you got to work on your delivery.

Dan Welborn: very true. Very true. And you know what's worked for me and I've heard people say it to me is like if you can bring a calmness to the proceedings, it really changes the dynamic, you know, defensiveness or you know, those things don't tend to, uh, Lead to, you know, great solutions. So I think if you can sort of bring that calmness into some of these very difficult situations, um, and help lead people, uh, to an amicable solution, that's huge, massive skill.

Dan Ryan: I love it. Um, well, I feel like I need to be introduced to Art because he sounds awesome. And hopefully he'll give you a discount on your next session by the time that this thing airs. Uh, but I'm, thank you for like sharing that with everyone, because I think. It's so often that we don't, we're like so in our lives that we don't work on our lives.

So it's, and it's just really nice to get like that gentle reminder that it's, it's always good to work on, not necessarily be so caught up in our lives. So thank you. Um, if people wanted to learn more about you or what, what you're doing or how you, how they, how you can get involved with them, like what's the best way for them to get in touch.

Dan Welborn: Uh, you can always find me on LinkedIn or hit my website at, uh, dwdesignstrategy. com.

Dan Ryan: Awesome. I will definitely put all of that in the show notes and, um, Dan, thank you. I mean, it was so good to see you again. And, um, I'm looking forward to seeing you again soon, but it was great to be like, wait, I want to hear about your story and let's, let's get it out there and put yourself out there. So thank you for sharing your entrepreneurial journey and, and life story.

And, and, uh, and thanks for investing your time and putting yourself out there. So. I appreciate you and I'm grateful to know you.

Dan Welborn: Thank you, Dan. Thanks for letting me share. Always a pleasure. And next time we'll do some more sharing over a nice glass of wine.

Dan Ryan: Yes. Or a bourbon,

maybe a bourbon.

Um, and hey listeners, thank you. Um, because without you, I wouldn't be here talking to amazing people like Dan and learning like really cool people, learning about really cool people like Art Wild and sharing exercises with you. So if this helped you think about a new way to work on your life or on your business and not get so caught up in it from a hospitality perspective, Please pass it along.

We've grown by word of mouth and, um, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Finding Success In Constraints - Dan Welborn- Defining Hospitality - Episode # 145
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