Five Generations of Mountaintop Magic - Eric Gullickson - Defining Hospitality - Episode # 160

Dan Ryan: Today's guest is leading the charge at one of America's top resorts. He's spent nearly 15 years involved in the operations work of his resort, and a fifth generation Smiley family member who's been running the resort since 1869. So his family's been running this resort for over 155 years. He creates attractions that tie the guest's experience with the land around them. He's the president at Mohunk Mountain House. Ladies and gentlemen, Eric Welcome, Eric.
Eric Gullickson: Dan.
Dan Ryan: There's a lot of L's in there. I got
Eric Gullickson: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dan Ryan: tied.[00:01:00]
Dan Ryan: Um,
Eric Gullickson: a lot to, a lot to unpack there.
Dan Ryan: so I want to share with the readers a couple things.
Dan Ryan: Number one, I'm very excited to have Eric on this call for a big talk. Well, a bunch of different reasons. Firstly, we've been doing this podcast for almost two and I guess it'll be three years in August. Um, that's crazy. So I get a lot of inbounds for people who want to be guests on the podcasts. And normally there might not be a great fit or we're booked out really far.
Dan Ryan: Um, but Eric's team reached out and said that they'd love to have him on. And then I. I didn't even look forward, look, look deeper than the Mohonk Mountain House because I have such fond memories as a child. My uncle would take me up there and we would have hot chocolate and go hiking up in the Chagagunks.
Dan Ryan: And I just, I just have so many fond memories with my uncle Francois right there on the, on the, on the Chagagunks, which is like these rock promontories. It's a ridgeline. [00:02:00] And he was, he was a Spanish mountain climber and he, Never used ropes or anything. And as a five or six year old, he would, I would go up the face of some of these crazy rocks and he got his hand on my butt, pushing me up to get me like up to the top and safe.
Dan Ryan: And I'm just thinking about doing that with my kids right now. It freaks me out. Um, also with Berman Falk, who I spend most of my time working with as, um, We're doing a renovation there, which is really exciting. And I don't know if you guys could envision, uh, you guys have to, we'll put a link in the show notes, but it's such a majestic, incredible building that they don't build anymore at the top of a mountain on a lake, really beautifully situated at the, Like pretty much the entrance to the Catskills about just over an hour from New York City. It's really a majestic place. So tying all these things together when I saw this, I was like, Oh my God, I want this so much. [00:03:00] And the fourth point I'd like to make is, um, for a previous guest, Scott Hammons with, um, Ground Level and HEI is on the board. At Mohonk Mountain House as well, because he started his hospitality career.
Dan Ryan: And I think he talked about it. If I remember correctly in our podcast, or it was the sidebar conversation, I don't remember doing security at the Mohonk Mountain House. So I'm just really excited to have you on, Eric. And this is a longer intro than I normally give. So I hope everyone kind of stayed with us, but before we get into your journey and kind of talking about the what's and the why's about what you do, um, what does hospitality mean to you?
Dan Ryan: And, and. Yeah, let's start there. What does hospitality mean to you?
Eric Gullickson: Hospitality. Hospitality for me is ensuring the comfort and contentment of every guest and anticipating their needs, [00:04:00] but also I think Understanding that every individual has their unique story and is, has their unique needs as well. So I think anticipating, but also making sure we're fully present with those guests when they are here and, and listening and, um, then delivering our service.
Eric Gullickson: That's, um, I think a, One of the things just in general with, in, in life, I think it's important to be, to be able to listen and be compassionate just as a, just as a friend. And so essentially that's what we espouse here with our staff and how we hope our guests feel well cared for, um, with the ultimate intent that, That they feel when their, when their stay is over, even while they're leaving, they're already longing to want to return.
Eric Gullickson: They're, you know, a bit sad that they have to go and already thinking about their next visit here. So that's, that's [00:05:00] how I would define hospitality in my mind and certainly how we aim to deliver it here at Mohawk Mountain
Eric Gullickson: House.
Dan Ryan: there's all these buzzwords that come out, AI coming top of mind right now, but another one that I'm hearing is a lot is outdoor leisure, um, as far as a segment within the hospitality industry and what I'm, what I'm What I want to say is the Mohonk Mountain House was really doing outdoor leisure from day one. And so while it is a buzzword, I would say that you and your family were really on the vanguard of what this idea of outdoor leisure is right now. Um, and I wanted to, I'm just lobbing that up for you because I'm curious,
Dan Ryan: like, what your take on this, New buzzword is, but you've been doing it
Dan Ryan: for, since just after the civil war.
Eric Gullickson: Right. I think, I think you're absolutely right. And I, I, I think it's a function of my ancestors who founded, [00:06:00] um, this place or at least found this land and, and ultimately acquired it, um, in 1869. They themselves were looking for a respite, a retreat place to get away from at that time, what was a busy life and for their families.
Eric Gullickson: Nothing has changed in that regard. Um, everybody who flocked, everybody that flocks to this area, the Shongun Bridge or out of the New York City metropolitan area, I believe that they're looking for space and, um, connecting with nature. And so for us, the way that my, not only were my ancestors, Looking for that for themselves, but they also ultimately found this land and recognized how special it was.
Eric Gullickson: And, and, and also within the proximity of these busy metropolitan areas. And they were only getting busier and the pace of life was [00:07:00] only, and has only increased since then for 155 years. It hasn't slowed down. It's only, uh, sped up. So I think to your point, it's, it continues to be very relevant. And provide, um, great, uh, opportunity and fuel and for anybody who's looking for, uh, balance, life balance.
Eric Gullickson: And so that fundamentally at the core is, is a principle that is not going away and is only going to become more important. And so for us here, our goal is to really protect that as an opportunity for people with the land and the, and the experience people have here at the Mountain House, um, to protect that so people can continue to for the next 150 plus years.
Eric Gullickson: Benefit from where we are, this, this amazing natural landscape. And, um, you had mentioned in your intro, the cliffs and the topography, it's really inspiring and it's, [00:08:00] and it's only 90 minutes from, you know, Manhattan center and, and an easy access. from other metropolitan areas. And people really don't realize how unique it is until, until you land here.
Eric Gullickson: And that's really, really a key piece
Dan Ryan: yeah. And I'd love to, I'd love to dig into that point because, okay. As someone who lives in or is visiting New York city, let's just take Manhattan as the most central location and most visited, I would say, um, There's so many options. You can go out, out east to the Hamptons. You can go to the other beaches in Long Island.
Dan Ryan: You can go down to, uh, the coast of New Jersey. You can go to the Poconos. Um, you can go up to the Berkshires. I think I would argue that the You're closer than all of those other places. And what could someone who lives in or is visiting New York city [00:09:00] expect? Like, what's a win for you, for someone who's, it's a first time visitor, they live in Manhattan, they're working, you know, 60 hour weeks, and then it's their first experience going out there.
Dan Ryan: What are some of the accolades that you receive from a guest visiting?
Eric Gullickson: Sure. Yeah. We, we, um, as soon as you enter the property, so you're, you're, first of all, we're up, perched on top of a mountain and the, the resort, that building itself, glacial lake. So it's. The location that my ancestors chose in that regard is pretty remarkable and has really been unchanged since, since they ended up developing it, um, in 1869 and up until the turn of the century, which is when most of the development happened.
Eric Gullickson: And then since then, we've been in a focused on maintaining and enhancing. But, um, so it's that, it's that inspiration when, and that. And that powerful feeling when you approach the property, because once you [00:10:00] enter the gatehouse, which is what we call our entry point by car, you're welcomed. And then you start to drive up a, you know, roughly it's about a mile and a half, two mile road up to the core area, which is where the resort is.
Eric Gullickson: You're driving through a natural landscape with exposed rock, uh, quartz conglomerate, white, really, um, dramatic rock. And you're, you're beginning to see some of these. West vistas that look out to the Catskills. And so there's this approach and along the way, there are signs that say, slowly and quietly, please.
Eric Gullickson: And it's really just a reminder, as you enter into the resort, you're, you're coming into a different space. Really, we're, we're suggesting that this is the time to decompress between, you know, entering the, at the gatehouse and arriving at the resort. Decompress and sort of mind reset your [00:11:00] mind to this, the intention, which is to come here and to let down and relax.
Eric Gullickson: And so that, has, is, and has been the intention for years. And so that would be the ultimate goal is once people arrive here, they feel that real sense of settling down and, and, um, relaxation. And then, um, once they come up and arrive right at the core area, then they're inspired by the, the vision of the, the majestic hotel, the Mountain House, which is, it's a 250, 000 hotel.
Eric Gullickson: 53 Room Resort Hotel with stone. Um, and oftentimes this gets described as a castle. It's perched right on a glacial lake and there's views of cliff faces. And, um, and so it's that, it's that arrival. Experience of, and realizing that, wow, this is, this is incredibly unique and I want to explore more. So every [00:12:00] turn that you take as you arrive is unfolding something new and creates a sense of, um, interest and exploration.
Eric Gullickson: So that's, that's the hope is that when people enter through the gatehouse and begin the journey, that they become more and more intrigued. And certainly that's why I said it earlier, like you really, it's really important for people to come and. arrive and to visit because there are incredible pictures and you can see what the topography is like and, and we can talk a lot about the type of service that we provide.
Eric Gullickson: But until you're here, you're really not going to get fullness in that sense of how majestic and how, um, special this place is.
Dan Ryan: And for those of you who are driving and can't click on the link to go to the Mohunk Mountain or, um, you're on an airplane or commuting or you're just not able, it's, it's very interesting. And I, when I look at, when I see this beautiful building, [00:13:00] this castle on the top of a hill, it almost reminds me of some of those really majestic Canadian Pacific hotels, which has since converted to Fairmonts. Um, yeah. These massive hotels like it reads like a massive hotel, but it I'm surprised it only has 250 rooms first of all, because it reads massive. But when you go back in history and look at those Canadian Pacific hotels. There was a function, a functionality to them and that they were set up over the course of the Canadian Pacific railroad. And it was people who were like getting on a boat from England or Europe to Nova Scotia, and then they would get on the train and go across the Atlantic to get to the Pacific and see Canada or go onward into the Pacific. Um, but there was, there was a functionality in that these train loads of people would go and have this. Incredible experience. What's interesting about [00:14:00] your property is that it wasn't built with that functionality in mind. I, at least I don't think I could be wrong, but it was really just. The function was an escape,
Dan Ryan: right? So, Yeah. it's a destination in and of itself, and so close to the city. It's, uh, it's really remarkable. And I want to go into the five generations, because I know you've referred to them a couple times as your ancestors. Which they are, um, were there, from your ancestors who started it, who bought the land and developed the property and now, you know, you're, you're the steward of it, were there any kind of first principles that they laid out?
Dan Ryan: Because we do have a lot of entrepreneurs who listen to this that are either nascent in their entrepreneurial journey. Or have multi generational businesses. And we, we've spoken to a [00:15:00] few of those. They've been a couple of guests. Were there any first principles that your family had set up so that you, you guys can continue to steward this amazing property and create these experiences for people, but also, you know, run a business.
Eric Gullickson: Right. Yeah. I actually, I would attribute our, a large part of our success to what you're suggesting, which is that, you know, the, the original, um, brothers, the twins that founded Mohonk were, were Quakers. They had, they had been, um, Quakers for life and were practicing Quakers and had those principles embedded in the way they lived their life, but also ultimately As I noted, they weren't, when they came here, they weren't thinking about starting a business.
Eric Gullickson: This was to be their home, their home away from home and the busy parts of their other parts of their lives. And then ultimately they started [00:16:00] hosting friends and family here. And then that expanded, um, to, you know, other individuals. And ultimately they added on to the, what was the existing tavern here and, um, and became a business.
Eric Gullickson: Innkeepers, they never intended to do that. That was never their intention. That was sort of, they became innkeepers and by, by accident. Um, and in, in large part, this is related to what you were saying earlier, which is, this is the destination. This is not a stop along a railway. This is, you, you have to go on a journey to get here with full intention.
Eric Gullickson: And when you arrive, at least then you'd stay for, Weeks at a time and, and really connect and, and commit to, you know, sort of what was happening here in principle. And in large part, that was early on. That was, um, you know, there were services on Sundays. There was, um, uh, there was no, The resort was run within the principles of Quaker faith.
Eric Gullickson: And so there was no card playing. There was no alcohol. There was no [00:17:00] dancing. For example, those types of things were an extension of the principles of the, then the sole proprietors, Albert and Alfred. And, and so those, although those principles and those, the types of, um, operating parameters don't. Today, for example, obviously we have bars and we have dancing and we allow card playing and all the things that, that they today would probably be, you know, shocked of, but, um, the principles and you use that word principles are foundational.
Eric Gullickson: Um, and we, in fact. In Generation 2, there was an intention to ensure that we continued the, the intention of, of these principles, not necessarily, not in a binding way, not to, not to tie our hands to, to be sustainable as a resort hotel, as times changed and they anticipated that. But [00:18:00] more foundationally to be, um, hospitality professionals, caring for people, listening, um, hoping for consensus, uh, conciliatory, conciliatory kind of, you know, Engagement with, um, with each other and just coming to decisions.
Eric Gullickson: And then also, um, a piece of, uh, hoping and looking for peace, you know, that was another big part piece, you know, and not being war, supporting the war efforts. So all those principles I think are very foundational to hospitality and just caring for people. So, and, and in fact, To the, to the point at which they, the generation two created a statement of principles, which was, was, as I've already somewhat articulated, fairly intentional in that it suggested as the generations continued on, there was a [00:19:00] hope that the family would continue to stay involved, own and operate the resort.
Eric Gullickson: But also maintain these foundational principles that I've been talking around and, um, as a business and find and strike the balance between that. So for us, obviously we have to be profitable and running a resort hotel like any other resort hotel would, uh, today. However, we, we weigh heavily in our decisions, how our, um, operating parameters or operating commitments have an impact on, say, for example, um, how crowded this resort may be, um, or how it would impact the natural landscape if we were to build another facility to support, um, You know, whether it was more rooms or a, you know, a recreational facility, those types of commitments are, are [00:20:00] strongly balanced with these, these, uh, intentions of maintaining serenity within the core area.
Eric Gullickson: And with the original intention was to maintain that opportunity for guests to appreciate and enjoy it. So you, you really, you talked about the expanse of the mountain house and being surprised about it only having 253 rooms. It used to have more because there was. Bathway, bathrooms in the hallways, and now, you know, over the years, we, of course, had to modernize and provide a bathroom in every room for all guests and and create suites and so forth.
Eric Gullickson: And that's what creates some of the unique rooms that we have. And and even more so, not just the landscape, but the uniqueness of the building. But it also speaks to how mindful we are about maintaining spaces in the house for public areas, for sitting and being contemplated. We have a library.
Eric Gullickson: We have a lake lounge that overlooks the lake. We have a parlor. We have some of the traditional spaces that existed a hundred plus years ago are still [00:21:00] there and we still consider them important and sacred so our guests can enjoy, uh, Time outside of their room in these public areas, whether they want to be social or they want to sit and read a book near a fire.
Eric Gullickson: So, um, these are all of these principles and all these intentions continue to drive how we make decisions in any type of capital investment or operational investment that we make today. So it's. And, and those, that statement of principles run strong, even to the point where we just continue, we just completed a strategic plan, which businesses often do periodically, well, we just completed one and the dominance of the statement of principles and the, and those principles and the essence.
Eric Gullickson: We call it some of the essence of Mohonk, which are, you know, nature, community, family, um, and, uh, and history. Those [00:22:00] components continue to be the foundational components of how we operate our business and make decisions. And, and, and then at the core of that, it's a commitment to. Providing opportunity for family, for the fifth, sixth, seventh generation to be engaged.
Eric Gullickson: And the intention is to be, continue to be owning and operating the resort for furthermore. So it's, um, we're super, we're super lucky and, um, and have this great opportunity to, to build upon the strength. Of these principled intentions. And then at the same time, um, not be so restricted so we can't adapt and be it.
Eric Gullickson: Make sure we're responding to what guests needs are and then the modern, you know, in the modern day and what they expect in coming to a resort hotel.
Dan Ryan: So I'd like to, I want to come back to that, that, part of your, of the stakeholders and, and your strategic plan and first principles [00:23:00] as a, as a multi generational family business. Uh, but before I do it, I just about, I don't know, in the past two months, there's been so much great learning over the past three years of doing this podcast with people such and guests, such as yourself, but there's so much learning that I benefit from. And that the listeners do, but then, you know, it gets further down the queue in your podcast list. So I, I started to create, I created a newsletter called the Friday five, where I promote the current episode. And then I go, I tie that episode and like a little theme to a past episode so that the learnings kind of stays evergreen and fresh. Um, one of the,
Dan Ryan: a couple of weeks ago, I did one, it was on a multi generational business. Guess that the, with the founder of it and in the newsletter, I did a little research and I was writing and I found that, and I heard this before, but I did a little research on it, but there's this Japanese inn that was founded in 718 AD.
Dan Ryan: So it's been [00:24:00] operated for 46 generations,
Eric Gullickson: That's which is crazy. right.
Dan Ryan: And, uh, it's not the oldest company in Japan either. There's like a construction company that was old, a little older. It's like 1400 years. It's been around running a business. is difficult. Doing anything is difficult. Running a family business Is I would say a little bit more difficult, right?
Dan Ryan: Because it's not like you're not making business decisions all the time. Like there's like, there's passions and familial stuff and
Dan Ryan: baggage that goes along with it.
Eric Gullickson: Mm hmm. Hmm.
Dan Ryan: running a multi generational business with a plan and a strategy to keep that multi generational business going, I would say. It's just so, um, confounding to me.
Dan Ryan: Like that has got to be, if there's a spectrum of difficulty, way more difficult. And I have a feeling, cause I've heard you say a couple of things that I'm quite interested in. [00:25:00] Um. You mentioned, I think you didn't call them stakeholders, but like in any business, you have shareholders and then you have stakeholders, right?
Dan Ryan: In a business, you're supposed to make returns and for your shareholders. But what I found in, especially in a lot of the hospitality conversations is if you're not paying, and I guess it goes for any business, but for our little channel, um, you have to pay attention to the stakeholders. And in your case, it was nature, the community.
Dan Ryan: your family and the history.
Dan Ryan: And if you're paying attention to the stakeholders, the shareholders are going to benefit. But sometimes, especially in a multi generational business where you're trying to stay true to those first principles by your Quaker ancestors, like, how do you, from like a governance perspective, how do, how do you balance all that stuff and keep it going?
Dan Ryan: It just seems, um, like a Herculean task to keep all of that [00:26:00] going. And sometimes you're, I'm sure you're making decisions. In the short term don't are not great for the shareholders, but perhaps in the longterm and you're talking hundreds of years, hopefully they are. So just, I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.
Dan Ryan: Cause it's like, it's such
Dan Ryan: a, a Rubik's cube to me that I just don't understand.
Eric Gullickson: Yeah. Well, yeah, you tapped into something that is, uh, You know, that's, I think really critical for us. And again, for the, for the tenure that we've been here is it's fundamentally, I think that the principles. Building consensus has been and continues to be, um, a strong element of our family and how we, um, move and continue to move ahead with sustaining this business.
Eric Gullickson: You know, surprisingly, when we, when we went through the strategic planning effort this past year in, we'd actually do, do use the term stakeholders. We talk about. The enlarged, this, the, this, the [00:27:00] massive individuals includes our board, our trust and our family and, and our staff and the community in, in, in different levels.
Eric Gullickson: But we included those individuals, all, all these different groups in the process in developing our strategic plan. It was, um, that's why it took 12 months, you know, a year. Um, and, and the commitment to do that was, uh, uh, We made the commitment early on and we knew that, um, we knew early on because we did some surveying and luckily, and I wasn't really surprised at this, that, that there was very strong commitment right at the beginning to commit to continuing as a family owned and operated resort for furthermore.
Eric Gullickson: So, and that is, um, you know, you can't, that's not a foregone conclusion. You can't necessarily. You know, suggest that that's what everybody wants. But, but in this case, [00:28:00] the stakeholders overwhelmingly support that intention. So with that as your, is your vision and your strategic vision, there's a lot of power and momentum, I think, you know, because then everything you're building is, is built on that intention.
Eric Gullickson: And, and the other, the other things just more, uh, granularly and structurally, you talked about, um. And this again was due to the wisdom of our, you know, our, our ancestors in, uh, And they're building of the, um, The organization and when the transition from sole proprietors to partners, to a trust, what's very different about my family and the way that we run our, our businesses, that we, I, uh, collect a paycheck like any other employee does here.
Eric Gullickson: And so there's no dividends that go to the family. Every, all the profit goes back into the business, into perpetuating and maintaining the business. And that whether that's, you know, again, you have to come [00:29:00] here to understand it, but we have, you know, 1500 acres of. Carriageway infrastructure that was developed the turn of the century that, um, and then, you know, a hundred plus outbuildings that support the operation here.
Eric Gullickson: And so the vision is, is that it takes a lot of cash to, to maintain that type of infrastructure and even more so today in the, in the competitive environment where a lot of other resorts and properties don't have that level of commitment where for us, all of our profit is driving back into.
Eric Gullickson: Continuing to maintain and improve the property. And so that's when I use the term stewardship earlier. That's really in large part. What our focus is, is to continue to steward this property. And it's not just myself. It's all employees that are here and even the guests. I mean, you could even, you know, I was having a conversation with my cousin, Tom Smiley, who I co lead with.
Eric Gullickson: He's the CEO and I'm the president. Um, [00:30:00] we're both fifth generation. And, um, And we were talking about how, you know, guests come here and they pay a rate. We're all inclusive or most, most activities are inclusive. Some, some additional fees for certain recreation activities and so forth. But the rate you pay your, as a guest, I think we could make the, the, uh, the point or the argument, or, you know, suggest that that is going back into perpetuating and maintaining the property because the profits, you know, That we, that we pull in, go right back into sustaining this place.
Eric Gullickson: So they, those guests and their, their generations of their families can continue to come back here and enjoy all these, all these essence, these elements that we've been discussing. And I think that to me, at the foundation, at the core is. What we're, what we're and what our responsibility is, what we're charged with and what our responsibility is.
Eric Gullickson: And it feels that to [00:31:00] me is a mission. It feels very pure and I can get behind, you know, and, and that, and that's important, like, you know, I've worked in other places and, and, uh, have made a conscious choice to come back and work for the family business in large part, because my life experience has, has, you know, I've learned that, you know, I want to, I want to be connected to a place that has a strong mission that I can be comfortable supporting and, and, and, and get behind and put my energy into.
Eric Gullickson: And, and I think that, that is an, is a somewhat of a long answer to why I think, you know, to your question, like why Mohunk is unique and why we've sustained through the generations is because of that, that dynamic in terms of how we, how Our continues, even into our fifth generation of ownership to focus on, uh, somewhat of a selflessness.
Eric Gullickson: Like I'm not, we're not here to benefit [00:32:00] ourselves in terms of getting as much of profit off of it to, for a dividend. It's, it's the profit is to. Sustain this business. So you and your children and anybody who comes here can continue to come here and enjoy it and benefit from what I've benefited from here.
Eric Gullickson: You know, I've grown up here enjoying the property and enjoying the resort myself. And it's enriched, it's enriched my life. I, I get to work with hundreds of beautiful and incredible people. I get to meet thousands of incredible guests from all over the country and the world. You know, it's like, how lucky am I to have that as a part of my life?
Eric Gullickson: And so I think in the, in the grand scheme of things to sustain today and to really continue to build strength and perpetuate, um, I feel very compelled to, you know, to, to continue to do that. And I think it's, I think it's unique. It's a unique, it's a unique model. [00:33:00] And, um, but it's, it's in large part, I think why we've sustained.
Dan Ryan: And I don't know if it's possible to answer this, but if you were to, if you were to just guess, like, if you're, if the originally, if the original Smiley Brothers, the Quakers who started the, who bought the property in 1869, um, if they were to go back in time, 1300 years to Japan and meet the family who created this inn,
Dan Ryan: Right.
Dan Ryan: What, where do you, obviously they're, they're not speaking the same language. It's probably so crazy, different, whatever, but where do you think they find common ground, those two different people?
Dan Ryan: Like if, like where, what is the common ground that they have in plotting this kind of North star of a, of a multi generational business?
Eric Gullickson: Yeah, exactly. That's a neat, that's a neat thing to think about. I think it's, again, I think you hit on the, I think the core of what it, um, of what we focus [00:34:00] on. And I think it's the core of anybody's, uh, success in maintaining relationships and community, which is, is having a care and concern for the people around you.
Eric Gullickson: And. And the, what you, what you care for, not just the people, but what you also care for in land and in facility, I think my sense is, is that any business that sustains for 53 generations or whatever it may be, they have pretty clear vision about what their mission and intention is. And, uh, And what I think is kind of beautiful about what we're, what we're talking about.
Eric Gullickson: And again, for me here at Mohonk, it's pretty simple, you know, it's, it's simple, it's complex and it becomes increasingly complex to, to, um, protect and maintain it across the generations. But I think foundationally, it's, it's what, you know, it's what we talk about when you, when you care [00:35:00] for anybody and you, you understand that people, what people need in life balance and what we provide here for people, it's, it's Including ourselves and guests and our employees.
Eric Gullickson: I would suspect that, you know, the, the Japanese family that started their businesses were very committed to the people that they supported, their employees and, and how they related to the success of the business. You know, that's a strong focus of what Mohonk is about. We have the high season, we have 750 employees, you know, we're, we are a major employer and we have a major.
Eric Gullickson: of, of extended Mohawk family. I, I, my guess and my senses is that, that, that, that would be a foundational or, or a common principle between these two businesses, um, Additionally, um, strong leaders, individuals and a family that is, uh, that has a clear vision, as I said, principles, um, that aren't just, that, [00:36:00] that don't just come from one person in one generation and, and isn't, and, and aren't memorialized.
Eric Gullickson: I think you need to, I think as we've learned is, is really setting the intention and then memorializing it. And at the same time, and this is the trick, I think, is, is understanding that you have to be adaptable and with, cause of the, of the pace of life and the, and the change that you can't anticipate. I mean, my, the original, the sole proprietors of my family, they couldn't have anticipated the types of things that we'd be dealing with today.
Eric Gullickson: And, but at the same time, you have to have a faith that, Okay, we're going to build our mission and our intention and our vision on these principles that aren't going to change. I foundationally don't think, you know, love caring for people and providing serenity, being surrounded by nature and, um, just really focusing on those, those principles continue [00:37:00] to be foundational.
Eric Gullickson: And as long as we stay embedded in that, in our, in our business principles, the, the other elements of, of around us will be changing and we can adapt to those. But if we stay founded in those roots, then, then we're going to be just fine. You know, and I think, you know, then other people, employees, family, um, guests will be drawn to that because I think it's like just what you look for and long for with your family, sitting around the dinner table, connecting, having support, having love, having the consistency of, of that, um, community.
Eric Gullickson: Is I think what people are looking for more and more in an increasingly complex world, you know, like with the digital landscape, it's, it, it becomes so fractured. And so that I think that's becomes really even more foundationally important as time goes by. Right,
Dan Ryan: to the founding brothers and you're like, can you [00:38:00] imagine like at some point each room is going to have to have its own bathroom. They'd be like, no way. I can't believe it.
Eric Gullickson: right, right, right. Yeah. And, and the other thing is, is that, you know, they being frugal and being resourceful and, and, and finding efficiencies, those, those are qualities that we still have today, you
Dan Ryan: Well, you know, you know, what I think as you were talking and what I realized, like I had a little light bulb moment as I was talking to you, I think that the other buzzword of sustainability Which I'm a, I'm fully bought into hook, line and sinker from an environmental perspective, but you kept saying the word stewardship. And if I think about a 46 generation business or a fifth generation business and, and incorporating stakeholders, it's really the ultimate type of sustainability, right? You're you're everything that I haven't seen your strategic plan, but everything I'm hearing you say is making me think like, [00:39:00] how do you make this thing sustain?
Dan Ryan: And. Again, sustainability, it's become all about the environment. I get that. And that, that's kind of where it belongs. But as you're thinking about, you know, the first stakeholder you said was nature. The second one was community. Like that's what sustainability is all about. And like leaving, what, you know, you go camping, it's take only pictures, leave only footprints.
Dan Ryan: Um,
Eric Gullickson: That's I think that's so relevant and so interesting because we talk about that here, you know, that, that we can't, we couldn't sustain this place and the vastness of its, of the land and the, and the infrastructure here, if the business didn't exist and wasn't successful. And, and so it's a balance.
Eric Gullickson: We talk a lot about the balance and, and I think what you're hitting on is really interesting and like, what does sustainability mean? Like we couldn't be, we couldn't focus on being, um, [00:40:00] and protecting this natural landscape and being a sustainable business if, if we weren't, if we weren't here doing what we do and providing this opportunity for the community, for our employees.
Eric Gullickson: And so it's all, it's all interconnected in that way. It's, it's, it's a balance of, and, So I, I, I definitely think that sustainability, you know, today as a buzzword, people think about it specifically as, you know, well, how does that relate to how you're impacting the environment, the natural world? And. And although we very much, you know, our, our operation is, is embedded and has been, has been run in that way.
Eric Gullickson: It's through efficiencies, through, you know, all the different types of, um, we, you know, things that we do for composting and, you know, the usual things, but to your point, and I think to the point that you're bringing up, which is very interesting, like we, being a sustainable business, you, it's a balance you have to, because if we did not.
Eric Gullickson: If [00:41:00] we did not make profit, if we just focused on, the environment, then we would become a land preserve, you know, and that's a different business.
Dan Ryan: Well, you know, as we're thinking, I, I, I, go and I think, okay, I'm like a huge fan of capitalism. Capitalism to me is what has brought. Billions, or the population has grown to 7 billion people. Um, it's brought more people out of poverty than any other form of government, uh, or form of self governance, I guess.
Dan Ryan: Um, but it also. In paying attention strictly to shareholders as capitalism does. Um, it's almost, it becomes like this hype. Each business becomes this hyper efficient, almost like a shark, right? Swimming around and eating things. And it's super efficient and it's
Dan Ryan: purpose built to return, um, to provide returns to the shareholders. But I think as we talk about sustainability, I think the biggest part about sustainability is [00:42:00] really taking into account. And defining who those other stakeholders are. And I don't think there's people like you at Mohonk and there's other, there are other businesses out there that are, that are taking the stakeholders into account, but it's really like, I think we're at this place now where it's like, okay, well, how do we find this balance of
Dan Ryan: stakeholders? And shareholders. And I don't think we're there yet, but it's, you know, I've, I believe through the efforts of, uh, businesses like you and families like yours and other ones out there where this, this, in this marketplace of ideas where it's kind of, it's, it's happening, it's iterating. And
Dan Ryan: that's also what capitalism versus like a centrally controlled
Dan Ryan: economy.
Dan Ryan: It figures itself out. It allows that
Dan Ryan: free marketplace of ideas to come. Um, I just want it to happen faster,
Dan Ryan: I guess.
Eric Gullickson: Yeah. I mean, I absolutely think that's right. And I think, I mean, First of all, I'm [00:43:00] like you, I'm hopeful. I think that, I think that there's no question that we have to, and are moving that way in terms of just the way that we're thinking about, you know, capitalism and businesses and the impact that they have for me and for Mohan closer to home.
Eric Gullickson: And this, as you suggest this marketplace of ideas, we, you know, our, our guests and our customers are what, or what keep us going, you know, right. They're the ones that, that support us and support our mission ultimately. So aligning with, you know, the principles that we've been speaking of. And what the customer wants is really important, right?
Eric Gullickson: Answering to what their needs are. You know, having your own vision and mission is important, but also knowing what the customer wants and what they're purchasing and the type of experience that they want to have. And so we believe fundamentally that what we offer and what we have for a hundred plus years are principles that people really desire and will continue to want to pay for, and, and they value that.
Eric Gullickson: And as such. And [00:44:00] in the way that we're talking about sustainability or people's choice, like they're voting with their dollar, you know, people are going to want to see and understand clearly the mission of Mohawk, you know, guests are, and customers are becoming, I think, more discerning about principally what they're investing in, not just, you know, in their, You know, 401k or in their, you know, the, you know, the normal definition of investments, but what they're spending their money on day to day and what types of principles, the companies and the businesses that they're doing, you know, that they're communicating with and doing business with, what types of principles they have and do they align with them?
Eric Gullickson: Like, I think furthermore, we're going to see more and more of that. And we're seeing more and more of that with our customers. You know, like we, for example, we. You know, we were like many other, um, properties and like what has happened in the world in the last, in my lifetime, in the last 20 years. And this is a small example, but like bottled water, microplastics, for example, you know, like it [00:45:00] just blew up, you know, like all of a sudden bottled water became like this thing and diminished the importance of, I think, people's perception of, you know, Maintaining water quality in their own areas and thinking that somehow water was like bottled water was more pristine and higher value than, you know, what is in their own community.
Eric Gullickson: And so for us, you know, we've been pulling water off of our land for many, you know, for a hundred plus years, really great water quality. We test it all the time. So we, we made an intention. And are continuing to do this as a challenge because of how omnipresent that type of product is in the market. But, you know, is to, is to go away from offering bottled water to our guests and go towards suggesting that in fact, our, the water we source off of our land is, is more pure and better than any bottled water that you can get.
Eric Gullickson: And so that's, you know, one example of, and we've been hearing that from our guests, like, you know, how can, how does a place like Mohonk, you know, in this day and age. [00:46:00] Provide bottled water and contributing to one of the, you know, environmental, you know, challenges today of microplastics. And so, you know, we're very aware of that and heard that loud and clear.
Eric Gullickson: And we installed a bunch of water filling stations, you know, and that's not, it's, that's not like, Oh, pat yourself on the back and you know, what a great idea, but it's fundamentally the most important thing to be doing as a business owner is to be
Eric Gullickson: focusing on your impact and how you're, how you're affecting the environment.
Eric Gullickson: The environment, but also we heard loud and clear from our customers. So to the point, you know, like there's going to be some people who would potentially not choose to vote with their dollar and come here because, Oh, well, I don't support that type of business practice where on the other hand, they may come here because we conversely don't provide, you know, hundreds and hundreds of bottled water to guests and then contribute to that, to that one small, uh, environmental impact that we're, that we're seeing today.
Eric Gullickson: So, you know, that, I think. Is foundationally a key piece of, [00:47:00] uh, for me and for Mohonk to continue to be focused on those types of operating, uh, impacts and, and, and understanding it. It directly relates to the guests and how a guest chooses to spend their
Dan Ryan: Hmm. Um, that's like, I did want to circle back to the dollars and I'm glad you brought it up because, and you did mention it a little bit, but I'm just thinking as far as. As the evolution of the guests, your employees, um, the community, as that evolves over 160, however many years, um, what are, what are some of the unique challenges that you face as far as like how to maintain it from, from like a capital expenditure perspective?
Dan Ryan: Because I heard you say earlier, That, you know, all the profits go into a trust and it goes into maintaining the land. But what are some unique challenges that you guys face at Mo, at Mohonk in, in doing that
Eric Gullickson: sure. It, I think a couple of [00:48:00] things, first of all, resources, you know, limited resources that are always a challenge. You know, we have, as I was already noted, you know, we have a lot of, Infrastructure here to maintain. So we talk about the profit, but the profit that we have goes back into really ultimately just maintaining the existing infrastructure.
Eric Gullickson: And then if we do have a larger commitment, whether it's a mast, we have master planning and intention to, to, um, build out, you know, whether it's a large capital project, for example. Um, we built a spa, um, and then we also have, this was within the last 15 years. Um, those types of projects for us are significant in that, A, we, as noted, we don't just easily take over natural land to build something.
Eric Gullickson: We think about the impact and how it's going to relate to the original intention and how this property was curated in the core area. We do it very mindfully. And then [00:49:00] also, you know, um, the, Making sure that we have the ability to absorb the You know, absorb that commitment in our, in our budget planning, in our year over year, you know, uh, cashflow it's, you know, those are, those are, and will continue to be the challenges with, um, increasing inflation and, and cost of, you know, employment and, um, and so forth and regulations that we, you know, And insurance and all the things that I think every business owner has to focus on and the overhead costs that continue to escalate.
Eric Gullickson: Um, and so making sure we have enough resources to not only maintain what we have, but also stay relevant and provide the, um, experiences that our guests expect when they come to a resort. And, you know, you had mentioned in the intro, in fact, uh, how we've adapted this natural landscape to providing guests, you know, with [00:50:00] opportunities With the inherent beauty of what we have. And so, you know, some of those examples are that, you know, we don't, we're not going to be quick to build, like say, for example, a zip line or like, you know, a water park, which you would see at other, maybe other properties and that's okay. You talk about the other properties, you know, that have ocean, we're not, you know, we're not oceanfront, you know, and people want to have those experiences.
Eric Gullickson: Then they go and have those experiences, but we can, but we provide, you know, we're a resort, destination resort on a mountaintop, and we have the We have these unique qualities and one being this cliff face that you talked about, you know, so this, this shongun conglomerate, this, this really hard quartz conglomerate.
Eric Gullickson: And so in the last year we just developed, um, people know, uh, over in Italy, it's called a via ferrata, which is like, um, an iron it's that's loosely translated as an iron way. It's a way in World War II, Italian soldiers would, went over the Dolomites and carried, you know, their equipment. [00:51:00] There aren't, you know, their war equipment over the Dolomites.
Eric Gullickson: And, and when the war ended, these, um, these cables that were affixed to the rock and they had built rungs for the soldiers to be able to transport things over easily by essentially by foot over these cliffs, over these rocks, um, became, they became, Recreational opportunities. And, and, and so we being where we are in the last several years, conceived this intention that we would, and could use some of our existing cliff faces in our area, uh, right in the core area to provide that type of an experience for our guests, it was low impact.
Eric Gullickson: So in other words, it, it, you know, it doesn't impact the natural landscape outside of, you know, drilling into the rock with a stainless fixed. Anchor, and then providing a route for people to experience it. So it's not unlike what people would know today is like a rock climbing experience, which we've had here since the forties and fifties.
Eric Gullickson: The Gunks is what it's called. And people are [00:52:00] familiar with the Gunks and the famous Gunks climbs. People come from all over the world to climb here. Um, but in this way, we've, we here in the core area have provided two opportunities, um, the Via Ferrata on Eagle Cliff, which is right outside of the hotel, the mountain house.
Eric Gullickson: Um, and then also another. Custom built path. It's called Pinnacle Ledges, which has a sky bridge, there's sky ladders, and then there's features along the cliff face on the Via Ferrata that, um, provide people and guests with yet another experience outside of what they already have here in terms of, you know, going out on the carriage roads on their mountain bikes, on horseback, hiking rock, scrambling
Dan Ryan: just, I, I just looked up the via Ferrata image on a Google image search while you were talking,
Dan Ryan: and it looks amazing and I wish I could do that, but I am terribly. Scared of heights at that. I
Dan Ryan: get, I get weird vertigo, but it would be
Dan Ryan: amazing.
Dan Ryan: That's, but it is super low impact. It's really just like these
Eric Gullickson: [00:53:00] Yes.
Dan Ryan: metal.
Eric Gullickson: Yep. The rungs. were rung, stuck into the stone.
Eric Gullickson: stainless steel anchors and the installers who, who completed the install here have made, have done installs all over the world and certainly in the U
Dan Ryan: Were they Italian?
Eric Gullickson: no, they're not. They're actually, they actually, um, are Americans and many of them have grew up. and got their climbing experience in the gunks.
Eric Gullickson: And so they're familiar with the rock, the quality of the quartz conglomerate. They've, they said in all their installs that they've done outside of the, um, the dolomites, I think is what they said, that this is the hardest, some of the hardest rock they've ever worked with, which makes it very consistent, it's hard grant. It's granite, right? It's
Eric Gullickson: Yes. Yeah. So, So the larger, the larger point is, is that, you know, we continue to find ways to, um, provide opportunities here. And lean into the unique aspects of our property. So, you know, like I said, we could, we, we, [00:54:00] we actually did, and we could have, you know, provided a zip line like they do at, uh, ski places.
Eric Gullickson: And that's an experience for, and that's a, uh, you know, an exhilarating experience, but that would require, for example, large poles and it, you know, it just didn't, it doesn't make sense. And as an, as a good example of where we, you know, the types of things we think about. And the types of trends that come across throughout the years and ultimately where we land is the Via Ferrata because it's, it's the perfect type of topography.
Eric Gullickson: Uh, it's the perfect rock, low impact. And, and it's an extension of what we've, you know, what we've already offered in terms of our rock climbing on some of the famous climbs that were sky top. So, and it, it lowers the hurdle for people, you know, so for you, for example, who have a fear of heights, we have the pinnacle ledges is a, is a, um, it's sort of a graduated experience.
Eric Gullickson: It's, it's more of a walk along the edge of a [00:55:00] cliff. It sort of undulates in and out. And then there's a sky bridge, which we have an option if you don't want to go on that and go around it. 75 feet off the ground on a, on a beautiful cliff. It looks out to the West and it's just, it's not just the, the experience.
Eric Gullickson: And this is the way we built this. It's not just the experience of, you know, wow, you're going to go out and have this, you know, Yahoo Red Bull experience out on the Via Ferrata. You know, like it's, it's. We curated it to be embedded in nature. So you're like, you're, you're going along the cliff and you're, um, for example, we didn't always put in a man made handhold.
Eric Gullickson: We use the existing rock. So people are touching the rock and using the rock as a, as a handhold to make it to the next spot. Um, it's goes, it goes along the tree canopy. And then at times it kind of pops up above the tree canopy and you get these Like these incredible vistas and glimpses and views of Skytop in the lake and the mountain house that you wouldn't get from anywhere else on the property.
Eric Gullickson: [00:56:00] So we've put people in these locations that unless you're having this experience, you're not going to have that exhilaration of being surrounded by nature in that unique
Dan Ryan: Well, I, I don't know when I became scared of heights, but it must've been sometime over the past 40 years. Cause I remember when I was younger, maybe I just didn't know any better. My uncle was pushing me up, but I do remember, I remember getting up to the top and then seeing, I don't know, a father, son or something having. lunch out on one of the rock promontories, like basically hanging out over the valley floor. And I remember I was like, oof, I don't know if I could do that. But I, that such as like primal, like early operating system memories of mine
Dan Ryan: was right from there.
Dan Ryan: Um,
Eric Gullickson: Yeah.
Dan Ryan: as you look forward into the next five generations, what's got you most excited?
Eric Gullickson: Wow. well, my role, you know, what's exciting for me is, is that, you know, we just, we've [00:57:00] We just finished, as noted, a strategic plan. And what is unique about that strategic plan, I think it's fairly unique, is that oftentimes when you, I think businesses, you talk about a strategic plan, you're talking like one to three years and impacting, you know, Maybe rebranding, uh, you know, we're completely different here.
Eric Gullickson: We did, we actually had a 20 year vision, a long view of our strategic plan. It's not a rebrand. It's a, it's, you know, it's really a refinement and it's a leaning into our, you know, what our, um, uh, existing strengths are. Uh, and, and a lot of them are the things that we've been discussing and talking about.
Eric Gullickson: So for me, my, you know, I'm excited about maintaining the The opportunity for people just like I have, you know, somewhat selfishly, you know, like my life, you know, I. I traveled quite a bit around the country, um, dropped out of college, raced a bike, you know, didn't, didn't work in the family business. Got, gained some [00:58:00] perspective outside of here, which I think is essential for the, for the, the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth generation is to, is to understand more broadly, um, how Mohon fits and the value of it in the, in the context of the greater world is, is essential.
Eric Gullickson: So, um, I get excited about the prospect of. The family continuing to, to, uh, have this stewardship approach to the business and, um, they themselves benefiting from. What is inherently here, you know, so like, for example, I probably would not be involved in the role that I am today if it wasn't for my own personal connections and love of the property.
Eric Gullickson: Like I grew up, you know, mountain biking and riding on the land, hiking, swimming in the lake, you know, so imprinting on the new generations, the sixth, the seventh generations, they really need to be here. They need to have some connection to the land [00:59:00] and have their own innate, uh, you know, Experience and inspiration from the outset and then build and grow upon that.
Eric Gullickson: So that I look, you know, I look forward to creating that within the sixth generation, not just my kids, but you know, every, every cousin, um, and, and providing the opportunity for that with this greater intention of maintaining this larger, uh, focus on, on stewarding this, this business. So that you, your kids and anybody else in the 6th, 7th, 8th generation or beyond.
Eric Gullickson: Um, and it's not just, obviously it's not just my family. We have guests here that have been coming this five generations. So it's pretty remarkable when you start to think about that. You know, I don't want to be, um, you know, be too, I guess it's, you know, we're, we're pretty, our family is pretty, um, humble.
Eric Gullickson: And I think that that is an [01:00:00] important aspect of how we operate, but, you know, I would love to think that we could be here for 46 generations someday. You know, there's a lot of, there's a lot of, uh, things that are, you know, again, that I can't see today that might be, you know, Challenge that, but we've made it this far.
Eric Gullickson: I think, I think the statistic is businesses and family businesses that get, don't generally don't get past the third generation. So we're now, we're now on the fifth and, um, and we have the foundational principles and we have this in 20 now, at least this 20 year intention of maintaining that and beyond.
Eric Gullickson: So I get excited about the thought of that continuing and sustaining. And I'm going to go to Japan. My son is studying Japan this fall. And so we're going to go over, my wife and I are going to go over to Japan. And since you've mentioned this, I I'm going to, I want to, if you could
Dan Ryan: Oh, I, I definitely will. Cause I want to go next time. I was just,
Dan Ryan: I've been there the past two years. I, I want to go [01:01:00] back and see this place. So I'm
Eric Gullickson: and I think, I think, there's something to that. And that's another thing that we talk about when we talk about our, you know, is, is to, is we take, we create strong alliances with other businesses, family business in the, in our community. Like that is super important to me. Like the types of relationships you make with other business owners within your community, there's something special about that.
Eric Gullickson: Cause they, they understand, have a, Somewhat of a different level of commitment in being an employer and, and providing the services that they do in their community. And so I think it's really important to, um, look to other businesses that inspire you and I suspect that this, this other resort in Japan is pretty inspiring in terms of their story and how, uh, that can and could continue to inspire me and others, To stay focused on those principles and the importance of those principles, because those are the lasting aspects of life. [01:02:00] You got to have profit and you got to have money, but to maintain those things.
Dan Ryan: stewardship.
Eric Gullickson: Yeah. And it's, and again, it comes back to that, striking that right balance. I'm, you know, I'm going to be involved in this, in my family's business forever.
Eric Gullickson: Probably not likely in the role that I'm in for, you know, I mean, I'm, I don't know, I'm not going to divulge how many more years I think I might have, but we'll see, you know,
Dan Ryan: We never know. We're going to go one day at a time. We got
Eric Gullickson: yeah. But, and there's,
Dan Ryan: got all of today.
Eric Gullickson: and I consider myself. So I have my role today as a fifth generation family member as the president, but as time moves on, like I was, I was a youngster growing up here, getting imprinted, that stuff is happening today, you know, so that's kind of the way that I see it is that continuity, Then you'll you'll carry on and then you'll, you know, you'll be a security guard, like Scott Hammond Hammond's
Eric Gullickson: Yeah, right.
Dan Ryan: his career. You'll go, you'll go full [01:03:00] circle.
Eric Gullickson: I have a, I have a core group of friends and that we talk about that a lot. You know, they all have careers and stuff. And I say, well, Hey, when you get to the point and you need a job in security or whatever it is, you know, come a calling and, you know, and it's, uh, yeah, it's, And that's, again, that's the beauty of this place.
Eric Gullickson: You get to meet a lot of great people and make good connections.
Dan Ryan: Well, Hey, I've really enjoyed this conversation. If people wanted to learn more about you or Mohunk, um, what's the best way for them to do that? And we'll put it in the show notes. You don't have to spell anything out.
Eric Gullickson: Yeah, it's, it's Mohonk. com and that it's M O H O N K, Mohonk. com. Yeah, that's our site. And, and there's a lot of rich information there and, and I would. If you know, I would put the plug in, you got to come see us. You got to come. I mean, the, the, the website is incredible and we have good images and, and it's, it's one dimensional.
Eric Gullickson: You have to immerse yourself in this place and it, [01:04:00] sometimes it takes more than one visit. You know, you have to, to kind of, uh, really feel the, the sense of the unfolding of the experience to, to, to make that imprint and connection. And we hope that people
Dan Ryan: Yeah, I agree. It's an amazing spot. And I just want to say, Eric, thank you very much for your time and, and sharing of your experience. I, I, and we, the listeners really appreciate it. Thank you.
Eric Gullickson: Yeah. Well, thank you for your interest, Dan. I appreciate the time
Dan Ryan: Yeah, my pleasure. And, um, Thank you to the listeners, because again, without you, we wouldn't be here. So make sure that you give all the five star rankings and like us and subscribe to our newsletter, which is new that I mentioned before. Um, and we just love to keep sharing and sharing all this learning and keep falling forward with us.
Dan Ryan: So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And we'll catch you next time. [01:05:00]

Creators and Guests

Dan Ryan
Dan Ryan
Host of Defining Hospitality
Five Generations of Mountaintop Magic - Eric Gullickson - Defining Hospitality - Episode # 160
Broadcast by