Hotel Industry Icon Bruce White Dies – Inside Indiana Business

Bruce White (photo courtesy of White Lodging)

Bruce White, the founder of Merrillville-based White Lodging and one of the developers of the JW Marriott in Indianapolis, died Thursday after a nearly year-long battle with cancer. He was 70.

White founded White Lodging in 1985 with a single hotel in Northwest Indiana and grew the company into one of the largest private development, ownership and management companies in the industry.

The company has more than 60 Marriott, IHG, Hyatt and Hilton branded hotels, as well as 50 restaurants, 10 rooftop bars and a number of luxury ranches.

Key markets include Indianapolis, Austin, Louisville, Chicago, Denver, San Antonio, Nashville and Charlotte, where he worked with Mike Wells, President of REI Real Estate Services, to develop the Marriott Place hotel complex, which opened in the West in 2011 downtown side.

Two years earlier, White and Wells had worked together at the Indianapolis Marriott, also downtown, and had done dozens of other projects together.

“He was a great business partner and an incredible person in the hospitality industry. He really loved the industry,” Wells told IBJ on Thursday.

“He completely built the hospitality industry here,” he said. “When Mayor Goldsmith was looking for a hotel to host the conventions we needed in Indianapolis, he stepped up and did the Marriott – we were partners and it was an incredible success. He was a great Indiana citizen.”

Jean-Luc Barone, CEO of White Lodging, said White is “a visionary, a leader and a hospitality icon like no other”.

“I learned more about hard work, leadership and family from Bruce than from any other person in my life,” Barone said in a prepared statement. “And while he maintained a low public profile and was modest in his influence on the industry, there is no question that Bruce White helped transform the modern hospitality industry by having a long-term vision, challenging existing norms and on at the highest level—all from a small town in Northwest Indiana.”

White, a philanthropist and community leader, was one of the original board members of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and served on the Purdue University board of directors from 2011 to 2015. He is also a member of Purdue University’s Business Hall of Fame.

“In its entire history, Indiana has produced few citizens equal to Bruce White,” said Mitch Daniels, the recently retired Purdue president who served as governor when White was on the IEDC board.

“In a spectacular business career, his imagination and courage have created thousands of other opportunities and wealth,” Daniels said in a statement. “He invested a tremendous amount of energy and personal resources in trying to build the prosperity and quality of life of his beloved Northwest Indiana.”

Daniels called White a “central figure in building what is now Purdue University. We cannot replace him.”

White made numerous donations to Purdue University, which last year rebranded its hospitality school as White Lodging-JW “Bill” Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Over the past five years, White has invested more than $100 million, largely through family foundations, in community projects and programs, including expanding YMCA facilities in Northwest Indiana.

In a statement, White Lodging said it will remain a private family business. Succession planning began years ago “with the development of a strong leadership team and the expertise and advice of family members and outside advisors who sit on the board.”

In 2018, White told IBJ that “private property and family control allow us to stay true to our core beliefs and philosophies and not be derailed by more short-term events.”

“Family commitment does not necessarily mean running the company,” he said. “It really means being the steward and providing effective owner support to the management organization.”

White, the son of Billboard ad firm owner Dean White, is survived by his wife Beth, three adult children and one grandchild.

Although White’s father, who died in 2016, was actually a billionaire, his son still pretty much started on the ground floor. In the beginning, White Lodging was purely a management company, which means that it contracted the hotel operations but did not own any. His first client was his father’s Holiday Inn, followed a few years later by several hotels that he bought in Warsaw and Evansville.

“For years the company was myself, an accountant and a secretary,” White told IBJ in 2018.

For his first foray into development, White and several partners built six Carleton Lodges, primarily in northern Indiana. The big break came when White was invited to a meeting with John Willard “Bill” Marriott Jr., chairman of Marriott International, to consider being the first franchisee for Fairfield Inn, Marriott’s economy line.

White Lodging was soon knee deep in Fairfield Inns. Marriott’s support in the form of debt guarantees helped the company close more deals in a short amount of time.

“Marriott’s relationship with Bruce White and White Lodging has spanned decades and it is a testament to our shared values ​​and our belief that people are at the heart of this business,” said Bill Marriott, chairman emeritus of Marriott International, and his wife, Donna , in a statement. “Bruce embodied that value.”

In 2006, White Lodging improved its cash flow by selling 99 hotels to Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, for $1.7 billion. White retained the management contracts until its sale in 2018, shifting the company’s focus to a more urban portfolio.

Last year, White Lodging sold the company’s 25 remaining suburban hotels and management contracts to focus on urban and so-called “experience” hotels.