Business + Digital + Innovation

Should Your Digital Team Lead Business Innovation?

There is a buzz cycle happening right now in all kinds of businesses from marketing to healthcare and education, around terms like “Scrum”, “Design Thinking” and “Failing Fast.” They describe how busineses are responding to the escalating pace of innovation required to keep up with the pace of change being created by digital technology. It seems that digital technologies, like mobile communications, the interactive web and big data, are underpinning organizational change in many businesses.  In some cases digital marketing teams are reaching outside the walls of their department to lead this change.

Digital teams leading innovation within traditional organizations makes a weird kind of sense. Digital people are early adopters of online tools that help them collaborate and communicate in fast-paced and complex situations. They work in a field that changes so rapidly that daily focused learning is a priority. These skills have inadvertently equipped them to foster and direct organizational change.

Analyzing the cultural and work processes essential to the ways digital teams structure themselves may provide valuable insight for any organization striving to gain a competitive edge by nurturing an innovative culture.

To that end, here are some ideas from Innisfree’s in-house digital marketing agency that are adaptable for any organization.

Fail Fast, Fail Hard, Fail Forward.

Twitter Founder Biz Stone tells his team to “fail so hard it cracks your spine.” Good digital teams get rid of bad ideas fast by using real-time customer data to optimize and iterate their campaigns. Quick changes require agile workflows, which are made possible with great digital project management tools.

Strong digital teams encourage iterative development and support the idea that important lessons come from trial-and-error. Technology start-ups understand that their teams must be comfortable pitching bad ideas and fearlessly challenging the status quo.

Lean Management

Lean is a management theory geared to making innovation less risky. It favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over large-scale development. The key concepts are “Minimal Viable Product” and “Pivoting.” New ventures of all kinds are attempting to improve their chances of success by following the principles of failing fast, continually learning and avoiding financial waste.

Lean organizations believe all leaders are entrepreneurs who must take on the associated risks and rewards and who have the autonomy to manage their teams as they see fit. They test everything and think that a dogma is antithetical to iteration. Lean managers believe there’s no such thing as “this is how we do things,” and their organizational mantras are “build, measure, learn” and “done is better than perfect.”


Scrum refers to a rugby tactic in which a team packs together and then disperses with a plan to get the ball from one end of the field to the other. Software developers use it to describe project management processes focused on the team rather than individual tasks.

Key aspects are frequent check-ins, during which teams identify and resolve roadblocks. Daily scrums meetings happen quickly. Team leaders are asked to explain what they have done since the last meeting, what they are planning to do next and if they foresee any roadblocks. All team members attend the meetings, but only the core members are allowed to participate. Scrum meetings happen in the same time, at the same place, and are strictly time-boxed.


Interactive technology makes us aware of what everyone else is doing all the time. It therefore creates a distraction, false urgency and anxiety about what we should be doing. Essentialism refers to the practice of using project management and business practices to create time for managers and their teams to get “in the flow” and leverage the “magical power of focus.”

Being “in the flow” means being completely focused on the task at hand, forgetting about the world around you, losing track of time, feeling happy, in control, creative and productive. Business strategies that help employees get “in the flow” include things like off-site quarterly retreats, accountability through defined systems of task management and company respect for focus and mindfulness.

The challenges of staying focused have spurred an “Essentialist Movement” in many technology companies – such as Twitter and Google – who are promoting mindfulness with innovations such as sleep pods and meditation rooms. The goal is to clean out the closets of our overstuffed work lives and give away the nonessential items, so we can focus our attention on the few things that truly matter.

Design Thinking

The myth of innovation is that brilliant ideas leap fully formed from the minds of geniuses. The reality is that most innovations come from a process of rigorous examination through which great ideas are identified and developed.

Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to problem solving that helps people and organizations become more innovative and creative. It means designing everything from operational procedures to buildings and websites with processes that leverage deep empathy for customer needs and statistical insights into customer behavior.

In a Design Thinking process, iteration is facilitated through intensive immersion with users. It conducts real world experiments to observe behavior and measure intent and “releases often.” Design Thinking is not just applicable to creative industries or people who work in the design field. It’s an approach used by organizations like Kraft Foods, who employed it to revamp their supply chain management processes.

Social Business

This term underpins the idea that there is no such thing as social media or digital objectives. There are only business objectives. This approach asks what do we want to accomplish as a business that digital marketing can influence. The concept is supported by a belief that the ROI of social media can be optimized to promote great internal and external culture and community.

The idea is to use digital media to help an organization provide the best possible service to its entire ecosystem (including consumers, employees, owners and financial partners) by embedding collaboration, information-sharing and active engagement into all aspects of operations and culture. The desired result is a more responsive, adaptable, effective – and ultimately more successful company.

The Branding of a Destination Restaurant

Red Fish Blue Fish Opens With Best Sunsets on Beach

Innisfree Hotels is excited to announce there is a new place to enjoy a sunset on Pensacola Beach, FL. this summer. The hotel management company built Red Fish Blue Fish, an open-air dining and beach play venue, located on the water across the street from the Hilton Pensacola Beach Hotel. The restaurant opened in the fall of 2013.

It features shipping container construction, ‘upcycled’ materials and purposely designed outdoor spaces. “The concept offers a fresh new approach to beach hangouts”, notes Julian MacQueen, Innisfree’s Founder and CEO.  “It has a casual vibe mixed with a very funky intentional design that we describe as ‘upcyled’, casual and ‘eco chic’. Guests are able to relax in an eclectic green space, kick back on repurposed boat wood furniture, wiggle their toes in the sand, and savor fresh seafood.”

Rich Chism, Director of Development for Innisfree Hotels says, “The concept is to use as many green attributes as possible. We’re investigating the use of solar power, and intend to expand our use of green energy over time.”

Outdoor areas were be designed by Chad Watkins of WAS Design. The site has a manicured grass dining area overlooking the water with family-sized tables, cabanas and fire pits. There are also cozy areas for cocktails, and two white sand beaches for those who want to stay a while. Kids will be encouraged to run and play throughout the site.

“The name Red Fish Blue Fish is a tip to the family friendly nature of the restaurant,” notes Julian MacQueen. “We’ve seen that our hotel customers enjoy dining on the hotels’ pool decks in a fun, safe, family-oriented environment. Red Fish Blue Fish offers locals and visitors to Pensacola Beach an alternative dining experience in keeping with the fun environment and high quality expected at a family resort. It also offers local families an opportunity to enjoy Innisfree’s hospitality without having to stay at a hotel.”

Holiday Inn Resort Comes to FWB

Innisfree’s Newest Beachfront Hotel Celebrates Strong Ties to Military Community

Located at 1299 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, the Holiday Inn Resort, Fort Walton Beach, FL is the best new family resort on the Gulf Coast. It offers beachfront event space and the finest pool in the area and is located just minutes from local restaurants, attractions and upscale shopping.

“We are thrilled to be opening this hotel after six years of working on the project,” said Rich Chism, Director of Development for Innisfree Hotels. “The best part of my job is watching children’s faces light up when they enter the lobby and realize this is their hotel. We strive to deliver a ‘wow’ factor and help families create memories together.”

Indeed, creating memories is the Innisfree mission, and this new resort – the only one of its kind between Pensacola and Panama City – will be no exception. Between the pool’s lazy river, hot tub and waterfall; family suites with private balconies overlooking the ocean; supervised children’s activities including interactive mermaid and pirate shows; 24-hour fitness and business centers; and 2,500 sq. ft. of special event space, and many other resort amenities provide ample opportunities for memories in the making.

The 17-acre tract of land the hotel was built on was previously home to a 1,200 sq. ft. cinder block building equipped with a receiver for tracking Air Force maneuvers along the coast.

Julian MacQueen, Innisfree’s Founder and CEO says, “By far the biggest challenge in developing this site was negotiating the Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) with the United States Air Force. Because it marks the first public-private lease of Air Force land, the process extended over four years. The concept was born of the idea that the Air Force could generate revenue on underutilized land that maintained a strategic purpose for our military.”

Innisfree negotiated an innovative design, which would allow the receiver to remain in use from a new perch atop the resort. So when you visit the Holiday Inn Resort and you spy a giant, whimsical beach ball on the roof, you are actually looking at the Air Force receiver. Negotiations require the hotel to give a 50 percent discount off the per diem rate for military personnel. Therefore, Innisfree has set aside 4,000 room nights each year for military servicemen and women to enjoy a first-class resort experience that may otherwise be out of reach.

In addition to this benefit, the resort will pay a percentage of all revenue to the Air Force designated exclusively to capital improvements to boost morale and welfare on Eglin Air Force Base. In advance of the percentage rent, Innisfree Hotels already has made a $1 million initial payment to the Air Force, which will be used to improve Eglin’s living quarters and recreational facilities.  MacQueen says, “This has been one of the more gratifying aspects of this development.”

The new Holiday Inn Resort was developed by Innisfree Hotels with General Contractor dck north america, with dramatic architectural design by Larry Adams of Bullock Tice Associates in Pensacola, FL Debbie Adrian of ACC Design in Memphis, TN created the bold and colorful interiors, while Chad Watkins of WAS Design in Foley, AL was the mastermind of the lazy river and pool deck.

Innisfree is grateful for a capital investment from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, building upon a longstanding partnership and joint commitment to the community. Financing was provided by Navy Federal Credit Union and Pen Air Federal Credit Union who both enjoy strong ties to the military members they serve.

The beachfront resort is centrally located to popular restaurants, shops and attractions including the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, Big Kahuna’s Water Park and Destin Commons, yet its close proximity to Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field and is likewise significant. The project was made possible via the United States Air Forces Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) program, under which Emerald Breeze Resort Group (EBRG) leases the 17-acre tract and pays the USAF a percentage of gross sales. These funds, in turn, are allocated to improve the morale and welfare of local airmen.

“I grew up spending my summers in this area and always believed that the USAF had the best piece of property on the Gulf Coast,” says MacQueen. “We were proud to be selected as the company to maximize its potential for the public while honoring those who have served our country.”

Hyatt Place Opens at Pensacola Airport

An exciting “new generation” hotel, offering round-the-clock amenities and modern design.

Innisfree Hotels and its partners were excited to celebrate the opening of the Hyatt Place Hotel at the Pensacola International Airport with an official opening launch party and celebration on April 24, 2013.

“We’re proud to introduce the Hyatt Place Hotel brand to the Pensacola area market,” notes Rich Chism, Director of Development for Innisfree Hotels. “We believe travelers will appreciate the comfortable and functional amenities offered at Hyatt Place Pensacola Airport such as free Wi-Fi, made-to-order fresh food around the clock and the StayFit@Hyatt fitness center.”

The hotel brings a new level of amenities to the airport and will generate additional opportunities for Pensacola in the travel industry.

“Having this premier hotel at our international airport is a distinctive advantage for our business and leisure travelers,” says Airport Director Greg Donovan. “Our customers now have the option of staying overnight right on the airport campus with top notch restaurants and retail nearby. Having such amenities is exclusive to Pensacola International, as no other airport in the region has the convenience of an on-site hotel or the high levels of service that Hyatt is known for.”

“I’m excited about the economic impact of this development,” says Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward. “The beautiful new Hyatt Place Hotel is a great addition to Pensacola and adds even more value for travelers choosing Pensacola International Airport. I want to thank Innisfree and their partners for working to create new jobs and new revenue for our city.”

Exceptional landscaping and design concepts extend to the exterior of the hotel and adjacent commercial properties. This $24 million project is projected to generate more than $420,000 annually in non-airline revenue for the Airport through lease fees, and $100,000 in local option sales taxes for the City of Pensacola. It will also create more than $4 million in payroll revenues through the addition of new jobs to the local economy.

Innisfree is proud to partner with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians on this project. Julian MacQueen, Innisfree’s CEO and Founder says, “Our relationship with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has spanned almost two decades. We’ve collaborated on other successful projects during this time and are very excited to work with them again.”

“We are fortunate enough to be able to reinvest into the community with quality investments like this project,” said Tim Martin, President/CEO of Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA).

Launched in 2006, Hyatt Place brings to the upscale select-service hotel category the authentic hospitality for which Hyatt is known. Inspired by multitasking travelers’ 24/7 lifestyle, Hyatt Place combines stylish design and practical amenities with forward-thinking technology and purposeful service.

Aries Aids in Freeing Up Debt

Innisfree Hotels’ Founder and CEO Julian MacQueen is happy to be part of a growing group of owners able to refinance their hotels as the lending environment loosens.

Innisfree Hotels Founder and CEO Julian MacQueen is happy to be part of a growing group of owners who have been able to refinance their hotels as the lending environment continues to loosen. Innisfree worked with Aries Capital to refinance two multi-million dollar debts during 2012: a $57-million transaction in March and an $82-million deal in December 2013.

The first deal, a 10-year non-recourse commercial-mortgage-backed-security loan with a 64% loan-to-value ratio, covered the refinancing of a 137-room Hilton Garden Inn and a 119-room Holiday Inn Express, both in Orange Beach, Alabama, and a 181-room Hampton Inn in Pensacola Beach, Florida. The second deal took care of a 206-room Holiday Inn Resort and a 275-room Hilton—both in Pensacola Beach.

The LTV for that deal was 70%; the lenders providing the financings were not disclosed. “We were able to cash out, which was important to us,” MacQueen said. “It was a two-tiered challenge. We had three hotels in Orange Beach Alabama that had more equity in them than the other two. We knew we needed to combine multiple properties in two states, and three of them were land leases.”

A big deal for MacQueen was him getting out from under $38 million of personal recourse. “Not only was I able to get out of most of the personal recourse, we were able to replace the debt service from unamortized to amortized,” MacQueen said. “To go off of recourse, that’s huge. To get a 10-year deal, that’s huge. And we closed it in 30 days.” “It takes a lot of hard work and cooperation to close a deal like this in 30 days,” said Neil Freeman, chairman and CEO of Aries Capital.

MacQueen had simple advice for owners looking to refinance: “Start early. Don’t throw yourself in the eleventh-hour crunch.” The executives declined to reveal terms of the refinancing.

Like many deals in the hotel industry, this one was done thanks to a relationship that began at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit in 2011 during a financing forum. Freeman was impressed with the Innisfree portfolio and was eager to see how it handled the aftermath of the BP Gulf Oil spill. “They weathered the storm and had stable assets,” Freeman said. “We were in Atlanta on business and (Aries senior VP) Jeff (Bucaro) said ‘let’s fly to Pensacola to check them out.’ So that’s what we did.”

Aries Capital generated more than $250 million in capital volume in 2012 and is looking at new construction and major rehab loans in 2013. It can handle any place in the capital stack for such projects, Freeman said, adding that he expects CMBS funding will be at historical averages in 2013.

Innisfree, which was founded in 1990 and has 1,000 employees, has approximately 2,000 rooms in its portfolio that generate about $57 million in annual revenue, MacQueen said. “We are looking for future growth and more opportunities in high-demand seasonal locations—any place with a strong tourist component,” MacQueen said.

The company has two properties under construction in partnerships with the Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority—a $24-million 127-room Hyatt Place hotel at the Pensacola International Airport that is scheduled to open spring 2013 and a $25-million, 152-room Holiday Inn Resort Hotel in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, that will open in spring 2014.

The Fort Walton Beach development will occupy 17 gulf-front acres that is owned by the U.S. Air Force. The two companies are working as a single local entity called the Emerald Breeze Resort Group to build the property as part of the government’s Enhanced Use Lease program, a new concept from the armed services that helps create revenue streams from underutilized facilities. The property was made available for private development because of this program.

The EUL program, which is managed by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, identifies underutilized military properties with ongoing mission requirements. In this case, the Air Force will maintain passive radio receiver dish, camera equipment and a passive radar facility on the hotel’s roof. “They freed up 17 acres of land and created an income stream for Eglin Air Force Base,” MacQueen said. “You can see a direct impact of our lease dollars going straight to the base.”

Revenue generated from the lease will be contributed to the Eglin Air Force Base budget. It took four years to develop the EUL, MacQueen said. It began with 100 bids, and then Innisfree won the right to conduct exclusive negotiations with the Air Force.

The company practices the triple bottom-line philosophy, which will work well for the Fort Walton Beach hotel, according to MacQueen. “We are focused on people, planet and profits, in that order,” he said. “We are very conscious of our impact on the beach. For example, the type of sand we use must be the same type of sand that’s there before building, and we’ve made sure we weren’t making any kind of impact on the wetlands.” On the people front, the company will offer 50% off the military per diem rate for members of the U.S. armed services. “This will allow servicemen and women to experience a first class beachfront hotel—it’s a wonderful way to give back to people serving every day.”

MacQueen knows there are advantages to winning the contract. Among the more lucrative perks is not having to pay property taxes because it is on government-owned land. He admits he’s gotten some push back from locals because of the property tax situation, but he’s comfortable with providing the discount to servicemen and women as a good alternative to giving government agencies the funds.

In addition, there’s room to build another hotel on the land when the first one reaches stability. That plays well with MacQueen’s bullish outlook for the next four years. “Through 2017 is nothing but blue skies,” he said. “We’re looking through 2017 as having compounded growth of 6% a year.”

Promoting Community Wellness: LEAP Trail

To date, more than 1,200 people have completed the Leadership Pensacola program.

In March 2013, Mike Nixon, Innisfree’s President of Hotel Operations, joined other local dignitaries in a groundbreaking celebration for Pensacola’s newest public fitness amenity. Innisfree is proudly contributed $25,000 to the three-mile long LEAP Trail.

The trail will be used by cyclists, joggers and walkers. Pets and strollers will also be welcome. It will feature 10 workout stations with illustrated instructions for circuit training. Families will also enjoy the LEAP trail. It will include playgrounds accessible to disabled children, as well picnic tables, park benches, waste receptacles, bike racks and pet waste stations.

The trail will begin near the Pensacola International Airport, run south down 12th Avenue through Roger Scott Athletic Complex down Summit Boulevard and across to Bayou Boulevard. Its location close to Innisfree’s new Hyatt Place Hotel means the trail will be a high quality, free fitness amenity for hotel guests.

The project is being spearheaded by Leadership Pensacola, a program operated by the Greater Pensacola Chamber with the goal of ensuring the community’s pool of talented leaders will be continually renewed.

To date, more than 1,200 people have completed the Leadership Pensacola program and have acquired the skills, passion and connections to work effectively as community trustees.

Holiday Inn Resort Wins Three Brand Awards

The award recognizes the hotel for maintaining exceptionally high standards in product quality, hotel service delivery and guest satisfaction.

The Holiday Inn Resort hotel, Pensacola Beach, FL., was selected as the 2012 Quality Excellence Award winner by Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG). IHG manages 666,000 hotel rooms in nine hotel brands in over 100 countries. The company’s mission statement is to create “Great Hotels that Guests Love.”

 The award was presented at the 2012 IHG Americas Investors & Leadership Conference in Orlando, Fla. This is the second major brand award the Pensacola Beach property has won. In 2011, Innisfree Hotels, owner-operator of the Holiday Inn Resort, was selected by IHG as Developer of the Year.

Martin Kumi, the Holiday Inn Resort’s Maintenance Engineer will also be recognized for his dedication and hard work, as will the resort’s Activity Director Shelly Kikel.

The 206-room resort opened in the spring of 2011. It is located directly on the Gulf of Mexico. Guests enjoy captivating views of emerald green waters and miles upon miles of sugar white sand. It is walking distance from restaurants, nightlife, shopping and recreational activities and only a 30-minute drive from the Pensacola International Airport.

The resort has many unique amenities and services including the best pool on the beach featuring a 250-foot lazy river and cascading waterfall; family suites; seasonal supervised children’s activities, ‘Dive-Inn’ movies; live, interactive pirate and mermaid shows; Riptides Sports Grill & Beachfront Tiki Bar; a 24-hour beach view fitness center; and more than 10,000 square feet of beachfront meeting space.

Students Rewarded With Pool Party

Students from Dixon School of the Arts were rewarded for academic improvement with a pool party sponsored by Innisfree Hotels

Students from Dixon School of the Arts were rewarded for good behavior and academic improvement on Sunday with a pool party sponsored by Innisfree Hotels. The charter school, which opened in 2010, had the greatest improvement in FCAT test scores out of all Escambia County School District schools in 2011, with a gain of almost 178 points. “It’s almost shakingly scary, in a good way, to see the potential of where we’re going,” said LuTimothy May, the school’s executive director. “The sky’s the limit.”

The school recently changed its name from A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence, something May said is a reflection of new strategies and changes in the way learning is approached at Dixon. “We did a massive transformation over this year, and this summer,” May said. “Of course, our charter speaks to the arts, so we wanted to speak to what we represent. We represent art — music, dance, theater, drama, all of those areas are part of what you get at Dixon School of the Arts.”

After the school struggled for two years academically and financially and faced the possibility of being closed by the state of Florida, May said that he wants to be positive and focus on how far the students have come. Innisfree Hotels, which adopted Dixon School of the Arts three years ago, promised students a pool party if they improved their test scores last year. The party featured access to pools at three Pensacola Beach hotels, hamburgers and hot dogs, face painting and rides on the 360 Pensacola Beach Observation Wheel.

“They deserved it,” said Marianne Tibbits, Convention Services Manager at the Hilton Penascola Beach Hotel and event coordinator for the party. “They worked hard. It’s a thank you for last year, and also an incentive to keep up the good work.”

Kalesha Brabley, 21, attended the party with her son, Treven, a kindergartener at Dixon.  “It’s a wonderful school,” she said. “They really work with him.”

Kendesha Woods, 35, has two children at the school, and he said they enjoy the learning experience at a charter school.
“Both of them come home talking about their day, every day,” Woods said. “I think they get more one-on-one time.”

His wife, Shenika Johnson, 31, teaches second grade at Dixon. She said that she is very encouraged and excited about the upcoming school year for all students. “I know that there’s a lot in store for our kids, and I just can’t wait to see what’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “I am more than confident that they will advance.”

Innisfree Wins Developer of the Year Award

In 2011, Innisfree Hotels was selected by Intercontinental Hotels Group – owners of 4,400 hotels under 7 brands – for developing the Holiday Inn Resort Beachfront Hotel on Pensacola Beach Florida.

Innisfree was chosen from hundreds of hotels flying multiple brand flags. Julian MacQueen, CEO and Founder of Innisfree, accepted the award at the IHG Americas Investors and Leadership Conference held on October 26, 2011, at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas.

Innisfree’s success is a remarkable accomplishment given the company’s regional focus. Economic times are rough everywhere in America, but on the Gulf Coast, multiple hurricanes and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill have added serious insult to America’s economic injuries.

This success can be attributed to the tenacity of Innisfree’s founder, MacQueen. His story, and the story of Innisfree, is a tale that rivals even the best rags-to-riches American dream dramas. Julian’s first hotel job was as a busboy in a resort hotel in Destin, Fla. He hitchhiked to the interview and says, “I used my ‘yes sirs’ and ‘no sirs’ a lot and was hired because I was polite. I lived in a horrible storage room that served as staff housing, but that didn’t matter because there was little time for sleep.”

When he graduated from college, financial circumstances dictated that he turn down a graduate school acceptance in favor of a career in hotel group sales. He climbed the Hyatt Hotel company ranks, eventually leaving to secure ownership of a Family Inn franchise in Mobile, Ala. after developing five franchises for the chain.

Julian recalls the day he opened his first hotel. He didn’t have enough money to hire staff and needed immediate revenue to avoid defaulting on the rent. “The Junior Miss Pageant was on in Mobile. I knew I could rent the rooms but couldn’t afford housekeeping staff. Nonetheless I lit up the open sign. When the customers came, I offered them a broom and said if they wanted a room they would have to clean it first. Basically, I made my first rent payment by convincing my initial customers to do the construction clean up.”

His entrepreneurial drive was always irresistible, and in between hotel jobs he owned a hot air balloon company, imported live lobsters and Chinese Yo Yos and sold civil service prep courses door-to-door. Julian learned to be a fair boss and a tough negotiator the hard way. He was conned by an employer who was wanted by the FBI for smuggling  guns from Columbia, had a business investment loan that he personally guaranteed embezzled by his coke addicted partner, and a boss who regularly woke him up for impromptu meetings in the middle of the night.

Through all this, Julian’s wife, Kim, supported them by working evenings as a waitress in a Middle Eastern restaurant. During the day, she taught at a Montessori school so their son could attend tuition-free. Kim says, “Back then, we didn’t even own a pot large enough to cook a lobster, and we still own 95,000 Chinese Yo Yos in a warehouse somewhere.” She recalls listening to the rat traps go off all night in their dingy apartment and selling Julian’s inherited parent’s silver to buy Christmas presents.

The story of the Holiday Inn Resort starts in 1994, when Julian bought a ramshackle Pensacola Beach hotel called the Beachside Resort on a handshake. Harlan Butler, Innisfree President says, “There was a sign above the front desk on a piece of painted plywood that read, ‘Stay at your own risk by order of the Florida Fire Marshall.’ There were plastic beer pitchers in the bar with customer’s names on them. The hotel was as rough as it gets.”

Innisfree rebuilt and reopened the Beachside Resort in June of 1995. In August, Hurricane Erin hit. The hotel sustained damage but survived. Less than two months later, Hurricane Opal arrived. Harlan says, “The first floor of the hotel was swept away and replaced with a sand dune. We found microwaves clear across the street.” Julian recalls standing in the debris looking for the swimming pool. The hotel was closed for six months.

In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan devastated Pensacola Beach. At its peak, it was the size of the state of Texas. Jeff Townsend, Innisfree’s President of Development says, “We had our best sales ever the day before Ivan arrived. Ivan closed almost all the hotels on Pensacola Beach – three of them never opened again, including the Beachside Resort.”

Innisfree lost seven hotels to Ivan and was forced to lay off four hundred people. Harlan says, “The worst day of my thirty year career was letting those people go. The first hotel to reopen was the Hilton Gulf Front on Pensacola Beach. The Island Authority used our banquet corridor as a temporary headquarters for the relief effort. Julian fed relief workers three meals a day for a month.” Jeff says, “We learned a lot about insurance after the storm.  We worked on that claim until 2009.”

Julian and his team cleaned up the debris and decided to build an Embassy Suites hotel on the site. They planned an extravagant development with the biggest convention center on the beach. However, the plan was derailed by a shifting real estate market. Jeff says, “We knew we had the wrong product and decided to target the family-oriented leisure market. We needed to be efficient.”

So in 2007, when the Holiday Inn franchise became available, Innisfree locked it up. This decision coincided with a move by Holiday Inn to improve its brand image. IHG had recently spent more than a million dollars to clean up its image.

Jeff says, “Holiday Inn was willing to invest in their image so we were willing to invest in their brand.” IHG decided to seize a market opportunity to develop a higher end Holiday Inn flag and created the Holiday Inn Resort brand. The property on Pensacola Beach was the first new-construction hotel to fly this flag.

The design for the new hotel was complete by the spring of 2008.

Jeff says, “We secured permits during the summer and got a commitment letter for financing from a regional bank in the fall.” However, a banking crisis was looming and the bank rescinded its offer. Jeff says, “It was horrible. We’d invested so much. It could’ve killed Innisfree but Julian’s tenacity saved us.”

Julian visited 49 banks in search of alternate financing and got 49 rejections. Then he heard a rumor that Pen Air Federal Credit Union had closed a business loan. Jeff says, “This seemed extraordinary. Credit unions usually focus on consumer lending.” However, the rumor proved true and Julian sold Pen Air on the project.

A short time later, he serendipitously found himself seated beside Debbie Calder, Senior Vice President at Navy Federal Credit Union, at a luncheon.  He eventually secured Navy Federal’s participation as well.

In March 2009, Julian convinced Superior Bank in Birmingham to lead the loan with the participation of the credit unions. Exuberance and optimism soared at Innisfree and then quickly came crashing down when their general contractor lost their bonding capacity.

Jeff says, “We were three weeks away from closing the most difficult loan we’d ever obtained and now suddenly we didn’t have a contractor.”

In July, Innisfree finally closed a $38 million dollar development loan to build the Holiday Inn Resort and signed a $21 million dollar contract with contractors Robbins and Morton. Jeff says, “The first day we met Robbins and Morton I said, we are going to build this hotel for $19,750,000. They didn’t believe we could do it for so little. Construction began in August. The Holiday Inn Resort opened on February 25th on budget.”

Jeff says, “Winning this award is recognition from International Hotel Group, a company that deals with thousands of hotel developers, that the principals underlying our work are sound. Our developments on Pensacola Beach have incrementally deepened the market, spurring economic development, during the last decade. In 2000, the RevPAR (revenue available per room) on Pensacola Beach was $50. Ten years later, it doubled and in big part because of our developments. This level of success is off the charts.”

Harlan attributes the company success to its leader. When asked how the company could possibly survive and thrive in the face of economic crisis and numerous climatic disasters he says bluntly, “Julian is how we survive. He was baptized by fire and provided the tenacious leadership and the courage we needed to keep going. I think Innisfree is Julian and Kim. He keeps us on course and she keeps him on course. They deserve this award.”

Julian credits Innisfree’s success to his professional development team and entrepreneurial management tactics. He says, “Our aggressive revenue management, paired with our emphasis on efficiency, productivity and excellence in service, has allowed us to continue our pattern of growth during a time when much of our competition is unable to do so.”

This is all good news for the Gulf Coast region, which is benefiting greatly from the job creation spurred by Innisfree developments.