Hotel Manager Rides Roller Coaster Career

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 326 views 

The general manager of 115-room Hilton Garden Inn & Conference Center in Fayetteville has seen a lot of ups and downs throughout his career.

Alex Jerde, a native of St. Cloud, Minnesota, started in the hotel industry 37 years ago when his brother found him a job in the kitchen of a hotel in his hometown.

He worked his way through the Sunwood Inn & Convention Center until becoming general manager.

As he was climbing the ladder, a property manager had acquired the hotel, and a position opened up in Fayetteville.

“Down I came and stayed,” Jerde said. “I love Northwest Arkansas.”

He moved to Northwest Arkansas in the early 1990s to work as the general manager for the 235-room Hilton in downtown Fayetteville, a full-service hotel.

While there, he directed the hotel’s change in focus from individual business travelers to groups and conventions.

He considers 1994, 1995 and 1996 as defining years in his career. Those years “were just electric in this city,” he said. Bud Walton Arena just opened and the Razorbacks were NCAA basketball champions.

Also, President Bill Clinton stayed several times at the hotel then. He said Clinton and his staff took over three floors of the 15-story hotel. The phone company had to rewire the building for White House communications.

Jerde met Clinton in the elevator. “He’s a very nice guy,” he said.

However, Jerde inadvertently exited the elevator on the wrong floor, and the secret service quickly told him he wasn’t welcome and needed to leave. Without hesitating, the hotel manager complied.

By 1999, Jerde had spent 21 years in the hotel industry and six years as general manager of the Hilton. He was named to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class that year.

He left the Hilton before it became a Radisson in late 1999, to start a residential construction business.

“I was approached with an opportunity that was a great adventure at the time in Northwest Arkansas,” he said.

He worked in the business for over eight years, but after the economy crashed, he had to close it.

In 2011, he returned to the same downtown Fayetteville hotel, then called the Cosmopolitan. But about a year later, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over the hotel, and the search for property investors started.

In 2012, Jerde started working as a regional manager for Chandler Hospitality of Phoenix, Arizona, and was responsible for hotels in Fayetteville, Mountain Home, Branson, Missouri, and Emporia, Kansas.

Later that year, Jerde returned to the Cosmopolitan to reopen it as the Chancellor Hotel. Southwinds Hospitality Holdings LLC had purchased the property for $3.8 million and spent $16 million to renovate it.

The next year, Southwinds brought in a different property manager, and Jerde was replaced. He said it was probably for the best as they weren’t seeing eye to eye.

Jerde took off about six months before Springdale hotel developer Narry Krushiker called on him to join the management team of the $12 million Hilton Garden Inn & Conference Center. Krushiker tapped him, Jerde said, because of his experience in food and beverages.

The hotel opened in late 2014, and the opening went “really well,” he said. The Razorbacks football team had two home games remaining, and the hotel booked all its rooms for both of them.

Hotel staff have quickly ramped up operations since opening. In 2015, the hotel had $3 million in revenue, and so far this year, “we are doing very well,” Jerde said.

A key feature of the hotel is the 9,000-SF meeting room that can accommodate 450 people.

 “It’s huge,” Jerde said.

Krushiker owns four area hotels that account for over 400 rooms and makes for a close stay for those who use the meeting room.

The goal is for the meeting room to be booked solid for more than a year into the future, Jerde said. Currently, events are being booked out that far, but some gaps remain between now and then.

While Jerde has seen a lot of changes in his career, he’s enjoying his current position.

“This is a very refreshing place to be,” Jerde said. “I’m happy to be here.”