A ‘Two-Name’ Industry: Eric Danziger on Combining the Heart for Hospitality With a Head for Business

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Eric Danziger — Photo by Lodging Magazine

Newly retired hospitality icon Eric Danziger, who may be best remembered as the only CEO of Trump Hotels who wasn’t a Trump family member, recently spoke with LODGING about his career climb from Fairmont San Francisco bellman to CEO of Starwood Hotels, Wyndham Hotel Group, and, of course, Trump Hotels. However, as he mentioned while sharing his “success story,” it was his fortunate track record of growing companies that prompted the Trumps, among others, to tap him to undertake many of the challenges he described.

Early Career

Fresh out of high school in San Francisco in 1971, Danziger entered the industry as a bellman at the city’s Fairmont hotel. “That was a time when world-class meant everything was shiny and crisp, including coins that were washed and dollar bills that were ironed,” he recalled. That began a dizzying career climb that kept him and his family on the move, tracing a path through San Diego, New Orleans, Nashville, Charlotte, Kansas City, Tucson, Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, New York, and finally, Idaho.

He became GM of a full-service, Four Diamond hotel at age 25, after completing a management training program and rotating through various positions with the Fairmont organization, including front office manager at a 600-room hotel in San Diego, where he met his first mentor, Jack Vaughn.

Vaughn, who created the Opryland Hotel as a convention destination, sent him to Nashville to become rooms division manager two years before construction began on the first 600-room phase of the property. As he tells the story—and he loves to tell stories—“My wife and I rented a U-Haul to go from New Orleans to Nashville. At first, it was just me, a salesman named Mike Dimond, and a cat named Opry working in a trailer on the site, where they hadn’t yet broken ground.” His role expanded as the hotel grew to almost 3,000 rooms. This “spectacular opportunity,” he said, let him “be a part of putting together a major convention hotel in the middle of the country.” It also enabled him to forge a bond with Vaughn until his death in 2014.

Leadership Positions

DoubleTree: Danziger’s success garnered a fair amount of attention in the hotel community and netted a recruiting call in 1979 from another mentor-turned-friend, Jim Schmidt, who was president of DoubleTree Hotels when it was still a young company. In telling this story, he recalled how Schmidt proceeded to “bait” him with an enticing offer to run a waterfront property in Monterey, only to “switch” to a far less attractive offer: “a problem resort in Tucson.” The problem, he explained, was that they had been unable to even pay the interest on the principal they had undertaken.

Awards and Accolades

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