Twenty years ago, a university student from Toronto took a job tending bar at a local Four Seasons. His name was Curtis Gallagher. Since then, he has spent the past two decades building deep experience and unique expertise in both hotel operations and hospitality real estate, and today the Ryerson grad sells hotels in multimillion-dollar transactions.
Gallagher took the bartending job to get his foot in the door while completing Ryerson’s hotel program with a minor in economics. “I wanted to get real, hands-on experience while I was still studying because I thought it would help me get a head start,” he says. The move fueled his passion, and Gallagher tried to investigate, observe, understand, and network among as many parts of the hotel industry as possible. Upon graduation, Four Seasons hired him for a management position at its former Inn at the Park location.
After a decade climbing the ladder there in operations, moving from management to a variety of senior-level positions, Gallagher started looking at other opportunities in the hotel business. His interests turned toward property while he was analyzing a profit-and-loss statement. “I always noticed there were lines that we didn’t pay too much attention to because they were the owner’s responsibility,” he says, “but those lines started to intrigue me more.” Gallagher realized that if he could combine his wealth of knowledge in hotel operations with a more developed expertise in hotel real estate, he could really add value to an investment firm.
FACTS & FIGURES
Cushman & Wakefield
Months that Gallagher worked for Cushman & Wakefield before closing his first major deal, the sale of the Station Park Hotel in London, ON, in 2012
Years Gallagher worked in the hotel investment sale division at CBRE before he was named a top 10 revenue performer in the Toronto market in 2008
Amount that Gallagher sold the 605-room Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Montréal for in 2008
Amount that Gallagher sold Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston, MA, for—his largest sale to date
Average number of deals that Cushman & Wakefield’s hotel division closes per year
This led Gallagher to the brokerage sector: he got his real estate license and started working for a large competitor of his current firm, Cushman & Wakefield. Then, after two years, he moved to valuation and transaction advisory and went to CBRE to start their brokerage division from scratch.
Gallagher arrived at Cushman & Wakefield in 2010 to leverage his hybrid experience in hotel operations and real estate and help the international firm grow its hotel-valuation advisory group across North America. The commissions-based team focuses on investment sales and debt placement for hotels, and to date, it and Gallagher have appraised more than $4 billion in assets and sold iconic buildings such as the Hyatt Regency Montréal and Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza.
Involving hundreds of rooms, complex structures, and sophisticated funding, hotel deals are anything but standard. “Really understanding the business is key,” Gallagher says. “You have to speak the language of the investor and demonstrate that you are an expert in the industry to establish credibility.” That’s where Gallagher’s 10 years in hotel operations become an undeniable asset; he has lived and worked the industry and understands sales aspects (business performance, mortgages, franchise and management agreements, etc.) from numerous perspectives.
“Someone who hasn’t rolled up their sleeves and actually worked in the trenches just can’t do this work in the same way,” he says. “We can both read a book on how to golf, but to actually go out and shoot a 65 is something different.”
Gallagher’s clients range from private families with single assets to medium-size hotel-investment companies with handfuls of properties to billion-dollar institutions with solid portfolios. He works every day to anticipate market trends and discover likely sellers before his competitors pick up on industry clues. As of press time, his group at Cushman & Wakefield was close to announcing deals to sell an iconic Canadian hotel, refinance a luxury urban hotel, and sell a partial interest in a major mixed-use urban asset.
As Gallagher and Cushman & Wakefield develop their track record, the firm is able to gain a greater market share and complete bigger and bigger deals. Now, Gallagher is looking to form internal partnerships with other divisions such as investment sales or capital markets. The strategy will help the world’s largest privately held commercial-real-estate-services firm discover new ways to close deals around the globe.
THE BOTTOM LINE
VP of hotel investments
Hospitality real estate
Years in the business
Where did you start your career?
With Four Seasons in hotel operations.
Describe yourself in three words
Fair, focused, and competitive—personally and professionally.
Advice to those just starting in finance
Find out how to understand the business. Roll up your sleeves and get dirty working in the industry. Find your niche, go out and do it well, and make sure you really understand all aspects of what you do.