If a green lodging hall of fame existed, Dennis Quaintance would certainly be in it. I first chatted with Dennis almost 10 years ago when his Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels (QW) was building the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C. At that time the goal was LEED Gold for the 147-room property that features a solar hot water heating system on its roof and other energy-saving features. The Proximity later became the first hotel to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum level of certification. Quite an achievement.
This past fall, Dennis and the other founders of QW announced that, after 28 years of operating one of the top-rated hotel and restaurant companies in the South, they had sold 100 percent of their company to its 600+ staff members. The sale made the company one of only a few employee-owned restaurant and hotel companies in the United States and generated a lot of local media buzz. (TPI Hospitality in Willmar, Minn. is also employee owned.) “We’ve sold our interest in QW to the QW ESOP Trust because we believe that it’s the optimal way for QW to be owned and managed in the future,” Dennis said in a press release about the sale.
An Employee Stock Ownership Plan is a program that offers a company’s staff members an ownership stake in the company. This sort of ESOP is actually a trust that’s been created to purchase 100 percent of the equity in the company in order to provide retirement benefits for the company’s staff members. After one year with the company, staff members age 18 and above who work 20+ hours a week start accruing retirement units. They will be fully vested after just three years.
Even before the sale, there was a lot of evidence employees liked working for QW. More than 50 staff members at QW have been with the company more than 10 years.
Business Approach to Remain the Same
“Our priorities here at QW will remain the same,” Dennis says. “In other words, having a sincere intention to be of genuine service to our guests will stay as our company’s highest priority, with a close second priority of being of genuine service to our QW colleagues. Our third-highest priority is to be of genuine service to our owners. Now, via the ESOP, our owners are our staff members, so our second and third priorities are sort of combined!”
According to QW, the QW ESOP Trust is a natural next step for the community-based, locally owned company. It fits perfectly with QW’s Sustainable Practices Initiative, which considers how company decisions affect current and future generations, as well as their Fairness Doctrine for diversity and inclusion.
The QW ESOP trust now owns the QW operating companies, not any real estate. QW leases its restaurants and it manages the hotels for a fee. That has been the structure all along. There will not be any significant operational or leadership changes as a result of this ESOP program.
Succession planning becomes part of every company’s business strategy at some point. “Handing over the keys” has got to be much easier when you have such a talented group of employees to carry on the company’s mission. This all certainly would not have happened without the leadership of Dennis and the other QW founders: Mike Weaver and Nancy King Quaintance. A big tip of the hat to them all.