Back to blog

KAJ is Here for People


Sharing our New Vision for Hospitality

It’s no secret that our industry has had an impossible year. January and February were record months for KAJ, and then the middle of March happened and our world as we knew it was gone.

As a business leader, there is always pressure to perform. More revenue, more leads, more profit... More, more, more. What happens when you are in an industry built around travel and a global pandemic brings travel to a screeching halt; turning more, more, more into less, less, less?

That’s how many of us in hospitality feel, and still do. Forecasting and predictions share it will take anywhere from 18 months to three years to bounce back to pre-pandemic demand for hotels and lodging in the U.S. That can be a lot to process and disheartening at that.

That’s not the intent of this post. My goal instead is to share with you our new brand at KAJ Hospitality—the timing of the launch, the genesis of our why, and how as an organization we’re banding together to protect and promote the people we serve more than ever.



Growing Pains

I’m a second-generation hotelier. My dad, Kevin, started KAJ in 1993. From the very beginning the theme of family was apparent and important to our company. We’ve built upon what that means as an organization and how it applies to more than just the guests who stay at our properties. We turned inward and determined what we wanted our culture to reflect. We looked externally beyond the lobbies of our hotels to look at our communities and relationships we have with vendors, suppliers, and partners. Everything we did and committed to was focused on people and treating every single person we interact with like family.


"The human experience is essential. For our team, our guests, our partners, our vendors, and our community. It means people should be seen. They should be heard. Understood. Recognized. And, appreciated." —Aaron Johnson, Chief Vision Officer, KAJ Hospitality.


The Why

I share this story with my team often. How I arrived at the conclusion that I wasn’t happy with our company’s fundamental structure. On paper, KAJ was solid. We grew from three properties to nine in a span of three years. Our footprint was expanding and we put down roots in more and more communities. Our team grew exponentially. We served more and more guests. And yet, something was missing.

Around the same time, I found Simon Sinek’s famous TedTalk—”How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Sinek’s now famous presentation on “Why” was recorded in 2010 as the nation was rebounding from the Great Recession. He shared his own personal struggle with a lack of purpose within the business he owned. So much of what he shared in that 18-minute video resonated with me. I then read his books. I liked what he was teaching me and began to see how to connect it all in order to drive change at KAJ.


What our People are Here for

Leadership comes from everyoneeveryone. The leadership team at KAJ is comprised of friendly, empathetic, inclusive, fun, and successful people. Their individual “whys” motivate me and impress me. It helps enforce our company culture and fosters unity across all our properties.


Sara Lussman, VP of Operations

At the end of the day our hotels are just buildings, what makes them special is the very people who enter them. We are here for each other through the good and the rough, as a family, we support each other and endure through it all.


Blair Riffel, Corporate Director of Operations

Why am I in the hotel industry? People. Everyone has a story, whether it is a part-time breakfast attendant or a regular guest. We see people in the best of times, weddings, and in the worst of times, funerals. Being there for the guest and engaging with them and hearing their stories is what makes this industry special.


McKenzie Hettich, Corporate Director of Human Resources

I get up in the morning to help our people, whether it’s helping our teams through difficult situations, finding new people to join our team, or helping our people grow in their roles and get that next promotion. Our people are what drive me and make me love our company and my role in KAJ!


Bryan Ahlers, Corporate Director of Revenue Management

My drive is to help KAJ leaders at our hotels accomplish results. I love formulating strategies with my team, working with them to achieve those strategies, measuring the results, and celebrating success. We’re all working towards the greater good of making KAJ successful.


Timing is Everything

As I mentioned earlier, this has been a tough year for hospitality and we’re not out of the woods yet. It’s going to take even more resolve to come out on the other side. Our brand has always been about and for people, we just weren’t the best at saying it and sharing it externally. Now’s the time to reinforce our purpose in order to promote and protect our industry and our communities.

We’re glad you’re here to be part of it.

We're here to help. Read our Acquisition, Management & Development philosophy. Learn More

Topics: Culture