Randall Goldman is a visionary leader whose philosophies on hospitality have built successful businesses, brought together communities, and inspired the leaders of tomorrow. After graduating high school, he joined the Coast Guard and spent his first years at The White House serving in the Honor Guard. After his military service, he attended Johnson and Wales University in Charleston to continue his culinary education and then went to work as a Culinary Instructor with the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau Prisons in Texas. His love for Charleston took him back there as Founder and CEO of Patrick Properties Hospitality Group, the pioneer in investing, renovating, and restoring distressed National Historic properties. He and his partners saw the potential in an undeveloped area of town knowing that, with time, their location would be the hot spot of commerce that it is today. Over the course of the next twenty years, they acquired several other properties, cultivated a luxury event business, and started a number of acclaimed restaurants. These restaurants won the State of South Carolina’s first ever award granted to a privately held company, the National Trust for Historic Preservations’ “National Preservation Award”.
Giving back is of great importance to Randall Goldman. As such, he has served on numerous prestigious boards and committees, acting as Chair or President of many of them. Some of these include the Advisory Board of the James Beard Foundation, Local Development Corporation for the City of Charleston, Mobility and Transportation Committee for the City of Charleston Hospitality and Tourism Plan, Board for the Hospitality & Tourism Management School at the College of Charleston, Charleston Restaurant Association, Charleston Wine + Food Festival, and his local Neighborhood Association. He is also active with the nation’s second oldest chapter of the NAACP in Charleston. He is currently serving on the Executive Team for the Joint Base Charleston Advisory Board and is a Fellow at the Air War College. Mr. Goldman is active with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and is a Lifetime Member of the Dominican Friars Foundation Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary. Awards also include: 40 Under 40, Nominee Jefferson Award for Public Service and the Martin Luther King Public Service Award. Randall Goldman has been married to Jennifer Goldman since 1997 and they have a twelve-year-old son, Liam.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
The roots of my career started while serving in the military; I was stationed at a very small unit on the tip of the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. We had a former NY City Police Officer who held the Cook Position, but he wasn’t really loving that role because he relished the excitement of patrols. My personality is one that likes to please, and meals were the one thing that everyone looked forward to. The Commanding Officer told me the quote said by both Napoleon and Frederick the Great: “an army marches on its stomach”. You can tell the mood of those you command by watching how and what they eat. He even took it further by saying the quality of the meals can quickly change the morale of a group of soldiers. The cook is thus one of the most important positions. Later in my career, after the service, I ran a kitchen in a federal prison and was advised by a seasoned guard that the mood of the compound can be judged by watching what is left on the plates as the inmates empty their trays at the dishwasher. So, what started as me wanting to please others matured into a study of human behavior and how one eats, where one eats, and with whom they eat. Later, as Sous Chef at the US State Department, I learned yet another important role of eating that crosses every nationality and religion: all major discussions happen around a table, generally with food, as it is an ice breaker for important conversations.
Within the family structure, again crossing demographics, regions, religious beliefs and cultures, food is really the conduit for hospitality by the act of bringing people together. I can influence just about anyone with a little empathy, a long table, and really good food. Hospitality is how one makes others feel; if everyone feels good then everyone leaves the table satisfied.
Food started my 20 wonderful years at Patrick Properties. We started at The American Theater, which was a “dinner and a show” concept in an art deco movie theater built in the 1940’s. We grew much larger and we started acquiring greatly distressed National Historic Landmarks and restoring them to their days of glory while renovating them for the hospitality industry. Buildings, like food, symbolize a period of time and again you can tell how a generation was feeling by the way they constructed their buildings. Good times brought extravagance, detail and craftsmanship, where harder times brought uniformity and utilitarianism. When WWII ended, for example, there was an urgent need for housing for the soldiers returning so track housing in the suburbs began.
My career has not had a normal trajectory. It is more so one of seizing unique opportunities as they come along. From my military service, to the State Department and my subsequent attending of Johnson & Wales University’s culinary arts program, followed by the Federal Prison system, then ending in Hospitality Development, each experience was vastly different than the previous. Fold in working part time at a cremation company and grocery store, the core principles are the same: bringing people together, hospitality, food, and making people feel comfortable and at ease.
Do you ever have doubts about your professional career? How have you overcome these doubts?
With each new opportunity comes new challenges because I take on roles that will challenge me to grow and are generally above my previous position. I like the quote that has gone viral by Sir Richard Branson: “If somebody offers you and amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes- then learn how to do it later.” Isn’t that the point of growth, reaching for the uncomfortable, the new, and exciting opportunities? If we, as leaders, do not push ourselves to become better, then how does one inspire their teams to reach higher?
So, to answer more directly, no, I do not have doubts about my professional career and never have. Each new change has allowed me to learn something new. In addition, every previous position has prepared me for the next. Everyone asks me why I took the position of running a kitchen in a federal prison. There are 3 reasons: first I wanted to learn how to inspire and motivate people with all the normal levers of motivation taken away such as pay, vacation time, limited hours needed to do the job and bonuses. Secondly, my specific institution recently built a kitchen to be used as a trade educational facility. I wanted to see how I could find a way to create an environment that took the inmates emotionally out of their environment to focus on the task at hand. Sauces, for example, in some cases, take days to make. Aging beef takes time, baking involves setting aside time to allow proper fermentation to take place. All these factors created something to look forward to. This was probably the best education I have had. Thirdly, due to my military training and the duties I had to perform, I came with security clearances, which made me valuable from day one and translated into fantastic pay and being debt free from student loans.
How did you get your first customer?
This is probably the most difficult questions because of the way I view “customers”. For me everyone is a customer, including clients, team members, vendors, and neighboring businesses. As a President, Owner, Partner, Executive Officer who reports to stake holders or a Board or any C-Suite position, you work for everyone. My first “customer” with this definition would have to be my first team member whose name was Chuck. Chuck had a record of minor offenses and he had heard of my work in the prison, so we started our relationship on a profound level of equal trust that lasted well over a decade.
Our first new client actually came through word of mouth, the best way to do business. We spent two years restoring and renovating the William Aiken House, circa 1908. That length of time allowed me to tell the story from day one through social media of what we were doing. I spoke about the craftsmen, the extraordinary lengths taken to reproduce missing elements of the plaster molding, the endless searches for items taken from the home, in some cases from states away. Within this National Historic Landmark, we installed CAT 5 cable in every room and then upgraded to fiber when it was developed. We traveled around the world to find furniture and artwork that the Aiken family would have purchased to furnish the home. It wasn’t just another event venue, but rather a museum for special gatherings. People want experiences with purpose and meaning and that to me is the art of a really good story.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
From a Marketing standpoint, SEO and SEM go hand in hand with referrals! One has to know their market and that crosses every sector not just hospitality. For me specifically, I worked hard to get on the Board of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau and did so by becoming President of the Charleston Restaurant Association, which fell under the direction of the CVB. I was asked to lead subcommittees within the City Government and lead as Chair of the Mobility and Transportation Committee for the Charleston Hospitality Plan, which gave me great insight as to who was coming into the City, where they were from, and their behaviors while visiting. The Chamber of Commerce was extremely helpful in learning where the City, County, and State elected officials were placing their attention. The Charleston Airport was high on their agenda due to the runways being shared with Joint Base Charleston and their C-130 Wing as well as Boeing’s manufacturing plant. Having a top-rated runway (number two of over 9,000) allows long haul flights, which in turn is attractive to domestic airlines. Charleston, South Carolina, is a highly sought-after market for tourism and manufacturing, so many airlines wish to have terminals here. Direct flight markets, of which we have 18, with a combined number of incoming flights from those cities total 1,785 each month. From those 18 direct-fly markets, eight cities, or 836 flights, are in the North East from DC and up. Percentage wise, 47% are coming from this area, so our digital campaign and efforts went first to this area, which also coincides with the country’s most densely populated area.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
As the leader of any organization, every turn at every moment requires a decision to be made. Perception of what we do and the way we respond to situations is critically observed by those who report to you, so as the CEO/ Managing Partner I was aware that what I did set the tone and reinforced the ethos I strived to have. When there are tough decisions to be made, I like to bring in the senior team and roundtable the topic. This accomplishes two objectives: 1. It gets buy-in from everyone and makes them feel that their opinion matters. 2. The trusting team environment allows others to challenge my decisions and either open up new viewpoints that I had not considered. Thus, my decision is either changed by the input of new knowledge or it is reinforced from feedback. Either way, it is a win-win. In thinking of what has been the most challenging, I would have to say staying the course with the vision I had for our new restaurant. The concept had so many layers and was extremely complex, because I was trying to blend the ingredients commonly used in the mid-1800’s with the style of those who were doing the cooking. Years of research went into this concept, collecting artifacts that we would display in the front of the house, historical photographs showing days past and tracing every ingredient to its origin. Some had a hard time digesting all of this as not everyone was involved from day one. As the leader, it is important to bring in the team on matters of the business but equally important that you gain their trust for the times when you make decisions that they might not agree with. As long as they believe in you and your vision they’ll go along with it.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
The definition of success is viewed differently by so many. With my years of experience, travels, and different businesses I have been responsible for, what makes me successful is difficult to answer. With experience comes the knowledge that sometimes haste isn’t the best path. Time has a way of working things out sometimes. Calm, collected, and measured responses are how I now handle those “this has to happen yesterday” situations. While operating my last company we had to face the economic correction of 2007 and 2008 and that was my biggest teacher. I learned the power of having assets, liquidity, the importance of diversification, and maintaining your brand while not cheapening your quality or lowering your standards, all while keeping moral up. Patience, fortitude, eagerness to teach by example, knowing how to take calculated risks, and the importance of diversification in revenue.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
My most satisfying set of moments at my last position as a CEO was watching the management grow in their positions, purchasing their first car on their own, buying that first new home, getting married and starting families. All of these things are indicators that they feel secure in the work place to make important life decisions. I have been one to subscribe to the notion that the value in leadership isn’t in their presence but rather in their absence. When my wife and I left the company we founded 20 years ago, a multitude of advancement opportunities quickly became open for the senior level management, which then trickled down. All in all, 11 seasoned team members saw an increase in their positions, pay, and status when we left. At the end of the day, leadership is about training others to do your job. If this doesn’t happen, the leader and all those under them became stagnant and fresh ideas never percolate to fruition. If you have a happy team that feels challenged with opportunities ahead, they will drive business and your business will grow as ours did year after year. We were not the industry leader because we had fantastic properties, we were the best because the team believed in the Mission.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
More and more players are coming into the event business, stretching the meaning of event space. What made us different was the quality we were able to maintain for two decades and the diversified revenue streams we created. No one else in our space had the flexibility, number of venues, or range of services we had to offer. Our business was year-around through creative ways of making the off-season the perfect season. More than just event venues were under our umbrella. We had theaters, restaurants, office space, and residential properties to help keep a pertinent staff, only needing to bring in temps during the busier times and more as back help, allowing us to keep our seasoned and well-trained team out front.
The thing that excites me the most now that I have stepped away from the event business is how often I’m asked to bring my hospitality skill set to other industries. From helping a wine grower in Southern Greece develop a more meaningful brand that tells the families stories and make the label more American-friendly, to the European family-owned luxury villas wishing to increase their American visits, everyone wants to know the key to hospitality. Hospitality is about creating an ethos where your team is happy while accomplishing financial goals through productivity. By 2020, half of the work force will be millennials, a demographic of workers unlike any before. It excites me to now look for ways to encourage this next generation, challenge them and create work that is meaningful and rewarding. Change is inevitable and how we adjust to it using our past experience will be critical for long-lasting and sustained growth.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
Not necessarily a specific item, rather a software that placed everything we did on third party servers, which were then backed up through various areas around the US. “Clouding” our network, especially in the hurricane-prone area we were in, allowed us to remain productive and in touch in the event of an evacuation. The trickledown effect of doing this allowed those who had children to work from home if their child was sick. Productivity increased, our guest response time was dramatically improved, and morale was better overall with more the increased flexibility.
What is the best thing about your current job?
Having six event spaces that all having something happening at the same time and watching the team come together to make the dream happen and the subsequent joy they have with their accomplishment really excites me. Charleston is on a peninsula and the business districts are increasing causing friction between the longtime residents and the size of the business districts. As a local resident, I understand this friction better than most, so I enjoy balancing the needs of our company with the needs of our community and working with local and state officials to make everyone happy. Sitting on city boards that influence affordable housing for our industry, meeting transportation needs of the hospitality industry while making sure that the quality of life of our residents remains high are challenges I really enjoy.