Geller on his exit: Strategic on firm ground [Chicago Tribune]By Kathy Bergen, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Nov. 02--Laurence Geller told the Tribune Friday afternoon he decided now was a good time to step down as president and chief executive of Strategic Hotels and Resorts because the company is on firm ground and there are other interests he wants to pursue.
Chicago-based Strategic announced after the market closed Friday that Geller is exiting the chief executive role immediately.
Raymond L. "Rip" Gellein, Jr., chairman of the board, will assume the additional role of CEO.
Geller, who founded the company, will serve in an advisory role until the end of the year.
Geller said in an interview that he wants to devote energy to other interests, including his efforts to foster hospitality education, his work on Chicago's effort to boost its tourism profile and his novel writing.
"Right now I'm trying to decide if I lost somebody or if I just had a grandchild," he said, speaking of his mixed emotions about leaving the company he started.
He said he intends to stay based in Chicago.
Gellein has been a member of the company's board since August 2009 and has served as its chairman since August 2010.
Chicago-based Strategic is a real estate investment trust that owns and provides asset management to high-end hotels and resorts in the United States, Mexico and Europe.
The company has ownership interests in 18 properties, with a total of 8,271 rooms.
Geller launched the company in 1997, and took it public 2004.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, which provided Strategic with 19 percent of its operating income at the time.
Geller resolved to diversify holdings, and went on a buying spree that left the company highly leveraged when the recession slashed business at luxury hotels. Strategic's stock, which had been trading near $24 a share in 2007, fell as low as 65 cents in early 2009.
More recently, its stock price has been hovering in the $6 range, giving it a market capitalization of about $1.2 billion.
The company was holding a conference call with analysts late Friday afternoon to address the announcement.
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