This is not the first time Aaron Greenman, recently named Greenville-based Auro Hotels’ new executive vice president of investments and development, has worked for the Rama family-owned company.
In his first stint, Greenman helped launch AURO University in Surat, India, which is also home to a pair of Auro hotel properties. “But, my association with the Rama family goes back to the mid-90s when D.J. [Rama] and I attended [Cornell] University, together,” Greenman says. A true citizen of the world (Greenman’s lived and worked on several continents), he brings a wealth of perspective and experience in overseeing and growing Auro Hotel’s investment portfolio.
So, what brought you back to Auro?
Well, the friendship, to be honest. I think this is a very important part of the story relative to Auro. For a number of reasons both personal and professional, D.J. [Rama] and I started talking last year about coming back. And to be honest, if it wasn’t for D.J. and the Rama family, I wouldn’t be here. It’s very much a reflection of my respect for them and my friendship with them that I’m here.
What do you do as EVP of investment and development on a day-to-day basis?
In a hotel company, there’s really two aspects: operating hotels on a daily basis (which I’m not an expert at) and the other side which is … you’re in a building. A building with walls, systems and land and utilities. My role is to concentrate on that non-operation side — looking at our existing hotels, understanding what they are, what they need going forward and how to maintain and enhance that value. Then, there’s the growth part — looking at new opportunities, building and acquiring.
Sounds like a huge job …
[Laughs] I’m just taking it one day at a time …
What role does Greenville play in Auro’s plans?
I think it’s still too early for me to answer. But, I’ll say this: Greenville and Auro go together like bacon and eggs. The Ramas have been here since the ’70s, the company has always been based here and Greenville will forever be considered Auro’s home market. It’s Auro’s identity, in many ways.
How has COVID-19 changed the conversation around future growth and development?
I don’t think COVID fundamentally changes the considerations when we look to grow. We always look at the fundamentals: Is there the type of demand we need to be able to build or acquire this hotel and make it successful? Do the numbers work? And it’s incredibly important to never deviate from focusing on those fundamentals. I think the part that’s changed is understanding how things are changing. We know the small ways things have changed but we’re still answering the big questions.
Where does Greenville shine?
I have to caveat this – I’ve been away from the United States for a while and have not paid close attention to American cities. But, whether a city is a business destination, a tourism destination or a place to live … the most difficult thing to convey is authenticity. If you have it and are recognized for it, it’s incredibly important to support it. My sense is that Greenville is perceived to be authentic and its efforts with its downtown, for example — human scale, walkability — is a reinforcement of this authenticity.
You’ve lived all over the world … what cities reflect that authenticity?
There aren’t a lot, actually. If you look at a city like Brussels … I like Brussels because it’s a city that is extremely authentic — authenticity is not its issue. Traditionally, it’s a bit dysfunctional on the political side. It’s not necessarily the cleanest or most beautiful city. But, for those who live there, its neighborhoods are completely authentic. It’s not trying to be something it’s not. They love their food, their traditions … their chocolate, their beer, their comic books. This is their heritage. Over the long term… when tourists or business travelers go to Brussels, they know what they want to experience. It’s a place with real character.
How many countries have you lived or worked in?
Let’s see … there’s the U.S., Belgium, France, India, Kenya … there’re a few countries in the Middle East, South Korea. Pretty much every country in Europe. And yet, I’ve only worked for three or four companies in my career.
Born in Chicago…raised in Miami.
White Sox or Cubs? Bears or Dolphins?
[Laughs] Hurricanes. My parents were professors at the University of Miami. I spent my whole childhood going to University of Miami football games. I dabbled with the Miami Heat. But if anything, it was those ‘Canes football games.
English and French.
You mentioned attending Cornell University, an Ivy League school …
I went to Cornell for a master’s degree … Master’s of Management and Hospitality with a focus on real estate finance. For my undergraduate, I was an art history major at Amherst College.
So, you’re this blend of creativity and business.
I have a side career as a photographer. It’s an outlet. Has been forever … since my teens. My first love.
Your favorite place to shoot?
India. There’s no place in the world like India. It’s the color, the sounds, the smells, the people and the chaos.
Check out Greenman’s photography at acuitycolorgrain.com
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