Driftwood acquisitions ceo carlos j. rodriguez sr. on emigrating from costa rica – south florida business journal gas after eating dairy

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He’s the CEO of Coral Gables-based Driftwood Acquisitions & Development (DAD), which finances and owns hotels, and the executive VP of North Palm Beach-based sister company Driftwood Hospitality Management (DHM), which manages hotels. The companies own or manage 51 hotels and have 10 under development, including the Canopy by Hilton in West Palm Beach, the Doubletree by Hilton Fort Lauderdale Airport, and the Holiday Inn Miami 79th Street.

Why did you come to the U.S. in 1996? To grow my company. I didn’t want to compete with my family in the hotel industry in Costa Rica. I saw Miami as the capital of Latin America, where people come to do business, vacation and shop. I figured Miami was a good place to do business with Latin Americans, so I relocated here. That is when I founded Cardel Hotels. My original plan was to build hotels all over Latin America. Then I decided it was better for me to build and operate hotels in the U.S.

How did you come to merge Cardel Hotels with Driftwood, which was owned by Lehman Brothers? At the time, I was entertaining taking my company public. Unfortunately, my timing was terrible. 9/11 took place and my roadshow got canceled. I met David Buddemeyer and we had lunch. We realized we had a lot of chemistry. I met with the guys at Lehman Brothers and I realized we all complemented each other very well. While I like to structure deals and raise money and underwrite them, David enjoyed more the operations of the deal. So we said it would make total sense for us to merge.

Did it scare you to be in business with Lehman Brothers when the recession started? Yes. Before the recession, it was great. When Lehman Brothers went under, we lived through hell. Getting operational decisions from them was difficult. Getting working capital was difficult. When we were able to buy them out, we were able to reinvent our business. Lehman Brothers used us to fix all the hotels that were in trouble, so that reputation helped us survive after Lehman Brothers. Other companies that saw what we did for them came calling. We decided never again to depend just on one source of capital.

What’s the toughest decision you had to make in business? Leaving Costa Rica. I was living very well and had a good income. But having to relocate to a new country and create my own network from scratch, and having the uncertainty of whether I would succeed or not when I have a family and kids was tough.

What’s it like working with your son? It’s the best thing that could have happened to me. I’m very proud of him. It’s fun strategizing the future of the business and having lunches with him, and hosting business clients and seeing him progress in life. It truly is a family office. My wife Pam and I founded Cardel. Now, having my wife, my son and his wife working together is nice.

Besides the ones you own, what is your favorite hotel to visit? The Waldorf in Rome is very beautiful. The Breakers is very nice in Palm Beach. The service is very good. The Intercontinental Hotel in Tahiti is very nice. And the Kahala Resort in Hawaii.

Do you view Airbnb as serious competition for the hotel industry? It is definitely competition. It’s not going to have the same effect that Uber had on taxis. It’s another segment of the hotel industry. While Airbnb will take some business away, it won’t be much – and it will be more than compensated for by the growth in the industry.