The Journey of Social Enterprise through the Hospitality Industry with Adam Zembruski, Founder of Hospiamo - Ep 27

This episode of the Social Enterprise Alliance Podcast aired on Tuesday, August 22nd. This episode can be found on Apple Podcast and Spotify.

0:00:00.7 David: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Social Enterprise Alliance podcast. Today, we welcome Adam Zembruski, founder of Hospiamo. Adam discovered the path of social enterprise through the hospitality industry, and founded Hospiamo to forge a path to engage and empower over 250,000 hospitality workers by 2030, elevating them into positions of influence and decision making and sharing profits and ownership. Today, Adam is leveraging his expertise and the strength of his network to mentor the next generation. He dedicates himself to dismantling barriers and forging a more accessible route for those who will follow in his footsteps, aiming to create a more equitable and inclusive hospitality industry. Welcome Adam to the podcast.

0:01:21.6 Lauren: Well, hello everyone. Today on the Social Enterprise Alliance Podcast, we welcome Adam Zembruski, the founder of Hospiamo. Adam, how are you today?

0:01:31.1 Adam: I am great. Hi, Lauren. Hi, David. Thank you so much for having me.

0:01:35.2 Lauren: Yeah, it's great to have you here. We're excited for today's conversation, and just to learn a little bit more about your journey and what Hospiamo is up to.

0:01:44.7 Adam: Thank you. It's been a long journey of about 25 years, and because it started with my career in hospitality and becoming a manager in the hotel business, but I am going to start on the journey related to social enterprising. So I will say it started with you all when Hospiamo was started in concept in 2018, when I'm in the hotel business, hospitality management ownership, real estate investments. And have owned a couple of companies. Started a couple of companies, but mostly I managed hotels at the property level for and with other people, as a general manager, as a front desk agent, as a front desk manager. Most of the departments there. I've run restaurants, owned some restaurants, I've been a pretty diverse background in all that. So start of Hospiamo in 2018 when I knew only in concept what I wanted it to become because I had left the industry, and when I say that, I left being employed by another company industry. So I started my pure entrepreneurship journey there. I was introduced or I found the Social Enterprise Alliance among others, and particularly, I really enjoyed what the Social Enterprise SEA Social Enterprise Alliance stood for in writing, but also once I engaged, I found a potential partner to help me commit, if that makes sense.

0:03:34.4 Adam: Because I wanted to represent a company, Hospiamo, that is all about commitment and backing up our words with real actions, with real people, and we exist to be part of the hospitality community, but really focused on the people and our buildings, and that's at, I guess, the top of our pyramid, but underneath all of that is a great deal of stakeholders, call it. And I will mention that about what I next learned what the stakeholder economy type attitudes were all about versus single shareholder. And so I'll stop there, but my journey started with learning about what social enterprising is, and then establishing the organizational documents over a couple of year period and infusing that into the business model of Hospiamo and to really make an impact into what we are established to do.

0:04:41.7 Lauren: Yeah, yeah, that's fantastic. And I wanna ask a little more about the impact that you're making in a second, but first I just wanna say, I mean, there's so many different ways that people kind of come into social enterprise and learning about it, and so I find that I'm really fascinated by the stories of people like yourself who work in an industry and get to know that industry inside and out, and then start to figure out the ways that they can move within the industry to have some kind of social impact. I always just think that's really, really valuable and really interesting, 'cause if you are able to bring that level of expertise, it's different than somebody who starts as an expert in social enterprise and then tries to learn in industry, they're both fine. They're both great, but it's just an interesting and it's a different way to come about it.

0:05:37.7 Lauren: So I really love those stories. And I wanted to ask you too, like did you have a specific aha moment in your research or in your planning for Hospiamo when you realized, Oh, this is a social enterprise. There's a name for what I'm doing and what I want to do.

0:05:56.5 Adam: I had several aha moments, but I will point to the intersection of two very important and powerful worlds of what we call hospitality and specifically hotels, and that is the owners and the operators. So the owners speak a certain language, meaning the real estate, the building owners, the ones who purchase land and they purchase buildings, and then they hire third-party operators, the employers of the people at the property level to manage the property. And so I have lived, and I like how you just worded that, I have lived inside of that world since about 2007. Before that, I was really on the fence of just operator, manager, field level, and then in 2007, I had a wonderful opportunity to be promoted and have multiple hotels in my, what we call region.

0:06:56.4 Adam: And then in 2010, I was given another opportunity, wonderful opportunity with one of my best mentors, and when he called and said, I'm starting a new ownership company, and he said, I need a really good operator, and we had a lot of trust built, and so that was where these two worlds collided for me, and so that was the next six months, and so we're talking about post-Great Recession, around the middle of 2010, and it was like a slap in the face where I realized that these two worlds are completely different, and they don't even speak the same language, they're wonderful people with wonderful intentions, although highly challenged to sit at the same table to talk about their values and what's important to each of them. And one example is I was brought into that world of ownership, real estate ownership and equity and evaluating properties and companies and things like that, and I was learning it, and I was being pulled, literally pulled away from the people that I had worked so closely with for about 15 or so years. And it was very uncomfortable for me, but I did… Like you said, the aha moment motivated me to jump into educating myself first and then translating between those two worlds. For example, when my world as an operator, as a manager in hotels and hospitality, we would have budgeting seasons every year around the fall, and we're talking about next year, and it's everything.

0:08:44.0 Adam: There's about a 175 line items of the budget of a hotel, and they all were analyzed, say, this is what we did last year, this is what we did, compare to budget, and this is what we think we can do next year. So for 15 years, I was looking at that from an operator's perspective and saying, This is what I think we can do next year, and this is how we're gonna do it, and put together an entire business plan and a strategic model, and then present that to ownership or the management company that represents ownership, and it would come back usually 90% of the time, No, that's not going to work. This is what we'd like to see. And for quite a while, I was a little bit personally offended by that because I didn't really understand that world. But then when I was, my aha moment, when I was part of that world, then I realized, wow, this needs to be better expressed in ways that people that manage properties as a hotel general manager, for example, should come by education. By saying, not just empathy, of course empathy is important, but actually education and teaching people what these words mean, because they would send back my budget that took a month to create and just in three or four line items and say these are the things that need to change, and it would essentially mean I had to blow up the entire budget and create a new one. And I didn't really know why until I jumped into that world.

0:10:20.1 Adam: So that was the aha moment. It was that year, and I worked for a gentleman that asked me to be a part of his company as the operating partner, and he sponsored me. He sponsored me education through Cornell, through Johnson and Wales, amazing organizations that are quite expensive to… That I would not have been able to afford myself, and so he took me under his wing and said, I'm gonna teach you. Or not only teach you, but create a platform for you to learn. And I did. And it was amazing.

0:11:00.1 David: Well, what I like about that story is just this like awareness of how many stakeholders are in place because you have the ownership group who, the reality is there is a financial engine to what they need to do. The question of course is how much of the financial engine is really required, but the people that work in the hotel industry seem to me like they would be bent towards some kind of social impact because, and it really holds true to your name, Hospiamo, where there's this hospitality mentality. You're serving a customer base who needs a safe place to rest, a safe place to get dinner, places to connect, vacation for their families.

0:11:45.7 David: So there is this bent towards taking care of other people, even in the baseline of what it means to be in the hotel industry. So I'm really curious about how that transition happened to, here's who we are, here's who all the stakeholders are in the room, and now you're trying to transition a little bit more into how much more impact we can have. I'm curious to know where that impact is going as you see Hospiamo taking off from start-up to action.

0:12:18.0 Adam: I would say it is… Once I and our team members, I have many loyal and generous supporters that, to your point, David, they share the same attitude. We're like-minded, we're impact-driven, and we have similar backgrounds in that we come from the field, whether it be starting off as a dishwasher, or a front desk agent or a server, a bartender and then found our way into management, and then the very fortunate, lucky few like me that made their way into some form of ownership, right? So, or profit sharing program. And so we talked about creating mechanisms together and engines that actually help make that happen for other people. What I found among these other folks that help out and support Hospiamo is that we are, I don't say this to be bold, but one in a million.

0:13:28.1 Adam: I really feel like for the past 10 years when I was offered platforms and opportunities to learn and to be brought into some form of ownership, I really feel like looking back, that I am one in a million, and so how do we really make impact and how do we use our knowledge for the benefit of many others. And so with the help of Social Enterprise Alliance, with the help of other organizations, we had to come up with some numbers, and so we came up with the number of 250,000 people. And what that means is that, and I'll give you some big numbers here, if I can. In 2019, the hotel industry, let's say there's about 58,000, but let's call it 60,000 hotels in the United States. And that's fairly accurate. In 2019, there were about 2 million workers that worked in the hotel industry. And then the pandemic hit and those numbers were decimated and as were many, but the revenues came back a lot faster than what anybody had thought. The revenues in the hotel industry of those 60,000 hotels as the industry, actually exceeded 2019 last year. So it's been about a year that the hotel industry has come back in total revenue, but we have about one and a half million workers that work in hotels right now.

0:15:09.5 Adam: So it's about 500,000 people short. And so if you look at it from a very large scale, our engagement of the people that were in the industry and are in the industry, our research in 1998 engaged managers in the hotel industry. It was over 40% for engagement versus disengaged and versus actively disengaged. And so that number today, again, this is all of our research with backed up data, that number today is 7%. So there's about 150,000 full-time salaried managers in hotels today, and our research shows that 7% of them are engaged. Now, what that means to me, and the reality of that, and what… You might not read this on articles, but I've recruited hotel managers to come to whatever company that I'm part of at the time, to come work for me, right? And some companies, it's very easy to recruit from. Some companies, it's not. And it starts with the question. Hi, I'm Adam. I work for ABC company, and you can look me up on LinkedIn if you'd like, but I really, I just visited your hotel and you're the hotel general manager, would you like to talk to me about opportunities within my company?

0:16:44.0 Adam: And if the answer is anything except No, I'm good. I'm very happy where I am. That means they're not part of that 7%. That means I can fairly easily talk to them into at least interviewing with my company, maybe I don't hire them, but I want to engage with them, and so the 7% is a major concern. And so with the Hospiamo business model of taking our business model and to impact what we have seen as feasible is by 2030 converting the disengaged to engage and getting that over 40% again. It's very possible. And so I hope that expresses some of those numbers and how we plan to impact it.

0:17:34.6 Lauren: Yeah, that's so fascinating. So one thing that we like to kind of talk about on the podcast is just even the day-to-day experience of what you're doing, so how do you navigate the founding and the running of a social enterprise in this phase? And what challenges do you face and what excites you the most about the season you're in and the work that you're doing?

0:17:58.0 Adam: I can answer that with a quote if I may, and I don't know who said this, but it's on my wall and it says, If you want something you never had, you have to do something you've never done. And so about a year ago, a little over a year ago, a year and a half ago, and that is around the time that I engaged Social Enterprise Alliance, right? I began doing things very uncomfortably that I never have done before. And so this is one of them, what we're doing right now. I had done a lot of interviewing from my side, interviewing other people, but I'm a fairly humble person, and so any time that somebody asked me to jump on to a podcast or make a quote for an article or speak at an event, I've done those things, but I just didn't really feel comfortable because I thought the perception was, people would think that I was making it all about me. And so I avoided those things. But going back to that quote, I started to think like, you know what, I'm gonna have to start doing some things that I've never done before, and if we, as in the industry, wanna get what we've never had before and what we have never had before, is that 40% to 50% engagement for the managers in hospitality. And so, I started learning, but also very specifically, I started just jumping in with the help of my brother Matt, my brother Matt's in Agile management in the software engineering and electrical engineering world.

0:19:29.1 Adam: And so that industry has been transformed in what they call with Agile management, and so I jumped into doing things differently than I was taught in my career. I was taught to work, take some time to report, and then go work with my team, and then go report again and go do this or that, one by one, rather than looking at it more holistically, and so my brother had done a couple of live events, he had done a couple of podcasts and things like that, and so he coached me a bit and so I started doing things that I had never done before, and so it's probably the easiest way to answer your question by saying that whenever something was put in front of me over the past 12 or 14 months, even if it didn't make a lot of sense to benefit me personally or even my company, I just did it. And because these are things that I've never had to do before. And so the result has been fascinating for myself, learning about me, but also what happened was I started to see some interesting things happen, almost like the universe responding with people being attracted to what I was doing. These wonderful people, and there's dozens of them that I've been connected or reconnected with now. And so, I hope that answers it.

0:21:00.9 Adam: It's just I started to do things that I had never had to do before and really embracing that and actually scheduling time out of my day to do those things. And so it's one thing to say that, Oh, I'm gonna start doing things I never had to do before. It was more like, No, I'm gonna just make a list of four or five things I've never done, and I'm gonna do it every Tuesday from 2 to 4. And that's when I started to do those things. And so there were some beauty created there in the unknown.

0:21:34.1 David: Well, the startup world is definitely an unknown experience, so I think that that's why is to create that space to just keep pushing in and keep learning, and really what I'm hearing in that is this perspective of being curious and embracing that and trying to learn from as many people as you can, which is tapping into the wisdom of those that you get to connect with, so.

0:21:58.1 Adam: David, I'll say that it all started with curiosity for me, you just mentioned being curious. The entire reason I entered the industry of being even a warehouse attendant, my whole life it's a never ending curiosity, and that is, what do people do? These people that I don't really know, do they go home at night? Do they have a family? Do they eat cheeseburgers? What kind of socks do they wear? Just who are they? And so I started working at a resort casino, Foxwoods up in Connecticut, and I was inundated with people from all over the world, and I was able to engage with them and learn different cultures and learn about what they do when they go home. And I found my professional meaning and purpose in life, which is taking care of people when they are away from their home, keeping them safe, with a focus on the people that eventually reported to me that we're keeping them safe and happy and satisfied. So I have 25 plus years worth of people living above me, hundreds of people living above me in a hotel when I'm working at the lobby level, and it's a massive responsibility that I really didn't put a value on until I was brought out of that day-to-day atmosphere, and it's just a massive piece of meaning to follow for somebody, and it all started with curiosity for me, and I'm still very curious and amazed how people and decisions are made and things like that, so.

0:23:38.2 Lauren: Awesome, yeah, well, curiosity is a very powerful trait and it can open a lot of doors, so that's cool to hear that, that's something that you possess and use regularly. So thank you so much for coming on today, Adam and for just sharing some of your story and where you're at and where Hospiamo is at. To kinda wrap us up here, where can people find the work that you're doing, where can they get involved?

0:24:05.0 Adam: Thank you so much and really sincerely, it's an honor that you asked me to be a part of this, so this is one of the things that I've never had to do before, and so I appreciate you asking me to do it and you're part of my personal journey, and it really means a lot to me. So to find me, the best way is through the website That's H-O-S-P-I-A-M-O. You can find out that there is a hidden meaning behind the I-A-M-O, and that HOSP is from hospitality. It's a wonderful dual meaning, you could say, so look that up. And then there's two pages on there that I would invite you to visit, and it's You can learn about our why and you can connect with me, you can schedule a 30-minute meeting with me using that site, and then there's, and we are asking people to join a revolution and join a movement, and there's lots of different ways that people can do that. And it's all there. And I am an open book, and so if somebody wanted to contact me personally, you're welcome to email me at, and I won't do it now, but if somebody wants my cell phone number, I'll give that to them also because there's probably about a million people that have my cell phone number, and…

0:25:34.0 Lauren: That's too funny.

0:25:35.2 Adam: That they're more than welcome to call me too.

0:25:36.5 David: Spoken like someone who's lived hospitality their whole life.

0:25:43.2 Adam: That's right.

0:25:43.5 David: Well, thank you, Adam, and it's been a pleasure and we look forward to seeing where you are a year from now.

0:25:50.1 Adam: Thank you both very much. Really appreciate you. Thanks for all you do at Social Enterprise Alliance too.

0:25:54.2 Lauren: Thanks, Adam.

0:25:54.5 Adam: Thank you.