This month at the 2022 HFTP Annual Convention, HFTP Global Past President Daniel N. Conti, Jr., CHAE+ will be honored as the 2022 Paragon Award recipient. He was selected for his unwavering support of the association and substantial knowledge-sharing contributions as a frequent speaker and mentor to fellow HFTP members. Daniel is the chief financial officer for Jupiter Island Holdings, Inc. in Hobe Sound, Florida USA. He has been a member of HFTP for 20 years and served in multiple association leadership positions including as the 2014–2015 HFTP Global President.
To learn more about Daniel and his involvement in HFTP, we asked him a few questions.
When did you first know you wanted to be in the hospitality industry and what is your favorite part?
I first started in the hospitality industry while in high school in New Jersey. While most people my age were stocking shelves in the grocery store or pumping gas (no, you can’t pump your own gas in New Jersey), I wanted to do something that would give me practical work experience. A friend working at an Embassy Suites, alerted me to a position there. I got the job and I worked at the hotel through high school and college. I was a front desk clerk, breakfast cook, night auditor, worked in reservations and at 18, even was the weekend manager on duty every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.
For some reason I just fell in love with hospitality and even after graduating from college, I ended right back here. I tried a few other industries, once as a controller for an auto glass distributor and another as controller and manager of Applegate Farms. Then shortly after getting married and moving to Florida, I took an assistant controller position at Frenchman’s Creek Country Club and I fell in love with the club sector. Working in both hotels and clubs has really driven my connection and passion for the industry.
My favorite part of working in hospitality is all the people I have met — individuals from around the world including Australia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, England, Canada, the United States and the Caribbean. Many have become friends who have molded my career and life. Being in an industry that permits me to meet and gain knowledge from a diverse group of individuals has been very exciting. Hospitality is such a fun industry to be a part of and I don’t think I would enjoy doing what I do nearly as much in a different industry.
How were you first introduced to HFTP?
When I got my first country club job at Frenchman’s Creek, my boss Mark Engebretson encouraged me to join HFTP, and I joined the HFTP Gold Cost Chapter. Then when I switched jobs, I became a member of the HFTP Treasure Coast Chapter. That is when I became heavily involved with the association. I was a chapter president, chaired the Florida Regional and went to multiple HFTP Leadership Academy events. This activity led me to volunteer on the HFTP Global level, serving on committees and getting a director position on the HFTP Global Board. However, it all started with going to a local chapter meeting and networking with my peers.
What do you find valuable about your membership with HFTP?
Whenever anyone asks me why I belong to HFTP or what makes it so special, I always end up talking about the networking. The people I have met and the resources and opportunities that have opened-up to me are too numerous to count. Through HFTP, I have gained an excellent, informal education from peers who have shared their knowledge and expertise. The association has always been a part of my professional growth and it is quite astonishing to think about being a 17-year-old front desk clerk in a hotel to now being the CFO for Jupiter Island. It has been an interesting journey.
It’s been seven years since you served as HFTP Global President. What have you done to remain active in the association? How do you continue to contribute to HFTP?
A few years ago, the Global Executive Committee began to assign Global Past President liaisons to the HFTP Global committees. This was an important step in keeping them connected and supportive of the association and to continue to draw from their valuable knowledge. Because of this, I continue to serve on various committees including this year’s Annual Convention Education Advisory Council.
And as most that know me, if you put me on a committee, I won’t be quiet. I am going to give you my opinion, I am going to challenge the status quo and I am going to try to push us to make better decisions for the industry and association. I continue to do that. Frank Wolfe probably regrets the day he put Tom Smith (also a Global Past President) and I on a task force together because he has been stuck hearing our opinions ever since.
As a club professional, what are some of the top challenges you and your colleagues are facing? How do you approach them?
Over the last few years the hospitality industry has had to really pivot and adjust to a changing environment. The club world didn’t get hurt as bad from the pandemic as the hotel sector did. But now, many have left the industry, and we are facing a shortage of qualified staff.
The challenge is that you can’t work in hospitality from your home office or work remotely for a majority of the jobs in our industry. And so finding staff, fighting to keep staff, contending with rising wage rates and recruiting continue to be a battle. To address these issues, we have to look at how we are attracting and retaining talent. In addition to HR issues, we are also having to figure out how to pay for rising fixed costs and how to fund capital projects to keep our clubs viable and attractive to members. It takes constant effort and focus for our whole team.
Tell us a memorable professional experience that you will always remember.
There are so many great things I have been able to participate in and be a part of in the industry and association. Here is one that stands out in my memory.
The first happened when I was with the HFTP Global Executive Committee in Australia. We were going to meet-up and have dinner with long-time HFTP member and Australia-native Ted Horner and his wife. The journey to dinner involved taking a ferry and as we were about to hop on, we realize that Arlene Ramirez was the only one in our group with a valid ticket. I tell everyone I will run and buy us tickets.
I run to get the tickets and run back to make the ferry. When I get back, I look around and ask where Arlene is. Lyle Worthington and Scot Campbell both report that they told her to get on the ferry and that we would take the next one. There was one small problem: the ferry she got on was the wrong one. We all hop on the following ferry, which was the correct one, and head to dinner. At the same time we were trying to find Arlene and get her to the restaurant. Needless to say, she showed up about an hour late to dinner and to this day she stills believes we were trying to get rid of her.
Do you have any interests outside your profession that your fellow HFTP friends might not know about?
I guess some people know I am quite the animal lover, but many don’t know that my wife and I feed feral cats every night. We try to get them all caught and fixed, and if possible, adopted. But if they are not adoptable we put them back out where they were found and we feed them nightly. If one gets hurt, we catch it and bring it to the vet. Or if they have kittens before we get them fixed, we try to catch the kittens and get them adopted. And of course, when we find one that is super friendly, I end up adopting it myself. Michelle even jokes that I am the cat whisperer because I seem to get these wild cats to calm down and let me touch them. I am a firm believer that how a person treats animals is a reflection about who they are as a human.