Emma Crowther-Goodwin is the woman behind The Surfrider Malibu—a boutique hotel inspired by modern Californian beach houses and surf culture.
Before she moved to America, Crowther-Goodwin once worked at Majer—she’s come a long way and has travelled even further since. She shares the key lessons she’s learned in her career in New York City, how she found her way to real estate, and what she looks for in talent to build her dream-team.
As Suzie recalls, you did business management and real estate development at Uni here in Brisbane and you come from a family of entrepreneurs, in the business of real estate. How did you decide to pursue hospitality and real estate in America?
I moved to NYC shortly after finishing Uni. I was 21. It was meant to be a 6 week holiday which has since turned into 11 years and a Californian husband.
I fell in love with NYC; the opportunities, the grit, the survivalist mentality that makes those who live there fast paced perfectionists, “yes!” people!
At 21, in a new city with no plans and not knowing anyone, fate, right place right time and some really good luck had more to do with my path than anything else. I’ve never made a career plan (or any plan really) but I’ve always worked really hard and trusted my gut feeling.
So, here I was in a new city, I needed to get an apartment and I needed a job to pay for the apartment. Luck would have it that, the landlord of the short term apartment I rented had an email address which ended in @ Conde Nast dot com.
Conde Nast is the company in Devil Wears Prada, the publishers of Vogue and all the big name magazines. Perfect for a 21-year-old in NYC! So, I sent my lease and my resume back in the same email. The next day I had an apartment and a job interview. The day after that, I had a job!
The day after that, I was on a plane back to Australia to sort my visa and the following week, I had a desk and a card for the cafeteria at 4 Time Square—literally in the middle of New York City.
After my good luck evened out, it was about hard work, long hours, starting at the bottom and dropping any ego that existed. The years that followed were filled with getting my bosses lunch, doing their coffee runs and booking their manicures.
It was also about listening and soaking up everything I could, jumping on opportunities when I saw them, doing things outside of my job description and learning as much as I could while I was young.
I remember I used to go to all of my bosses meetings so that I could learn about branding, marketing, editorial, publishing and, at the time, the new digital space. In those years at Conde Nast, I was still dirt broke and so I was nannying at night time and on the weekends in the Hamptons.
One weekend in the Hamptons, I met an executive of a large Real Estate Firm and got to talking about my passion for Real Estate. I interviewed the next week and that’s where my career took a turn back to Real Estate.
I went from Times Square to the Rockefeller Centre (the firm I was working for owned it); two big NYC icons but such different roles.
Fast forward ten years, I married an architect who grew up in CA, The Surfrider was dangled in front of us (an iconic but dilapidated property in Malibu, CA) and we decided to mould my background in branding, marketing and real estate with his architecture and development… to open a hotel.
If you could pin your success down to one thing or one moment, what would that be?
Tenacity. Really really hard work. Trusting your gut. Understanding that there is no such thing as a shortcut. 8 hours of sleep every night!
What qualities do you look for in your team at the Surfrider Hotel?
Kindness, integrity, authenticity and emotional intelligence. Since hospitality is so much about the people and the energy that people put out, we try to build a team of great people with beautiful energy. Skills and roles can be learned, attitude is intrinsic.
Thanks, Suzie for teaching me how to spot a superstar :)
What is your best piece of advice for leading a meeting?
Have an agenda, set a time frame, a goal and an actionable outcome. Don’t divert.
Ask pointed questions and listen to the answers. Rely on facts and data. Don’t talk in circles. Talk through the actionable items at the end of the meeting, delegating each next steps. Follow up in writing with timelines.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
Work hard, strive to grow, ask questions, trust your gut and it’ll all make sense in the end.
What do you think is the most important aspect to consider when building a successful brand?
“Appeal to everyone and you appeal to no one”. Know your audience, trust your vision. Don’t try to please everyone or speak to everyone.
Know who you are and be proud of who you are.
In our case, people make a place. Both our guests and our team. Trust their feedback. Understand and treat them both like your most important asset; they are.
Some days you will feel like you’re on the right path, everything is wonderful and that you are literally King of the world. Some days, you won’t. Some days you’ll be full of self-doubt, you’ll be exhausted, you’ll over think everything and decisions will be hard. You need both of these experiences, all the f-ing time to get better. Keep going.
You’ll never be finished. And, if you feel finished, you’ve stopped innovating and your brand is no longer successful.
What’s next for you and your career? What are some of your goals for the Surfrider Hotel?
Hopefully a few more hotels with national and international expansion. Time will tell!