A Career on the Line: Russ Flicker

  • Season 3, Episode 4
  • November 8, 2022
  • 31 minute listen

A Career on the Line: Russ Flicker

I did not play it cool. I could tell you that. You know, I'll say that I did some kind of combination of the nice version of insisting and begging.


“You’ve got to believe in your idea even when everyone else is telling you not to.” Why? How do you know the difference between a fool’s errand and untapped potential?

Episode Description

Fake it till you make it. Talk the talk before you can walk the walk. We hear it all the time, and that’s where Russ Flicker was in 2009. Russ left the Blackstone Group to join Ian Schrager Company as its chief investment officer but “irreconcilable differences” compelled him to leave only months after joining to strike out on his own—in the midst of the worst global economic crisis in decades—with two children under 5 years old and his wife.

In fact, he wasn’t really even trying to start a business. In his words, he was “unemployable,” thanks to a devastated economy where everyone in his line of work—real estate equity, private equity and development—was hanging onto their jobs for dear life. “I was just trying to make some money and stay relevant,” Flicker said.

That process started when he identified the Sheraton Safari hotel in Orlando, a property in need of a massive upgrade. A property he thought could use his talents, giving him a toehold to start his own business. And, as it turned out, his former associates at Blackstone owned the property. Flicker and his partner Jon Rosenfeld (who also previously worked at Blackstone) put months of work into networking, connecting with potential investors, assembling financing—all with the belief that Blackstone might be willing to sell. Along the way, at least two dozen potential investors told him he was nuts. No way was that property worth what Flicker thought it was worth.

Still, with one key investor, Flicker was able to pull together the purchase. But when the time came to seal the deal, the answer was no. Flicker was devastated—in fact, he struggled to keep that “fake it till you make it” attitude. But he was undeterred, following up with former colleagues higher in Blackstone’s ecosystem. “You’ve got to believe in your idea even when everyone else is telling you not to,” Flicker said.

And that was the crux of his case to the Blackstone higher-ups. His presentation basically said this: Nobody thinks this hotel is worth what I’m willing to give you for it—so maybe this is a deal you ought to consider. The argument won the day. Flicker bought the hotel, revived it and used that deal to leverage others.

Today, Flicker’s company, AWH Partners LLC, owns and manages about 8,000 hotel rooms across 25 states with private equity, hedge fund and insurance company partners like Apollo Global Management, The Baupost Group and Starr Companies. As a vertically integrated hospitality firm, AWH owns a management company (Spire Hospitality) that manages its hotels as well as a development company that manages renovations and ground up construction in-house.

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This podcast is a production of Washington University in St. Louis’s Olin Business School. Contributors include:

  • Katie Wools, Cathy Myrick, Judy Milanovits and Lesley Liesman, creative assistance
  • Jill Young Miller, fact checking and creative assistance
  • Hayden Molinarolo, original music and sound design
  • Mike Martin Media, editing
  • Sophia Passantino, social media
  • Lexie O'Brien and Erik Buschardt, website support
  • Paula Crews, creative vision and strategic support

Special thanks to Ray Irving and his team at WashU Olin’s Center for Digital Education, including our audio engineer, Austin Alred.

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