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Steve Porter’s legacy as an executive of InterContinental Hotels Group may be seen in the thousands of Holiday Inns across the country, and around the planet, that will eventually receive a fresh new look to the familiar name. Many of those hotels were already being rebranded when the president of IHG Americas died Aug. 8 in Los Angeles after a brief illness.

Holiday Inn franchisees credit Porter with the plan to give the traditional chain a new look after more than a half-century under its original logo, dating back to the first opened by Kemmons Wilson in 1952 in Memphis, TN. The idea was to attract a new generation of guests to Holiday Inn, along with previous ones who stayed there over the years, some even for the first time.

“He was able to get buy-in from the franchise community,” says George Glover, chairman and CEO of Tampa-based BayStar Hotel Group LLC, which owns seven hotels throughout Florida, including four Holiday Inns. He says Porter discussed rebranding and renovations with franchisees of 3,500 Holiday Inns worldwide for more than three years before launching the $1-billion effort last fall.

Porter, a 32-year hospitality industry veteran, joined British-based IHG in 2001 as COO for the Americas, assuming the role of president the following year. During his tenure, the company acquired its sixth brand, Candlewood Suites, and launched a seventh, the Hotel Indigo boutique chain. His prior career experience ranged from his first job with Stouffer Hotels in 1976 to senior executive positions with Hilton Hotels Corp.

Though the nature of his illness was not disclosed at his family’s request, it required Porter to relinquish his responsibilities in mid-July, with finance director Richard Solomons taking over on an interim basis. IHG stated at the time of his death that it will seek Porter’s successor from within and outside the company.

Glover believes Porter put a management team in place that will continue his vision for IHG Americas, noting that he would like to see the next president of IHG Americas demonstrate actual hotel management experience. “Everybody who has ever stayed in a hotel thinks they can run one. Steve actually did it,” he says.

Porter’s hospitality experience actually dated back to his teenage years in his native Columbus, OH, selling soft drinks at Ohio State University football games. He was assigned to the student section, where those drinks were most likely used as mixers for flasks smuggled into the stadium. “I usually had reached my sales quota well in advance of halftime,” he stated in a profile released by IHG.

Singing was his other passion in life, whether it was karaoke or church choir, or leading and recruiting others to sing with a live band at IHG corporate functions. Music will likely be a big part of a Sept. 10 memorial service at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia in Atlanta, where IHG Americas is based.

A special Web site, CelebratingSteve.com, will be active through Sept. 12 to allow friends of Porter to post remembrances. Among those leaving messages is Michael Hoffman, president of Albany, NY-based Turf Hotels Inc. and a past chairman of the International Association of Holiday Inns.

“We shared a glass of wine at the InterContinental hotel in London 15 months ago and he told me that he was confident that we were in fact turning Holiday Inn around,” Hoffman recalled. “He knew then what we all know now. Typical Steve.”

However, the continuation of Porter’s vision of a “new” Holiday Inn might include convincing Wall Street analysts that it’s the correct approach. Franchisees were asked to invest as much as $150,000 in new bedding, bath fixtures and landscaping in order to put the fresh signage on their hotels.

Last month, David Katz of Oppenheimer & Co. issued a research report on IHG stating that the weakening US market could slow the Holiday Inn rebranding effort. “We believe that in this type of environment, without financial assistance of IHG, there will be a large number of franchisees who will choose to change their flag to a brand that has looser standards and that will not require significant spending,” Katz wrote.

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