The first thing you notice about the Standard Hotels logo is that it’s upside down. CEO Amar Lalvani ’92 will tell you that’s wholly intentional. The Standard’s mission is to upend the hidebound hotel business and become “the next-generation hospitality company.”
Lalvani came to the hospitality business in a somewhat roundabout way. In 1997, a year after graduating from Wharton, he joined Starwood Capital, which had recently begun acquiring hotels. This buying spree was initially just another investment in undervalued properties, but founder Barry Sternlicht sensed that it could become something more. That fall, Starwood negotiated a $13.3 billion merger with ITT Sheraton. “We went from a private equity company investing in real estate to the biggest hotel company in the world in a year,” Lalvani recalls.
As Sternlicht considered the next steps for his new 650-hotel global empire, he tapped Lalvani to become his executive assistant. “I was alongside him,” Lalvani says. “I got to understand the worlds of hotels, brands, and management. It was a wonderful opportunity.”
After a two-year stint representing Starwood in Thailand, Lalvani left to earn his MBA from Harvard Business School. He returned to Starwood in 2004, expanding the company’s W Hotels luxury brand in Europe and the Middle East and then on a global basis.
In 2011, André Balazs, who established the first Standard hotel in West Hollywood in 1999, invited Lalvani to help him build The Standard into a global brand. Two years later, with Balazs’ blessing, Lalvani spun off Standard International as a separate company and became its CEO.
The Standard was conceived as a different kind of hotel, emphasizing hip modernity over conformist luxury. Under Lalvani’s leadership, Standard Hotels has continued that iconoclastic approach. “I challenge the team all the time: ‘What can we do that nobody’s ever done before?’” he says.
In some areas, The Standard has found innovative alternatives to traditional hotel practices. For example, guests can now select their own check-in and checkout times. A more elaborate effort is a new guests-only app, which reinvents the hotel lobby as a virtual space where guests can pseudonymously meet and interact.
Other innovations have no industry precedent. After the 2016 election, The Standard launched Ring Your Rep, which placed phone booths in hotel lobbies and a speed-dial button on room phones to connect guests with the congressional switchboard in Washington, D.C. “We wanted to find ways for the younger generation to have a voice,” Lalvani says. “I think about 15,000 calls have been made to Congress from our properties.”
While many hotels focus on business travelers, Lalvani wants Standard’s properties to be community hubs, attracting locals looking for exciting “stay-cations” or unique venues for culture and entertainment. Different locations offer distinct experiences, from Manhattan sophistication at The Standard, East Village to “listening to music and drinking a beer under the stars” while staying in a vintage trailer at El Cosmico, one of the boutique properties of Texas-based Bunkhouse, in which Standard Hotels now holds a majority interest.
Lalvani’s career has not focused solely on hospitality; he also sits on the boards of Empellón Restaurant Group, exercise bike maker Peloton Interactive, and art print seller Twyla. Nevertheless, he finds the hotel business uniquely rewarding.
“In another life, I might have been an artist, but business was part of the realm of things that were acceptable to my family,” he says. “There was a frustrated artist component to me. Hospitality brought together things I really liked — art, architecture, food, drink, entertainment — within the business world and all the things I’d studied.”
Promoting creativity is the heart of the Standard brand. “I love inspiring and providing a platform for people who are super-creative, whether they’re architects, interior decorators, chefs, or graphic designers,” he explains. “I use all my training to allow those artists to bring their creations to life and do things that are interesting and unexpected for our guests.”
Lalvani, who lives in New York with his two daughters and their dog, credits Webb for the love of learning that has enabled him to bring together these disparate elements. “I really didn’t start with a plan,” he says. “When I left Webb, I wanted to build something, to do interesting things, and to meet interesting people. Those things have come to fruition.”