Neil Amin thought he wanted to be a doctor or work in finance.
Growing up in Chesterfield County, he didn't think he would be a hotel operator and follow in his father's footsteps at the family's budding business.
But after getting his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and working in investment banking in New York, Amin returned to his family's roots in 2002.
Under his leadership, Amin has taken Chester-based Shamin Hotels Inc. to new heights, particularly in 2016 in downtown Richmond.
"I enjoy challenges," said Amin, who became the company's president and CEO in 2008. "I enjoy doing bigger and better things."
Shamin is the region's largest hotel operator – and the nation's 20th-largest – with four more properties planned locally and another four elsewhere.
Its portfolio has grown from 10 hotels when Amin joined the business as chief financial officer to 48 locations in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Florida, with 34 in the Richmond region. They operate under the Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and Starwood brands, and revenue should approach $200 million in 2017.
In 2016, Shamin opened a Homewood Suites hotel and a Hampton Inn & Suites hotel – and the Kabana rooftop bar and restaurant – in a 20-story former office tower in downtown Richmond.
Plans also are underway to convert an eight-story building at Fifth and Franklin streets into an 87-room Moxy hotel, a new Marriott-branded boutique property geared toward millennial travelers. Landing a Moxy was a coup for Amin, as only two U.S. locations have opened and a handful more are slated to open in 2017.
"He thrives in a financial quest," said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism. "I think there is an equation that he seeks out, and the answer to the equation is to expand, build and develop. He's touching real estate, he's touching hospitality, he's touching finances. He's multidimensional."
Growing Shamin's footprint in the region means providing more jobs – the company employs more than 2,000 in the area – and more ways to increase local tourism dollars.
"I enjoy taking care of our associates," Amin said. "When we accomplish bigger and better things, we can give them new chances and new opportunities as well."
Several years ago, he joined the board of the Better Housing Coalition, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, after learning that some of his employees were having difficulty finding quality housing.
"We partnered with a banking institution that met with our associates, helped them understand their financial picture and provided them discounts and tools to purchase a home," Amin said.
He is serving as chairman of Richmond Region Tourism in 2016. He is on the board of the Virginia Commonwealth University Foundation, the Virginia Community Development Corp., the Virginia Council on Economic Education and the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority. Amin also is on the board of the foundation for the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, from which he graduated in 1996.
Shamin Hotels started from humble beginnings in 1979, a year after Amin was born.
His father, P.C., who had immigrated to the U.S. from India and was working as an engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation, and Amin's uncle, B.N. Shah, bought a struggling hotel in Lumberton, N.C., with their modest savings, credit card advances and loans. They called the company Shamin Hotels, created as a combination of their last names.
"He always had big dreams," P.C. Amin said of his son's ambitions.
"I'm proud of what we have accomplished," Neil Amin said. "And we will continue to grow and digest whatever we can handle."
Position: president and CEO, Shamin Hotels
Family: wife Amishi, children Aaryan and Anya
IN HIS WORDS
Tell us about a small moment in your life with a big impact.
My grandmother lived with my family growing up, and she was a very important part of my life, more so because I was an only child. What was most remarkable about her was not just that she was incredibly warm and affectionate, but that she was that way with everyone, stranger or friend alike.
I was aware of the facts of her life – born in a rural village in India, widowed at an early age, illiterate, didn't speak English, didn't know how to drive – but like most kids, these were things that I took for granted and never really thought about. We remained close while I was in college and in New York afterward, but I was away from home and busy with my own preoccupations.
She unexpectedly passed away when I was out of the country. As I prepared my eulogy and reflected on her life, now with the perspective of adulthood, I was struck by her ability to maintain a sunny disposition despite the terrible challenges she faced. All those facts that I had taken for granted as a kid took on much greater significance once I had lived a little bit myself.
I realized in that moment that my grandmother had actually been teaching me an important lesson throughout my life: to face each day, good or bad, with a smile and to enjoy life to the fullest.
Tell us about a setback and what you learned from it.
I learned some valuable lessons in high school. During my freshman year, I tried out for the tennis team. I loved tennis growing up, my father played it every day, and my closest friends were also trying out for the team. I worked as hard as I could, but in the end I didn’t make the team. I was devastated at the time.
It so happened that an opportunity to join the track team came up shortly thereafter. I took it and ended up developing a lifelong passion for running.
These high school experiences taught me a few things.
First, if you’ve worked as hard as you can for something and it still doesn’t work out, it’s not worthy of regret. Better to regret lack of preparation than an unfavorable outcome.
Second, don’t let a setback blind you from the next opportunity. No setback is big enough that you can’t recover from it, but failing to recover quickly might lead to missed chances.
Lastly, sometimes setbacks reveal even better, unexpected opportunities. In other words, there is more than one path to happiness.
If you could deliver a message to a large audience, what would it be?
Be decisive – the worst decision people make is not making one. Many people tend to overcomplicate issues and become afraid to make decisions because of the consequences. In my experience, your first evaluation is usually optimal, or at least good enough to move forward.
What is something about you that might surprise others?
I have my pilot’s license and instrument rating. I haven’t flown recently as much as I would like, but I very much enjoy it and look forward to every chance I have to get in the cockpit.
What alternate profession or course of study would you choose?
I’ve always had an interest in teaching. In college, I was a teaching assistant for several courses in the finance department. I enjoyed the interaction with the students; working through problems with them gave me a great deal of satisfaction, and it actually helped reinforce and deepen my knowledge of the material.
What is your favorite book, etc.?
"Guns, Germs and Steel." It advocated a theory that one of the contributing factors to the success or failure of different historic societies was the degree to which they were able to engage in exchange of information and technology. Not only is the book fascinating in its own right, it provides some parallels to the business world – successful businesses are those that continue to learn from others and avoid complacency.
What is something you'd like to do that you haven't done yet?
I would love to climb Mount Everest one day. People use the phrase “climbing Everest” metaphorically, but I want to do it literally! Preparation, training and teamwork – all things I value highly put toward the ultimate goal.
If you could spend a day with a historical or fictional character, who would it be?
Any of our Founding Fathers. In some ways, I think we take our current system for granted; the Founders had virtually a blank slate for how to form a government at the birth of our country. I am amazed at the wisdom and foresight they had in crafting the principles and structures of our government, the fruits of which we still enjoy hundreds of years later. It would also be fascinating to discuss and get their insight on some of the issues our country currently faces.
Who is your role model?
My father – he has been the most inspirational and strongest influence in my life. He taught me to have a vision for the future but also a plan of how to get there; the value of hard work, helping others succeed and giving back to the community; and to never ask anyone to do something he would not do himself.
His passion and drive for embracing new and different challenges was infectious, and at an early age, I learned to bring the same energy to whatever I was pursuing.
What is your greatest strength and weakness?
I would say my greatest strength is the ability to be objective when evaluating my business and myself. I believe receptivity to honest and constructive criticism is necessary for both personal and professional growth.
My greatest weakness is that I could do a better at communicating my decision-making process, particularly around when I change my mind about something.
I am constantly trying to uncover and evaluate as much information as I can about topics important to me. Sometimes, you learn something that challenges what you previously believed, and I feel that you have to be ready and willing to quickly change course if the situation demands it. People who are involved in the decision-making process with me sometimes don’t immediately understand why things have changed, and it’s my responsibility to do a better job to communicate the rationale for the change.
What is your favorite aspect of the Richmond region?
Without a doubt, the people are the best part of Richmond. The city is booming and reinventing itself; we’re putting ourselves on the map as a hot travel destination, particularly as a culinary hot spot. I don’t think any of these things would be possible without the unique character and charm of our people.
Even more importantly, once people move here, they settle here – which speaks volumes about our community.