Chip ConleyChip Conley will never peak. After 20 years in the hotel business, he’s aiming higher and still climbing. As the founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, California’s largest boutique hotel company, Chip satisfies customers, inspires employees and learned how to create “joy of life” inside his company and out. He just authored a new book, PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow, and writes about how we ultimately are motivated by peak experiences. Read on as Chip gets personal about all things financial and explains how money ranks in the hierarchy of needs.

1. What does Maslow have to do with the hotel business or for that matter, any other for-profit venture?
Maslow was the first well-know psychologist to suggest that we can learn more about humanity by studying best practices (people who are healthy and fulfilled, or what he called self-actualized) than by studying worst practices (the way Freud, Skinner and others had studied human nature). Since all organizations are full of people, it is logical to assume (but rarely practiced) that there’s a hierarchy of needs for employees, customers, and investors since these are just three roles that humans play.

2. What is your most significant memory about money?
I remember having just enough coin to buy my first pack of Starburst candies when I was about 8 years old. Money can be sweet.

3. What is your worst habit around finances?
Living on the edge. If I get cash, it’s out the door immediately – primarily invested in new hotel ventures.

4. In your book you pose the question, “Is your work a job, a career, or a calling?” How does money factor in to the answer for most people?
Money is sort of a base need – it’s relevant for all three relationships with work, but frankly it’s the primary or only reason that someone with a job does their job. People with a career or calling also need money, but they pursue their work for other reasons also.

5. How do you make an emotional connection with Joie de Vivre guests? After 20 years in the hotel business, is the customer always right?
No one is always right. I love this Herb Kelleher quote (the guy who founded Southwest Airlines): “The customer comes second. The employee comes first.” I’m a big believer in that approach because if our employees aren’t happy, our customers aren’t likely to be happy either. In terms of making an emotional connection with our customers, it’s sad that hoteliers spend much more money on the architectural edifices they create than on the training and culture of their employees when, in fact, studies constantly show that the number one reason people return to a hotel is the quality of the service they received and the kind of relationships they created with the staff.

6. What did your father teach you about money?
My dad was similar to me, a bit of an entrepreneur, so I learned a lot about how to make money work in investments from him.

7. How did you teach your son about money?
I have a 31-year-old foster son (and three grandkids). Damien has learned a few things about planning ahead with money as he has a tendency to all of sudden be cash short when he should have known it a few weeks earlier.

8. I understand you’re speaking at Reaching Out, the LGBT MBA conference. Do you personally think an MBA is worth the time and investment?
That depends. I think the best thing about the MBA is that it exposes you to all kinds of other ways of thinking about business and it’s a great opportunity to take a break and determine what you want to do with your life. It’s also a prerequisite for many careers. As for me, I can’t say I learned all that much that is relevant to my business life today.

9. According your blog, you’re a vacation junkie. What else do you like to spend money on?
I love going to film festivals, spending money on art, going to the spa… generally-speaking, I don’t like material possessions and I prefer unique experiences.

10. I’ve read that gay men make the best bosses. Would your employees agree?
I guess so. Strangely – because it wasn’t planned this way – 10 of the 17 members of our Joie de Vivre executive committee (the top people in our company of 2,800 employees) are gay men. There’s one lesbian, two straight men, and two straight women. The hospitality industry is popular for gay men as it’s a non-adversarial, people-centric business. It takes a good eye for aesthetics, some creativity, and a willingness to take care of people. Plus it doesn’t hurt to have some empathy and understanding of diversity. All of that is well-suited for gay men as managers.

More about Chip Conley
Chip Conley is the founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, California’s largest boutique hotel company now celebrating its 20th anniversary. Starting out with virtually no industry experience, Chip opened his first hotel, The Phoenix, in San Francisco’s edgy Tenderloin district on a wing and a prayer. The company now consists of over 40 award-winning hotels, restaurants and spas across the state. Each unique property is designed to produce what Chip calls “identity refreshment” for his guests. The company gleans inspiration for each hotel from popular magazines such as Rolling Stone (The Phoenix), The New Yorker (Hotel Rex), Real Simple “meets” Dwell (Vitale), Wired (Avante) and others. Chip and his company’s time-tested techniques have been featured in INC, People, TIME, and other leading publications—so many magazines, so many new hotel possibilities!

A popular speaker and innovative leader, Chip is regularly consulted by corporate, civic and academic institutions for his opinions, guidance and wisdom on building and maintaining a successful and transformative enterprise—involving areas such as organizational leadership, creative business development, corporate social responsibility and spirit in business. In his new book, PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow, Chip shares his unique prescription for success based on the iconic Hierarchy of Needs. His new theory illustrates how Employees, Customers and Investors are ultimately motivated by peak experiences—and he demonstrates how to create these for each using real-world examples from his own company and others.

Chip has been honored with the top hospitality industry awards and is recognized as a committed and creative philanthropist. He is the founder of San Francisco’s Annual Celebrity Pool Toss, which has raised over 3 million dollars for inner city youth programs now thriving in the troubled neighborhood where he launched his first hotel. He is a member of the Global Business Network and Young President’s Organization and received his BA and MBA from Stanford University.

Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.