This year, 2023, marks Continental’s 20th year in the hotel renovation industry. We feel so fortunate to have grown our business into the company that we are today, and we know we have only made it this far because of the countless number of great people who worked beside us along the way. We’ll be taking small moments throughout the year to remember and celebrate this milestone, and we hope you’ll celebrate with us. As a kickoff to our celebration, Continental COO Renee Bagshaw interviewed company President and CEO Pete Welch on what he’s learned over the last 20 years – and what he’s looking forward to for the future.

Renee: Continental is celebrating 20 years this year. Congratulations, that’s a big milestone! Thinking back, what are some of the things that are different today than when you started the company 20 years ago?

Pete: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the technology, right? That’s probably the first thing you think about. Picture it, when I was first running projects, I had a phone card for last-minute calls on payphones, and we were using fax machines. And, courier services! That’s how you ran jobs back then, everything was hand delivery. Bids were written by hand. Now, we have a supercomputer in our pockets. And we have some great project management software today, but, you know it still all comes down to the human aspect of it, right? The bricks still go up one by one, the tile goes down one at a time. In 20 years I haven’t seen a faster way to hang wall vinyl or kick carpet. That part is never going to change.

The bricks still go up one by one, the tile goes down one at a time. In 20 years I haven’t seen a faster way to hang wall vinyl or kick carpet.

The other big thing that has been amazing over the last two decades has been watching the industry grow. There are so many more hotel brands now than when we started. It can be overwhelming to think about everything that goes into design these days, taking into account the brand standard must-haves of each individual chain. But even still, the focus on design makes almost every project we do feel like a custom project, which is exciting. You almost have to ask, “How many different ideas can you have in a hotel room?” It turns out you can have a lot. 

Renee: What do you know now that you wish you had known during the first ten years?

Pete: I think I knew this even then, and you do kind of learn it over and over again, but it’s good to be reminded: there’s always going to be a rainy day. You know, a crisis of some sort. Sometimes you can see it coming and sometimes you can’t. This most recent one, the pandemic and the fallout from that — I don’t think any of us really saw that one coming. But, you try to be prepared for the inevitable rainy day. You save for it and make plans. Really, you can have every contingency plan out there, but it’s never going to occur or unwind exactly like you think it will. That is something you continue to relearn as well. You just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable when it comes to the unknown. 

Renee: What are some other valuable lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Pete: One of the best lessons anyone can learn, in any business, is that you have to take care of your people. I can’t state it enough. For me, it always comes down to the people. And I think if you don’t grasp that concept, then you’re not going to be successful. Everybody has a different metric of success, right? For some, it’s a financial success or social success. But for us, for me, it really has always just come down to the people. You can’t take them – or anything really – for granted. Every job is a chemistry experiment. You can do the same job twice with the same scope of work, the same subcontractors, the same owner’s rep and operations team. But you switch out one person and you could have a completely different outcome, good or bad. That never changes and I still find it interesting, even after all these years.

Renee: What’s been your favorite or most memorable project with Continental?

Pete: Good question! That’s a hard one to answer, it’s like asking me to pick a favorite kid! Honestly, I think the projects that have made the biggest impact on me have been the ones we’ve learned the most from. We’ve learned some tough lessons over the years and we continue to learn something new from every project. That’s how we keep growing. When you think about it, we’ve done just about every type of hotel renovation job out there: historic, high-end luxury, boutique — everything up and down the hotel chain scale too. Of course, I also have to mention the projects that have been game changers for the company, like our first international project at Hilton El San Juan Resort and our first public space, the University of Houston Hilton. Those are two projects that really put us on the map. There are just too many favorite projects to choose from. And that’s a good problem to have. 

Renee: Now in your 20th year, what would you say you are most proud of?

Pete: I’m starting to sound like a broken record here but, I’m proud of our people. I’m proud that our core values – integrity, humility, and respect – are the same today, 20 years later, as they were on day one, in that small (tiny!) shared office in Eastport with just two employees. This company came from humble beginnings, and we have held strong to the idea that we are grateful for every opportunity, and to everyone who plays a role in the projects we work on.  We’ve maintained that identity and continue to grow by those core values. And everybody who works here gets it. You know, when we onboard somebody or even interview somebody, we talk about how the number one rule is to leave your ego at the door. And we tell them, if you can’t do that then one of two things are going to happen. Either you’re going to figure it out or we’re going to figure it out for you. And it’s pretty simple every time. Egos are powerful things, but they can also be dangerous to the productivity of the team. Of course, we all have them, and it’s part of what drives us to do the best job we can. But at the same time, we have to make sure it’s not detrimental to the project or job performance, or how we interact with others and, quite frankly, how you’re representing Continental. 

Renee: And finally, what are you most excited about right now for the company and entering the next decade?

Pete: I’m excited that we’re through some tough times and also where the industry is headed as a whole. I’m excited about our professional development as a company: our Florida office is growing quickly and our Maryland and California offices are as strong as ever. I’m also excited about the professional and personal development of our individual team members. It is incredibly exciting to see people learn and grow and then begin mentoring others. We have some exceptional talent and I’m so proud of how far everyone has come. I’m really looking forward to having a lot more visibility over the next 24 or 36 months; we’re out of the murkiness of 2020-2022. There are a lot of exciting things coming down the pipeline. And we’re ready for it.