Best Western Promotes Larry Cuculic as New CEO

He isn't a household name. Best Western's selection of Larry Cuculic, its general counsel to succeed David Kong, has the aura that Marriott gave to Arne Sorenson as CEO. He was a former member of the company's legal team.
In the search for Best Westerns' next chief executive, stability and a relationship were key factors.

The company announced Thursday that Larry Cuculic has been selected as the next president and chief executive officer of BWH Hotel Group. Cuculic was a senior vice-president and general counsel at the company for the past 12 years.

David Kong has been with BWH Hotel Group since 20 years, and he held the top position since 2004. He will be succeeded by him on Dec. 1.

As a member of the organization, I had the privilege to work alongside David Kong and see the incredible impact he made on the company and the industry. Cuculic stated that I could only hope to live up the legacy David has left behind. He also said that he is committed to ensuring long-term success for our members and the organization. It is a blessing to have the support and guidance of our Board, as well as one of the most accomplished senior executive teams in the sector. I'm excited to work with our Board, our members and my colleagues to help BWH Hotel Group move into the next chapter.

Cuculic appears to have no other experience in the hotel industry beyond his time at Best Western.

Cuculic earned his bachelor's degree at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point. He then attended Notre Dame law school. Cuculic also graduated from U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Before he retired from the Army, he was a Judge Advocate Generals Corps officer, which included a position as a military judge.

Cuculics move to the private sector was a partnership at Gambs, Mucker & Bauman. Before joining Best Western, he was also a senior vice-president general counsel at Wabash National Corp. and vice president of legal for American Commercial Lines.

Best Western spokesperson said that Cuculic was not available immediately for interview to provide additional comments.

Kong stated that he is pleased to hand over the reins of BWH Hotel Group, my long-term colleague Larry Cuculic. Larry has been my colleague for 12 years. His thoughtful leadership and strategic thinking have always inspired me. Larry has gained invaluable experience from a variety of responsibilities over his tenure, including the Central Reservations and Contact Centers. He is well-respected and liked by all employees. Larry is the perfect candidate to fill the position of President and Chief Executive Officer.

Skift interviewed Kong last month to discuss his resignation. He revealed that he had submitted to the company's board a list consisting of three highly qualified internal candidates.

Although he did not reveal who was on the list, there was widespread consensus that the successor would be from Best Western's current executive team. Names like Dorothy Dowling, who is the executive vice president of the company and chief marketing officer, were more popular in the industry. She has been with the company from 2004.

Mark Straszynski was the chief financial officer of the company. Others involved in development and operations such as Ron Pohl (the company's chief operations officer), Gregory Habeeb (president of WorldHotels) and Brad LeBlanc (chief development officer at BWH) were also mentioned.

The BWH board sees Cuculic as the right candidate to assume the top job. Kong grew the company from just one brand to 18 brands in just two decades. The new CEO will face the same challenges that Kong when he tried to compete with larger, publicly traded hotel brands.

Ishwar Naran, chairman of the BWH Hotel Group board, stated that Larry has a wealth of experience, including his military background and previous roles. Larry is a trustworthy and determined leader. His collaborative and strategic approach will undoubtedly drive the company to greater financial success and positive growth for our hoteliers.