Lunch with hotelier Mandy Farmer

Hotelier Mandy Farmer created plenty of room for fun while reinventing the family business

The industry veteran talks about operating eight properties across the province

During her two decades in the hospitality industry, Mandy Farmer has risen from working on the front desk through sales to become CEO of her family’s Accent Inn and Hotel Zed properties. Checking in to have fun daily, Farmer suggests, is the key to working well with some 250 employees in Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Kamloops and Tofino. She explains why there’s always room for personal improvement and why naval personnel have to salute her…

This much I know…

“You have to love being creative and collaborative in  the hotel world. You’ll hear  a ton of laughing and stupid ideas here. Like the time we let people book rooms from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for ‘nooners’—parents who can’t have sex because their kids are always  around, for example—and Fox News picked it up with a circulation of 14 million viewers. Who else talks about a nooner at their workplace? For me, there’s nothing better than having a blank piece of paper where I get to just draw, play and come up with wacky ideas. Then I take it to my team to make it happen; it’s like dipping your paddle into phosphorescence and seeing it explode. I’m not sure whether that makes a great hotelier, but it’s what makes me good.”

“My dad [Terry Farmer, who established Accent Inns in 1986] said the family business  would never be passed on, so I got a degree in neuropsychology. I still love reading  books on the brain, but I wasn’t cut out for working in a laboratory, so I ended up pressing the Easy button and doing sales at an Accent Inn. It wasn’t going to be forever, but it was the start of the Internet—such a new world—and Dad was always receptive  to my new ideas. Although it did take 10 years to open Hotel Zed—the board couldn’t see the vision of how a motel could be cool, but I definitely did. Maybe I wasn’t explaining it well, but they finally saw the light and are huge fans of it now. Our profits have doubled in the past five years, so it’s all good!”

“The biggest challenge in the industry is staff retention, so we put in tons of effort into  making sure they are happy. I took over [as CEO] in 2008 in the recession and dealt with every single one of our properties at the time having ‘leaky condo.’ So we put millions of dollars into renovating, and our buildings were shrouded. It was excellent for my leadership because there was nothing easy about those tough times. I love it now— business is good because you can spend so much more money and it’s way more fun.” 

“Bizarrely, I was asked to be honorary captain of CFB Esquimalt [naval base in Victoria]  two years ago. I knew nothing about our Forces, but I realized that I wanted to serve those who serve our country and show how important our base is here [she lives nearby in Oak Bay with her husband, Geoff Wong, and their two young children]. I love that it’s nothing to do  with my day job—that it puts  me in a complete place of fear. I have four bars on my uniform, for goodness’ sake. It’s all part of my values, where I want to constantly improve—whether it’s mountain biking [she recently completed the seven-day BC Bike Race] or meditating. I always think our spirit can get better.”

School master

Age: 45

Position: CEO of five Accent Inns and three retro-themed Hotel Zeds
Previous roles: Sales at Accent Inns since 1997; front desk and night auditor at the Delta Ocean Pointe hotel, Victoria; summer positions (front desk and front desk supervisor) at Victoria’s Fairmont Empress hotel
Kudos: EY Entrepreneur Of The Year runner-up for the Pacific Region (Hospitality + Tourism category), 2018 and 2015; 2016 Pinnacle Awards’ Hotelier of the Year; ranked 25th in Profit magazine’s Top 100 Canadian Women Entrepreneurs and named one of Chatelaine magazine’s Red Hot Women Entrepreneurs, both in 2010
School: MBA from Royal Roads University; neuropsychology degree from McGill University
Lunch: Rotisserie chicken with kale salad and chocolate waffle ice-cream sandwich at the Ruby restaurant at Hotel Zed, Victoria