Mit Shah today is CEO of Atlanta-based Noble Investment Group, a multi-billion dollar company founded in his lifetime of experience growing up in the hotel business. It’s a story he shares with many Indian American hoteliers, but he said it’s a story that bears repeating, a story of the American dream.

Shah retells his story here for Asian Hospitality’s Leadership Series, the first episode for 2024. Along with his family history, he also discussed Noble’s investment practices, the economy in general and lessons learned from hosting interviews with industry leaders for the Bharat Shah Leadership Speaker Series, named after his father, at the Hunter Hotel Conference in Atlanta.

“My parents were immigrants to the United States. In the 1960s they came here for a better life and education. As they were doing that, they had friends that found themselves in this industry and buying small properties throughout the country,” Shah said, adding that his parents bought their first hotel, the Winkler Motor Inn in Winston Salem, North Carolina in 1979. “I was 10 years old at the time, my younger brother was six years old at the time and that was the family business, a very common story that we hear throughout our industry. It’s an important story to continue to tell because it’s deeply rooted in the American dream.”

Learning early

His youth in the family’s motel meant he spent every Saturday and Sunday cleaning rooms and working the front desk, Shah said. That early experience paid off, however. Right after graduating college in 1991, he was hired by an investment firm that was investing in some of the first round of select service and extended stay hotels.

“They were looking for somebody that had multiple years of hotel operating experience, as well as a business and finance degree background,” Shah said. “I was a 21-year-old kid at the time, and I in fact, had both of those.”

Bharat Shah, Mit Shah’s father, bought his first hotel, the Winkler Motor Inn in Winston Salem, North Carolina in 1979.

Shah also carried those childhood lessons and first job in the industry into his current position with Noble, the company he founded 30 years ago. It was an education that can benefit any business owner.

“I think what I learned there was, how important it was to surround yourself with really good people and how teams really function and how they work and what the real meaning of hard work meant relative to the family,” Shah said.

It also gave him true appreciation for his parents, Shah said.

“It’s a beautiful story of the American dream, of my parents who actually took the biggest risk in coming to the United States and then in trusting in me as I started my own journey in this business,” he said.

Maintaining optimism

In January, Noble closed its latest installment of its Noble Hospitality Fund V after securing $1 billion. The fund focuses on value-added investments in select-service and extended-stay hotels across the U.S. and was oversubscribed, attracting $1 billion in equity commitments.

Shah said Noble has invested $2 billion over the last 24 months. Most returns on the fund since it started has been very strong.

“It is an incredible honor for us to be in a mix of investment managers that have that trust as a fiduciary to beneficiaries that are school teachers and, and police officers and healthcare workers and the like and get dollars for kids to go to college and scholarships,” Shah said.

In December, Noble Investment Group finalized Noble Hospitality Fund V at $1 billion, with a 90 percent recommitment from existing limited partners and additional support from new institutional investors, the company said.

The purpose that directs Noble’s investment strategy is “driving performance, creating cash flow, distributing that cash flow, creating value for our platform and our investors,” Shah said.

Shah said he is optimistic about the overall economy as it continues to recover. Demand is back to pre-pandemic levels he said, and lingering concerns about a recession are background noise now.

“I believe that we are in the middle of a soft landing as we speak and so I do believe, in fact that we will continue to come through what feels like a little bit soft landing, but the travel economy continues to operate very differently and behave differently from the general economy,” Shah said. “What most people want to know is, how about next quarter? How about the quarter after that? What do you think about rate cuts? What do you think about the chance of recession? What do you think about all those things? Fundamentally, I believe the long-term demand trends for the business that we are in remain very, very strong, so I’m optimistic.”

Shah also is not worried about the results of November’s presidential election.

“I think election years end up stabilizing, more than destabilizing. We’ve seen that over time,” he said.

To hear their wonderous stories

At this year’s Hunter Conference, Shah will conduct the 10th annual installment of the Bharat Shah Speaker Series with Leslie Hale, president and CEO of RLJ Lodging Trust. Mit Shah established the series under Georgia State’s Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business.

Noble’s Mit Shah interviews NBA players Vince Carter, middle, and Grant Hill during the Bharat Shah Leadership Speaker Series, named after his father, at the Hunter Hotel Conference in Atlanta.

“We set up this speaker series, really to tell stories of others, icons, lead journeys, where they’ve had, like all of us, formative upbringings challenges, things that have happened in their life, that they hit a wall that they fell down, somebody had to help pick them up,” Shah said. “And they learn from that and where they went. It’s a deeply personal conversation. But it also ties back to this American Dream.”

One thing Shah has learned from conducting the interviews was how some of the subjects, many of whom are “my dearest friends, my heroes, who in certain ways, became heroes in other ways,” Shah said. For example, he learned something about his old friend Arne Sorenson, former president and CEO of Marriott International who passed in 2021 after battling cancer.

“Arne was beloved by so many because he just exuded a voice of incredible purpose in our industry, and he was the kind of husband he had aspired to be to his wife, Ruth, and the father that he aspired to be to his kids,” Shah said.

During his interview, Sorenson spoke about the time he lived with his family in Japan with his family doing mission work. That experience formed his love of people from other places and cultures and how that grounded him.

“When you listen to these stories and you hear how grateful all of these really incredible leaders are for the people that they have in their life, it makes you get up and want to hug the people that you love and call the people that you haven’t seen that have made an impact on you,” Shah said. “I think what I have learned over and over and over again is the importance of gratitude, and to never delay it.”

In November, Noble broke ground on the 148-room Tempo by Hilton Savannah Historic District. Noble expects to open the hotel in early 2025.

A bright future

Shah said his optimism applies to the future of Noble as well.

“Our job is to continue to just execute our strategy. We’ve been very successful in doing so,” he said. “I think we’re armed with, in my opinion, the most talented team that exists in our space that has a war chest of capital in which to be very, very thoughtful allocators of those of those dollars. And we’re going to continue to have a very, very active year, as we’ve had over the last two years.”