The happy hotelier

Former Edgewater owner is doing what he does best, now in the public sector.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

After 34 years at The Edgewater Hotel, Austin “Scott” Faulkner, 59, is back on the local hotel scene. His brief attempt at retirement proved, frankly, too boring.

The Faulkner family owned the waterfront hotel for decades. When his father died suddenly in 1996, the younger Faulkner, who’d worked there since 1978, took the reins. He retired in 2012 after selling the hotel, stayed on as a consultant for a year, and then took four months off. “I was driving my wife nuts,” he laughs.

He laughs a lot.

So when he heard that the university was looking for a hotel general manager at the Wisconsin Union Hotel, he applied. It was the first time he ever had to apply for a job. Now he oversees a staff of 40 and manages 60 hotel rooms at Union South and once Memorial Union’s renovations are complete, six rooms there.

We sat down with Faulkner recently to discuss his transition.

IB: After being in the private sector all your life, what’s the public sector like?
The hotel side is all the same, but with HR, accounting, and payroll, it’s cumbersome compared to what I was used to because I called the shots. There are a lot of layers. I’m getting better at it.

My job now is to run this hotel and not to stick my nose into other stuff, and I like that. There’s a lot less pressure, especially not running a food and bar operation, which used to consume 80% of my time. It’s freeing to a certain degree.

IB: What is it about hospitality that you enjoy so much?
You get to know all different types of people and people make the world go round. I love that.

IB: How long do you want to stay?
As long as they will have me! I’ve increased sales quite a bit here in the past two years, increased margins, so I think they’re happy with how things are going. If I don’t perform I shouldn’t be here.

IB: What’s it like to look across the lake at The Edgewater, your family’s former hotel?
At first it was emotional but now it’s very relaxing. I love being a customer there. I can walk in, enjoy it, and I don’t have to worry about the operational issues.



IB: How did the hotel’s sale come about?
After some major renovations, we’d get five, six calls a year from people wanting to buy it. But when Bob Dunn called, I thought that was the best opportunity. It’s just a fabulous building now, which I see as a tribute to my dad.

IB: The most recent struggles to sell and renovate it are well known. How tough was it?
When [former Mayor] Dave Cieslewicz lost, that was the toughest time in my whole life. We thought we had the deal done and then Mayor Paul yanked the TIF on us. I was a wreck. That was the lowest point, but it all worked out.

IB: What other Edgewater stories do you have?
In the hotel business, you get the scoop. From Oscar Mayer being sold to the Act 10 protests when we had Gov. Walker in a meeting downstairs and the labor guys meeting in a room upstairs. Nobody knew either was there. That’s a credit to my staff. Keeping your mouth shut in the hotel business gains respect.

IB: Whose idea was it to have the floors count downwards?
My dad told me it had to do with the phone system. I don’t think he knew either but we kept it that way. You’d be in the elevator and push 7 and the elevator would go down, and everyone looks around like something was wrong [laughs].

Those were good days, and there are more good days to come.

IB: What would you say about the current slate of hotel rooms in Madison?
This town lacks first-class hotel rooms. We have a lot of very nice hotels but an aged inventory of rooms. The university attracts top-line people from all over the world and we need more places to put them.

IB: What would your dad say about you now?
He was never big on compliments. He told me before he died that I was doing a good job. He also said he didn’t want to compliment me too much because then I’d back off and take it easy [laughs]!

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.