Leading North Carolina is a series that highlights members of the Research Triangle Foundation’s Board of Directors. Writer Bridgette A. Lacy provides readers with an insider’s look at the people helping to guide the future of The Research Triangle Park – and North Carolina. Each member of our board has a unique background that effects their perspective on how we should redevelop RTP. We are thankful for their time, their wisdom and their willingness to continue working with our team on this journey.
Bob Winston is a hotel and hospitality entrepreneur. He is the chief executive officer and owner of Winston Hospitality, Inc., which owns, develops and manages hotels and restaurants.
The Winston name is synonymous with the hospitality industry. His father, Charles Winston, along with Thad Eure, Jr., started the award-winning Angus Barn. In his youth, Bob, a Ravenscroft High School graduate, worked at the fine dining steakhouse restaurant. He learned at an early age how to please customers.
After receiving a bachelor’s in economics and political science in 1984 from UNC-Chapel Hill, he worked at an investment bank.
In 1991, he founded Winston Hospitality Inc., a hotel management and development company. By 1994, Bob created Winston Hotels, Inc. and took it public as a Real Estate Investment Trust, becoming only the third hotel REIT in the U.S. at the time.
Winston Hospitality managed most of the properties within the Winston Hotels portfolio until late 1997, when Winston Hospitality was sold to a publicly traded hotel management company. At the time of the sale, Winston Hospitality asset managed 65 hotels with over 8,700 rooms.
In July 2007, Bob sold his Winston Hotels, Inc. to Inland American Real Estate Trust for more than $800 million.
Several months later, Bob re-invented his business, forming the second coming of Winston Hospitality, in an effort to become a larger and even more profitable company.
Bob brings his strong business acumen to Research Triangle Foundation Board. He has served as the chairman and a member of the UNC Board of Trustees. He is a former member of the Institute of the Arts and Humanities Board of Advisors and the National Development Council.
Roger Perry, chairman of East West Partners Club Management, describes Bob as a visionary. “He spends his day looking through the windshield of where we are going instead of the rear view mirror of where we have been.
“He’s a person who gets things done,” Mr. Perry says. “Bob’s quest for excellence is what distinguishes him.”
Bob describes himself as a creative real estate person. “I dream about real estate. I love it. When I think of Research Triangle Park, I think about possibilities. I think about what we should be doing and what we can do.”
“I’m very involved in the remaking of the Park. I think about the opportunity and obligation we have to remake the Park,” says Bob, who recalls as a youngster tucked in the backseat of the car passing the isolated Governor’s Inn, which was built in 1972. The hotel eventually became the Radisson Hotel. RTF bought it and demolished it for re-development.
But back then, Bob wondered who would put a hotel in the middle of nowhere surrounded by trees and big wide streets. “I thought it was going to be a failure. There’s nobody here,” he thought. He realizes now, “They did it for us. They were so audacious. They were visionaries. They wanted to transform this area. They believed they could create a research park… I laugh today at what little I knew back then. They were building an infrastructure for the future. How risky it looked.”
His generation is moving forward with the metamorphosis of the property. Bob envisions the Park as a centrally-located area that will draw people from all over the Triangle. He sees the Park as a place offering excitement, entertainment as well as a collaborative and comfortable work environment.
“What we had in the past was a model based on sprawl, low gas prices and separation,” Bob explains. “We are bringing community into the Park.
“Real estate is about a sense of place. If we don’t have the right feel, the right sense of lifestyle, we will not attract people. People want to live a certain lifestyle. We have incredible universities, a skilled workforce and a wonderful space between three major cities. The way the Park is set up now is yesterday’s idea, now we have to make it today’s opportunity.”