Women Who Lead

Accent Inns’ Mandy Farmer Brightens the Hotel Industry

Photo credit: Jeffery Bosdet

From startups to restaurants to high-tech corporations, women are taking the business world by storm and leaving their mark. This week, we speak to British Columbia-based Mandy Farmer on working with family, the military and a surprising phone call from the prime minister’s office.

After graduating from university, Mandy Farmer had difficulty finding work in her field of neuropsychology and joined as a sales manager at her dad’s company, Accent Inns. Although she and her brother were never groomed for the family business, Farmer would work her way up to becoming CEO of the company.

Becoming CEO allowed Farmer the ability to make more decisions reflecting a creative and innovative approach to the hotel industry. It was during the 2000s the concept for what would be Hotel Zed was imagined, but it would take 13 years for its actualization and open its first brightly painted doors in 2014. The retro-themed hotel is decorated with bright pop-art colours, a slide, 60s-style Volkswagen Vans, ping pong tables, and more.

Since its initial release, Hotel Zed’s success resulted in the expansions to Kelowna and Tofino on Vancouver Island. Set to release Spring 2020, the Tofino location will have similarities to the other hotels but will take on earthy tones, a Saturday Night Fever style disco floor and a secret entrance way through a wardrobe into a 1980s arcade.

Not only does Farmer lead in the hotel industry, but she is also an Honorary Captain of the Navy affiliated with the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt. The honour is appointed by the national defence and the Prime Minister.

Amongst the few female honorary captains, Farmer was tasked with looking for other amazing female leaders. Canadian Women’s Soccer Team player Karina Leblanc, CEO of Venture Communications, Arlene Dickinson, and CEO of SUCCESS, Queenie Choo, are recent additions as honorary captains as well. A person who is highly innovative, energetic and can be a great role model for sailors is considered for the position. Farmer believes the wacky, zany attributes of Hotel Zed contributed to her receiving the honour.

“I believe it’s way more fun to be a company that’s got heart, can give back to its employees and community, and feel good about what you do,” Farmer says.

Here, a conversation with Farmer.

Was it hard working alongside your dad?

No, it was one of the best things I ever did. When I was first starting out, I was a sales manager and he was the president. We travelled the world going to conferences together and that was so much fun. He was always supportive of all my ideas and when I would suggest things, he really listened and then allowed me to develop them. The two of us have been a great partnership. He’s 81 now and retired but he still is my business partner in that he does still own a quarter share of the company.

He always told my brother and I growing up that the family business would never be passed down. When I ask him about that now—I think that was just a tactic of his so we wouldn’t feel entitled to it. We felt that we had to go off and make our own careers. When I went to university, I had no thought of even taking business and I never thought I would get into the family business.

We still do talk about business all the time. That’s maybe the only downside.

What’s the best part of your job?

The first thing that came to mind is working with our team. It’s a very high functioning team and we get stuff done. Everyone on the team are high achievers but they also are down to earth. We laugh a lot but we also want to get things done. What happens is we’ll be in a meeting and we’ll talk about something and then before you know it, next week, we’re implementing it. I love the fact that we are a nimble company. If we want to do something and we want to do it different than all the other hotels out there, we can do it.

Which aspects of your work surprise you?

I think one thing that surprises me is the team that I work with—we have so much fun and we laugh our butts off when we come up with some dumb ideas. Then before you know it, we figured it out and then we implement them. When I thought about my career and even fantasized about my dream job, I don’t think I ever would’ve thought it would be this much fun.

On a bit of a downer note, one of the things that I think is extremely surprising is some of the stuff that goes on in the rooms. I was just in one of our hotels the other day and I noticed that the clock wasn’t working and I see the battery has been stolen out of the back. Then we went to turn on the TV and the batteries are gone from the remote control. I’m just amazed at how sometimes people will come and stay in the hotel and think that they can just take whatever they want.

When you found out you were being bestowed the honour of an Honorary Captain, what was your reaction?

Complete and utter disbelief. When the phone rang and it said the prime minister’s office, I did not believe it.

I’ve been an honorary captain for three years now and it is truly one of the most amazing, awesome things that I do. It is so rewarding, motivating and inspiring to serve the Canadians who are serving us. When I’m on a warship and I’m talking to sailors who are passionate about serving Canada, I come back to work jazzed, motivated and proud to be a Canadian.

What are our military and what our navy does, it’s peacekeeping. It’s keeping our commerce safe, our lines of trade on the water safe. I’m so proud of them. I’m still glad they chose me to be the ambassador between the community and the navy because I will always do whatever I can for our sailors. They inspire me.

What did being an honorary captain tell you about the navy?

It told me the navy doesn’t want to be portrayed as boring which makes sense because a career in the navy is extremely exhilarating. You get to travel the world, you get to fire guns, you get to work on cool machinery. I think that they made a wise choice rather than the typical honorary captain—often an old white retired guy—and instead they decided no, let’s go for someone vibrant.

Do you wear your uniform often?

When I do wear it, everyone wants to stop and talk, which is great. I wear it with pride because people wonder ‘Mandy, how are you an honorary captain and why are you doing it?’

It does promote a lot of cool conversations. Even in the grocery store, you wouldn’t believe if I wear my uniform in there, that I get a lot of people coming up to me and say it is so great to see a high ranking officer being a female.

As a community, what can we do to help show our appreciation to the military?

Whenever I see someone in a uniform, I always say thank you for your service. They often feel awkward wearing their uniforms. If you see someone in a uniform, if you [thank them], you will watch them light up and brighten.