Reflections from Innisfree Hotels‘ President Mike Nixon

It’s universal that young people barely hear advice on aging or dating or financial responsibility. ‘In one ear and out the other’ perfectly describes this phenomenon. It sounds a lot like “blah, blah, blah” to the ears of youth.

When you are a young man in the South, you understand there is wisdom that comes from those who are your elders. You know they have already done what you are trying to do, and you learn quickly they have simplified the process. So that wisdom is different from advice on living. Boys want to know how to bait a hook so the worm doesn’t fall off. They want to know the process of changing their own oil so they can do it themselves. Southern boys are happy to sit for hours to glean these ‘nuggets of truth’ from Dads or Grandpas or any other someone-over-the-age-of-35 who seems to have the answers to most of life’s mysteries.

Lessons from Southern men often begin with declarations of origin.

“Back in the War, we would …”

“When I was your age … ”

Growing up, we understood these declarations were a predecessor for knowledge and they made our ears perk up and our mouths salivate.

Fast forward to 1994. I started working for Innisfree Hotels and was excited about working for a company that appreciated me and would allow me to become a master of my trade.

Harlan Butler was (and is) a fountain of knowledge. His education in the hotel business was hard won. He oversaw the operation of several full-service hotels in the Midwest, America’s Heartland. Harlan’s stories often followed a failure on my part in some aspect of what I was doing. Or sometimes his stories were preemptive in nature and designed to allow me to avoid a failure.

He would tell me about collecting accounts receivables, how to balance the audit, how to set up banquet rooms for dignitaries, how to prepare for a VIP stay at the hotel, how to keep vendors honest and my bottom line profitable. Almost anything I was facing, Harlan had already done it and could often predict the outcome based on his experience.

Harlan was always available for consultation or consolation and, often, the stories he used to impart wisdom were hilarious. Gut-wrenching, jaw-dropping, rolling-on-the-floor hilarious. And not always – but often enough – his stories about hotel operations started with what I have coined, and much of Innisfree has adopted, as our own personal declaration of origin:

“Back in Topeka … ”

So when you hear this declaration, you’ll want to listen.



In order to have a great future, we must celebrate and learn from our incredible past. The Innisfree Hotels story began in Topeka, Kansas. So when the folks who were around back then start a story with ‘Back in Topeka,’ we know it’s time to listen. These are tales of the challenges, of the laughter and tears that come with building a company like ours. That’s the sentiment behind this blog series, a chronicle of days gone by at Innisfree Hotels – and a map to get us where we’re going.