New White Lodging hospitality leader sets sights on transforming brand
Merrillville-based hospitality development and management firm White Lodging named Barone chief executive officer, hospitality management, in January after serving almost four years as the company’s chief operating officer.
“When I joined White Lodging in 2016, the company was looking to transform its food and beverage operations, since at that time, we had only a few of our own brands and relied heavily on our hotel restaurants,” said Barone, who will report to Bruce White, White Lodging founder and chairman.
Barone joined White Lodging in 2016 as the vice president of food and beverage. He was born and raised in Toulon, France, where he started his hospitality career with a culinary apprenticeship. He attended Vancouver College in Vancouver, Canada, while working at a nearby hotel and earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management.
“Jean-Luc has been a catalyst of positive change for White Lodging, and like the best hospitalitarians across the world, he puts our associates first and leads equally with his heart and mind,” Bruce White said.
White and Barone are equally proud of the White Lodging premium, urban portfolio of hotels that has continued to grow. They agree it’s important to create destination restaurants and bars that are beloved by locals and visitors.
“Since 2016, we created more than 50 award-winning, independently branded restaurants and bars that are readily on the list of top local destinations,” Barone said.
Barone is focused on creating experiences at the company’s various hotels. He worked with the White Lodging team to develop one of the largest portfolios of rooftop bars in the hospitality industry.
“Every concept, every dish, every brand is crafted right here at our corporate office in Merrillville in our state-of-the-art test kitchen by top chefs,” Barone said.
Barone said some of his proudest moments with White Lodging have been finding the right people for the right career opportunities, which he says has a multiplying effect on others and “creates an environment where they can be their best selves.”
“To be successful as a leader, you need to go beyond the resume or experience and get to know the person as an individual human being, understanding what makes them tick, the challenges they are facing and who they aspire to be,” Barone said.
Like so many industries, he said, the biggest challenge faced today continues to be staffing. He said White Lodging has about 1,000 open jobs across the country.
He said there is not one definitive solution, but White Lodging is “attacking the problem” in several ways.
“First, we are looking at our operations and ensuring schedules, demands, work environment and culture meet the modern workforce,” Barone said. “A good portion of our workforce is under 30 years old.”
Barone said White Lodging recently “strengthened relationships” with Purdue University and its hospitality school. The campus school program recently was renamed the White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Barone said White Lodging has grown strategically since its first property opened in Northwest Indiana in 1985.
“Most of our hospitality peers are public companies; so, as a private company, we do not have to meet quarterly shareholder expectations and can be more agile,” Barone said.
White Lodging’s core markets include: Indianapolis; Chicago; Denver; San Antonio; Austin, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; and Charlotte, North Carolina. Barone said the company has more than $500 million in investments planned during the next three years while managing the more than 90 hotels and 40 restaurants it operates around the country.
“Something which has not changed is our commitment to Northwest Indiana,” Barone said. “Our corporate office could be anywhere in the country, and we choose Northwest Indiana.”
He said the White family also has increased its philanthropic activities with the goal of transforming communities through legacy investments. Bill Hannah, the executive director of the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, has been very active since he joined in 2021.
Barone has been married for more than a decade to wife Marsha, who is a senior leader at another large hospitality company. Barone has two adult daughters, ages 25 and 27.