Clyde Cruise ’64: “Making things better”

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Courtesy: Santa Maria Times

Clyde Cruise is a Vietnam War veteran and former bellboy who helped to build Starwood Hotels & Resorts into one of the largest hotel companies in the world.


Clyde Cruise was raised in the Rainier Vista housing projects in South Seattle, before his family moved to the Highline area during 3rd grade.  Clyde attended Hazel Valley Elementary, Salmon Creek Elementary, Puget Sound Junior High and Evergreen High School.

At Evergreen, Clyde said that he was not one of the popular kids, but was “a pretty good student.”  He was a member of the National Honor Society and played multiple sports–Varsity basketball, Varsity track and the Shooting Club.

Clyde was proud that the basketball team had the highest GPA in the district (“Evergreen was a very academic school”) and that his best high jump topped the track team in his senior year.  Clyde’s siblings Cathy ’63 and Chuck ’74 also graduated from Evergreen.

Clyde attended the University of Washington, but had no idea what he wanted to do.  He didn’t like his major and wasn’t doing very well in school.  In 1966, Clyde enlisted in the U.S. Army and was soon on a boat headed to Vietnam.

When asked why he chose to sign up, Clyde said that it “sounded like something I should do.”  His dad had also been in the Army.  “But I consider myself lucky,” he said.  “I was only shot at once.”

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Courtesy: Santa Maria Times

As an MP (military police), Clyde was responsible for patrolling the coastal town of Quy Nhon, guarding enemy prisoners, running convoys and protecting bridges.

“The Vietnamese people were very good to us,” he said, “and everyone–from generals on down–made it clear that we were visitors to the country and that we should treat the people with respect.”

After one year in Vietnam, Clyde was transferred to Ft. Huachuca, AZ near the Mexican border, approximately 60 miles south of Tucson.  He was promoted to Sergeant and made MP Patrol Supervisor of the base.  After completing his Army commitment, Clyde returned to Washington state where he worked full-time and went to Highline Community College to take business classes.

Clyde transferred to the University of Washington where he studied accounting.  But why accounting? “I just liked it,” he said, “I was really good with numbers.”

Clyde graduated from UW in 1973.  He interviewed with the “Big 8” accounting firms, but decided he couldn’t work with “those guys in blue suits.”

Instead, he took a job with the Doubletree hotel in Southcenter.  All throughout school, Clyde had been working as a bellman at the Hyatt so he knew his way around a hotel.  Clyde started at the Doubletree Southcenter and soon became the Controller in charge of the entire hotel.

Clyde then moved to Tucson where he served as the opening Controller of a new Doubletree hotel there.  He kept traveling and helped to open new Doubletree hotels in Monterey, Denver, Vale, Phoenix, Scottsdale and all over the Western United States.

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Courtesy: Clyde Cruise

Clyde is especially proud of the opening of the 2nd Doubletree hotel in Seattle, where he helped install the first IBM computer system connecting the two Seattle hotels in 1980.

In 1984, Clyde moved to the corporate office and was asked to serve as the founding Controller for a new hotel chain by Doubletree called Compri, which offered luxury rooms at moderate prices.  Compri grew very quickly (from zero to 50 hotels), so Clyde moved from place to place helping to open new hotels and setting up their accounting systems.

In 1988, Clyde was promoted to Corporate Controller of Hotel Operations, overseeing the accounting systems of 80 hotels for Doubletree and Compri.

In 1994, Doubletree’s managing investors, Canadian Pacific Hotels, chose Clyde to run the entire North American accounting operations.  But when Canadian Pacific sold the company to General Electric and a group based out of Boston, Clyde felt that it was time to move on.

Clyde’s professional philosophy was simple: “Every time I took a job,” he said, “my goal was to make things better.  If I can’t do that, then I need to do something else.”

Clyde took some time off, traveling to Europe and doing some consulting work in San Diego.

During that time, the former Chief Financial Officer for Doubletree (Ron Brown), called Clyde about a new company he was starting named Starwood Hotels.  At the time, Starwood had 20 small, underperforming hotels so Clyde turned him down.  

Ron called back and eventually persuaded Clyde to join Starwood as a vice president.  Starwood immediately began buying hotels all over the country.  In 1997, Starwood acquired Westin Hotels for $1.8 billion.  A year later, in 1998, Starwood acquired Sheraton for $14.3 billion.

In just a few years, Starwood went from 20 hotels to more than 700 hotels in over 70 countries.  And Clyde had to figure out how to make it all work.  

Barry Sternlicht, the New York City financier behind Starwood, didn’t know very much about the hotel business.  But Ron Brown and Clyde knew hotels and how to set them up.  So they went out and bought a new technology solution called SAP, and worked to get all of the hotels around the world on the same accounting system.  Clyde went region by region, first completing the integration of all the hotels in the United States, and then moving onto Europe and the rest of the world.

In 2004, after ten years with Starwood, Clyde retired as Senior Vice President & Controller of Hotel Operations, after overseeing the accounting systems for more than 700 hotels worldwide.

In reflecting on his accomplishments, Clyde said that the pride and joy of his career at Starwood was setting up the accounting system for one of the largest hotel companies in the world.

“I knew in the beginning that we were going to be big,” Clyde said. “But no one was around to tell me how to do things so I had to figure it out.”

Were you a great accountant? “Not particularly,” he responded.  “But what I was good at was looking at a situation, and figuring out how to make it better.”

In his retirement, Clyde and his wife Teresa have stayed active helping their community.  Clyde has served in a variety of roles, including past president of the Nipomo Chamber of Commerce, board member and treasurer of the Nipomo Recreation Association, handyman and treasurer for Little Bits Preschool, treasurer for his Veterans of Foreign Wars post, and member of the Citizens Traffic Advisory Committee for the SLO Council of Governments.  Clyde was also named “Citizen of the Year” twice in the last 9 years by the Nipomo Chamber of Commerce.


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