Hospitality icon loved Wyoming
Bruce White, founder of Brush Creek Ranch, has died at 70
January 26, 2023
When icons of an industry pass on from this world, it is interesting to perceive their life and accomplishments. When all is said and done, recounting this unique person's life and contributions, it is important to remember where this individual considered his home to be.
Bruce White, founder of White Lodging which includes Carbon County's Brush Creek, considered Wyoming his home.
"Bruce loved Saratoga, the Valley, Wyoming," said Mike Williams, Chief Operating Officer, Brush Creek Ranch who knew White for 41 years, "Bruce and Beth have lived many places, but since they came to Wyoming and purchased Brush Creek Ranch, they learned and embraced Wyoming values, such as a deal being good on a handshake."
Together with his wife, Beth, of 35 years, White had three children; Corinne, Conner and Patrick (Otis). He welcomed his first grandchild, Timothy, in 2021. He was very much a family man according to Williams and was a great father.
Williams stressed White believed in education. White was a graduate of Purdue University, the Harvard Graduate School of Business O.P.M. Program and is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration in Hospitality Management from Johnson and Wales. Many schools and universities received help from White through his philanthropy, but there was a special place in his heart for Purdue University.
"In all its history, Indiana has produced few citizens the equal of Bruce White," Mitch Daniels, Purdue University President Emeritus remarked. "In a spectacular business career, his imagination and boldness created opportunities and wealth for thousands of others. He invested enormously of his energy and personal resources in trying to build the prosperity and quality of life of his beloved Northwest Indiana. And, of course, as trustee, donor, and advocate, he was a central figure in building the Purdue University of today. We cannot replace him; we will remember him with the deepest gratitude."
Williams said White had a vision when he first took over several small Carlton Lodges in Indiana nearly 40 years ago. He wanted to be the best and wasn't scared to take risks because he wanted to make a difference. This attitude inspired trust with partners and White quickly gained the attention of one of the most influential individuals in the hospitality industry, J.W. "Bill" Marriott, Jr.
"Marriott's relationship with Bruce White and White Lodging has been going strong for decades and that's a testament to our shared values and our belief that people are at the heart of this business," said Marriott, Chairman Emeritus of Marriott International. "Bruce embodied that value. It isn't often in business that you have the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with a partner for decades, it has been our distinct privilege to do just that with Bruce and the team at White Lodging."
White Lodging's portfolio includes approximately 60 hotels (14,600 rooms), more than 50 restaurants, 10 rooftops bars and a collection of luxury ranches. Throughout his career, White developed, owned and managed more than 225 new hotels over the last 35 years on behalf of White Lodging with the support of other valued partners.
With hotels in some of the country's most coveted urban destinations, White Lodging remains family-owned and headquartered in Northwest Indiana, where Bruce White's legacy began.
White Lodging, established in 1985 by White, has evolved into one of the country's largest privately held hospitality companies focused on highly curated urban and lifestyle properties.
White was an enormously successful business leader and entrepreneur in the hospitality business. His accolades are countless in recognition for his tenacious focus on growth and his uncanny ability to attract, develop and retain talent.
Williams remembers when he started with White, he was the first management trainee.
Their relationship endured for years to come and Williams got to know White and his family well.
"The guy was as competitive as any guy I ever knew," Williams said. "From playing basketball with him, to skiing, to running with him–he especially loved basketball. We had some bloody noses after our games. He was one tough guy."
Williams said there was a time when White was on a team that used to go to different prisons and play inmates. He was from Indiana and went to Purdue.
"His fraternity brothers played on the team and some went on to have careers in the NBA," Williams said. "In fact Jerry Sichting of the Boston Celtics might have been the last person who wasn't a family member to have spoken to him."
Williams said in 2006, White and his father sold 100 hotels. With significant proceeds, he sort of sat on the money for a while. "Then his wife Beth said, 'Bruce you haven't done a darn thing with the money you made and I have to ask you, what do you really want to do?'" Williams remembered, "He said he wanted to buy a ranch. He told his wife he always wanted to be a rancher since he was a kid."
Williams said White knew nothing about ranching but wanted to learn. "One important thing happened. Bruce met Ron Hawkins. We could have not done anything with a ranch without Ron. Absolutely no question," White said. "Ron is the guy who showed us what it was like to be a ranch person. He didn't just teach us values, he taught us Wyoming values, how you treat people. A handshake means everything. I think it was a breath of fresh air for Bruce to be able to deal with people in the local market with a handshake."
Williams said White always had a hands-on interest in whatever he did. "He was a consummate hands-on guy," Williams continued. "Even though he was chairman of the board, he was a meticulous strategist and visionary."
Williams is not alone in his assessment of White. Anthony Capuano, CEO, Marriott International was impressed with him.
"Bruce White was a valued long-term partner who had an indelible influence in the hospitality industry," Capuano said. "One of our most successful franchisees, Bruce opened our first Fairfield Inn Suites and led White Lodging's portfolio expansion to include over 200 hotels with us, including spectacular J W Marriott hotels that are brand builders and leaders in their markets. What comes to mind when I think about Bruce is his strong business acumen, candid perspectives and relentless transparency. These qualities, combined with his entrepreneurial spirit, made Bruce a great partner and bolstered his success in consistently breaking new ground. I am forever grateful for Bruce's partnership and friendship."
Williams remembers when White bought Brush Creek and was looking to turn it into the world class resort it is, there were locals who were wary of his intentions. "People thought we were going to try and make the area into some sort of Disneyland," Williams said. "People thought we were trying to compete with Old Baldy. I told them, 'My boss hates golf'. We said if Old Baldy is doing it, we won't. We think the world of the Old Baldy Club."
Williams believes most people realize that White was not out to ruin the Valley and the area out by Brush Creek Resort. "I think we have proven through our philanthropy, through our keenness of improving land, putting the land in appropriate land trusts so that it can never be anything else but what it is now," Williams pointed out. "The Whites love Wyoming. They never want to be any other place. So they wanted to build something that would show off Wyoming to the world."
White and his wife succeeded.
"Bruce White was truly a visionary in the hospitality industry. His journey, his life, and legacy embodies all of the White Lodging properties but the masterpiece of Brush Creek Ranch is truly awe inspiring," Leslie Jefferson, CEO of the Carbon County Visitors Council said. "What began as a guest ranch in 2011 has grown into the world renown Brush Creek Ranch Collection, Wyoming's premier lodging experience. It is not only an experience at Brush Creek Ranch all-inclusive, but each or the Brush Creek properties demonstrate their sustainability efforts and accomplishments. From the 2011 Brush Creek Ranch purchase to today's award winning hospitality business, Bruce White has showcased and paved the way for tourism growth in Wyoming's Carbon County. Tourism in Carbon County over the past twelve years has more than doubled. Even with the growth and popularity of the Brush Creek Ranch Collection, Mr. White's focus on philanthropy outreach brought many artists and inner-city youth to the ranch to experience Wyoming's western culture. Bruce White will be missed."
Bill Hanna, Executive Director of the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation had words of praise also. "I have been very blessed in my life to work with some of the finest leaders our state and nation has to offer. In my experience there have been a handful I have had the privilege of knowing that immediately stand out as having the kind of qualities it takes to change the world," Hanna said. "It's even rarer to encounter someone who possesses those qualities and has the strong values, a moral compass and work ethic to match. Bruce White was such a person and more. His values were so strong that he could be absent from the room and yet be fully present in spirit and in action."
Tim Nicklas, the Director of the Grand Encampment Museum saw firsthand the generosity of the Whites when they brought kids from the urban areas of Indiana and Illinois to enjoy the Staddle Camp the Whites had designed. They wanted kids to have an outdoor educational experience. The museum was always on their itinerary. The Whites funded everything. Kids would visit for a week at a time. The Whites did this for nine weeks. Nicklas said the Whites were huge into funding education.
"They funded our education program at the museum as a whole," Nicklas said. "Its all the Whites' generosity that makes this happen. I think the point is, the Whites are more generous to the communities in the Valley than anybody realizes."
Josh Hale, President and CEO of Big Shoulders remembers, Bruce and Beth adopted Our Lady of Guadalupe School and created The White Family Scholarship program. The scholarship program, which supported hundreds of students in pre-kindergarten through college, was never envisaged simply as a gift. Rather, as an investment, a partnership and a friendship.
"Bruce's boyhood dream to own a ranch in Wyoming turned into a mix of his best characteristics; his love for family, philanthropy, hospitality, business, adventure and educational experiences, and exemplified the best of his abilities and vision," Hale said. "Together with Beth, they created a program on their Wyoming ranch for Big Shoulders students to attend science and leadership development programs. Each summer, hundreds of elementary-aged students took flights–the first plane trip for many of them, to what is now known as Staddle Camp at Brush Creek Ranch. Big Shoulders Fund students sleep in tents, eat meals from an outdoor chuck-wagon kitchen and attend classes in nature conducting water quality tests in a national park, stargazing with an astronomer and learning to ride a horse, among other things. Even more, some alumni of this program are invited back as counselors, helping to manage the very program they attended years before."
Hale said the Whites do not let the kids who went forget their good time. "Bruce and Beth host an annual alumni event in Chicago, inviting all of the students who have visited Staddle Camp since it started nearly 15 years ago," Hale remembered. "Thousands have attended. That alone says so much about the impact of the experience and adventure. Whether they participated one year or 10 years ago, alumni return to rekindle the fire that started in them when they visited Staddle Camp and got to know Bruce. Some alumni are even attending, with support from Beth and Bruce, the University of Wyoming. A boyhood dream turned into an innovative experiential learning program for deserving children that now has far reaching ripples and impacts the likes of which cannot even be imagined."
Hale admits to missing White tremendously. "Bruce was a warm, engaging, larger than life personality who deeply cared for his family, had a passion for adventure, music and all things Purdue but also dedicated large amounts of time and resources to helping those in need achieve their fullest potential," Hale said. "And while I am deeply saddened by the loss of such a close friend, I am comforted by the legacy he leaves behind. The ripples of the work he started will have an impact for generations to come. We often talk about Bruce and how he has helped the students in our schools to broaden their horizons; totally true and probably understated. However, through his visionary skills and leadership, he also helped Big Shoulders Fund and all around him, including me, to broaden our horizons for what is possible."
Hale said White and his wife have helped thousands of kids. "Bruce and Beth helped to initiate and foster new and deeper relationships among nearly 8,000 children and their families, thousands of educators and school staff members, community leaders, businesses, politicians and civic leaders, architects and builders, playground installers, faith leaders and more," Hale said. "The long term destination of this initiative is evolving. But one thing is for sure, Bruce unleashed his vision based on a deep and abiding belief that strong community based organizations and a connected citizenry will strengthen. In his typical way, he shunned accolades for his philanthropic leadership of game changing movements, but his 3-D visionary fingerprints are all over the planning and empowering of this ongoing and forward looking work."
White had words he lived his life by. 'Be a learner, be a leader, be a friend.' These were the words Bruce White expressed to his children each day they went to school. This simple phrase beautifully captures Bruce White's three-word philosophy on life, family, business, leadership and philanthropy: educate, enhance and enjoy," J.W. "Bill" Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management recounted.
"In recent years Bruce White and the White family stepped up their philanthropic support, aligned with this three-word philosophy. Over the past five years, Bruce White has invested or pledged more than $100 million in legacy investments from family foundations that are designed to transform communities.
This includes the expansion of inner-city youth education and several state-of-the-art community centers and YMCA facilities in Northwest Indiana named for Bruce's parents and tens of millions of dollars in support of business and hospitality education at his alma mater, Purdue University. Most recently, in recognition of Bruce White's ongoing support, Purdue University renamed its hospitality school the White Lodging."
Bruce White is a person who touched many. Williams recounts the last time he saw White in person at Shively Field. They were getting on a plane around Thanksgiving. White turned to Williams and told him he loved him. "It was 41 years coming," Williams said. "The feeling is certainly mutual."
White made his mark on many people's lives while he was in this world. "When I met Bruce White, I knew of his business successes, but not until working with him did I understand the scale and scope of Bruce's philanthropic and civic involvement which go well beyond writing a check," Hale said. "He believed in breaking down silos and that strong community-based organizations with a connected citizenry will ultimately be a multiplier for good and a key to strengthening communities. Bruce's legacy is very much in the tradition of the philosopher who said blessed are those who plant trees under whose shade they will never sit. His loss is great, but we all know his legacy will impact generations."
Williams said what everyone should remember, more than anything about Bruce White, was he loved Wyoming.
"Bruce hated to be away from here. It was the place he loved to be at. He hated to leave," Williams said. "He was really, really happy in Wyoming. Being in Saratoga and being a Wyoming resident fulfilled him. He loved Wyoming and he wanted to do good things here and I believe he did."