Chip Conley – The Modern Elder

A few weeks ago, we talked about Wisdom @ Work, the New York Times bestselling book from Chip Conley. During his career, Chip has long been distinguished as a maverick in the hospitality industry, disrupting it from its norms. A few years ago, he went from CEO to feeling like an intern when he joined new startup AirBNB to help them grow their brand and mentor the young CEO.

Chip took his experiences at AirBNB and turned that into not only Wisdom @ Work but leveraged that into Modern Elder Academy – the first midlife wisdom school dedicated to transforming aging.

One thing we love about Chip? He believes curiosity is the elixir of life and started learning Spanish and surfing at age 58. We thought (We thought what?)

Chip Conley surfing

Always a Disrupter

Chip didn’t just start disrupting the industry in his older age. Earning both his BA and his MBA from Stanford by 1984, he went on to found Joie di Vivre Hospitality in 1987.

While there, he held the position of CEO for nearly 24 years. During that time, Conley created and managed 50 boutique hotels. Conley didn’t just create an out-of-box hotel either. No, he saw the potential in old, decrepit hotels and transformed them into unique experiences throughout the country.

His first was the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco. He modeled the hotel’s concept after Rolling Stone Magazine, offered tour managers free massages to induce them to bring their bands to stay there, and began to attract nationally known celebrities to stay at his essentially low-budget 1950s era motel.

With support from investors, Conley continued to buy a series of moderately sized, often run-down buildings and motels to turn them into unique, boutique experiences.

Chip Conley with Airbnb team

AirBNB and Conley’s Tech Journey

After selling Joie di Vivre Hospitality at age 52, Conley could have retired and he wasn’t sure what to do next. Then the young founders of new tech darling AirBNB reached out and wanted help to transform their startup into a true hospitality brand.

He may have been twice the age of the average AirBNB employee and didn’t have the digital fluency of his colleagues, but he worked closely with the CEO Brian Chesky. During his time at AirBNB, he worked to build the bridge between the travel, hotel, and tech industries. 

It was there at AirBNB that he learned that even though he felt very much like an outsider, he had the skills needed to help even those “digital natives” that were nipping at his heels. He took that experience and leveraged it into his new Modern Elder business, while mentoring other young tech executives.

We know that it can often feel like we’re on the other side of change right now with everything moving so rapidly, but we love Conley’s reminder that there’s definitely a place for our wisdom and experience. And that it can even be our superpower!