There is a belief that when the Dalai Lama blesses and gives you a white scarf, you receive an extra year of life. When the Buddhist leader stayed at The Peabody during a trip to Memphis, he crossed paths with Douglas Browne several times. “He was with us about two or three days,” says Browne. “After greeting him the first day, I ran into him about halfway through his trip and he handed me another scarf. I saw him again when he’s departing and I got yet another scarf. When we were finished, I leaned toward him and asked, ‘Your excellency, does this mean I get three extra years?’ He smiled and said, ‘Yes.’”
As president of Peabody Hotels & Resorts, Browne has rubbed shoulders with many famous celebrity guests during his tenure. Photos of Browne with Queen Noor of Jordan, Bill Clinton, George Bush (41 and 43), and many more notables adorn the walls of his office.
Despite the star power coming to The Peabody on a frequent basis, Browne remains grounded. The numerous awards across a table in his office, he says, are a product of a collective team ethic. “Over the years since I’ve been in Memphis, around 16 years, I’ve got some awards. I have these because of our 550 associates. The reality is, I wouldn’t be getting any of it if it weren’t for them, so these are really their awards.”
The trophies are testament to the work Browne and his team have done for a decade and a half, striking a fine balance between The Peabody’s traditional appeal and updating the hotel with modern developments.
Larger changes, such as $10 million renovations to the guest rooms, are in the works, but Browne has also focused on the little details. “This is probably one of my favorite renovations,” says Browne, “which has a slightly different look: the sofas, even though they look historic, they all have plugs in them now so you can power your devices. But unless you really look down for it you’re not going to see it, so it’s not really disruptive. And of course our staff is trained to point it out.”
Another renovation Brown points to is the upkeep of wi-fi services. “It’s interesting how there’s free wi-fi at places, but many times it’s not very good,” says Browne. These days, with people generally having multiple devices with internet connectivity, it can a be difficult for a network to accommodate so many people. “It’s possible we could have a couple thousand people in here all with phones, tablets, computers. The draw on technology is huge, so one of the things we take pride in is constantly trying to stay ahead of that and have fiber optic lines, having enough bandwidth so that the speed remains constant.”
Browne and his associates create an impressive team, but perhaps one of the most important members is Tango. About a year and a half ago, Browne started bringing his dog to work every day.
“I wasn’t sure how it would go over at first, but it seems to have been a success. Associates that probably never would have even thought of coming by my office now come by to pet her. We have vendors that stop in every day just to say hi. The mailman stops in every day too. I don’t know if I should be disappointed that they don’t really care whether I’m here or not.”
Tango and Browne recently presided over The Peabody’s 149th anniversary celebration, a testament to the institution’s longevity and the reverence Memphis holds for it. But Browne isn’t resting on his laurels. “The big milestone is next year! From January on we’ll be doing lots of things to celebrate.” Specially branded bottles of Dom Pérignon, partnerships with Bliss Family Vineyards and Jack Daniel’s, and historic-looking keys are all part of the promotions for The Peabody’s 150th. With such an occasion on the horizon, why not pop in to see the ducks?