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Virgin Hotels General Counsel Jumps to Standard Hotel Chain

Jan. 3, 2022, 4:48 PM

Standard International Management LLC, the parent of boutique hotels The Standard and Bunkhouse, hired its new general counsel from Virgin Group Holdings Ltd.

Thayer Thompson, who has worked at billionaire Richard Branson’s companies since 2008, replaces Amber Asher, who was elevated to become Standard International’s chief executive officer in October.

“After 14 incredible years with Virgin Hotels, I have now moved on to my next adventure,” said an auto-response message from Thompson at the company.

He takes on a new top legal role as the pandemic severely challenges the hospitality industry. Standard International, which has 16 hotel, food, and beverage properties in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas, nonetheless is moving forward with plans to open three new locations.

Thompson and Asher, whose new roles are noted on their respective LinkedIn profiles, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Thompson, who joined Standard International in November as an executive vice president and general counsel, spent nearly six years as general counsel and vice president of commercial for Virgin Hotels, Branson’s hospitality chain.

During his time at Virgin Hotels, Thompson handled the company’s 2018 acquisition of the former Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, according to his LinkedIn profile. The rebranded development, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, opened last year.

Thompson also advised other Branson-related businesses, including the cruise line Virgin Voyages and spaceflight outfit Virgin Galactic. He was part of a Virgin Group legal team in 2009 that handled the $280 million sale of a minority stake in Virgin Galactic to an Abu Dhabi-based investment firm.

Miami-based Virgin Hotels, which didn’t respond to a request for comment about Thompson’s departure, has posted online its own listing to fill his former general counsel role. The listing said the job will be “directed by the CEO.” Virgin Hotels appointed James Bermingham to be its new CEO in March.

Standard International’s roots go back to 1999 when veteran hotelier André Balazs—who stepped down as chairman of the company in 2017—built the first Standard-branded hotel that year on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, Calif.

The locale, in its heyday a hangout for Hollywood’s elite, closed nearly a year ago in part due to Covid-19 economic pressures.

Amar Lalvani started Standard International in 2013 and spent eight years as the New York-based company’s CEO. He now holds the title of executive chairman.

The privately held company plans to open three new hotel properties, including an additional outpost this year in Thailand and another on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza. Standard International also expects to open a Dublin hotel by 2025.

Asher said via LinkedIn at the time of her promotion to CEO that she would “pass the torch” to a new general counsel. An online listing said the position is part of the executive leadership team and responsible for all global legal operations.

Hotel trade publications that covered Asher’s promotion to CEO cited her work steadying Standard International during the pandemic.

Virgin Galactic, which made waves last summer with a key test for the future of space tourism, has watched Branson continue to unload stakes in order to raise funds to support Virgin Group’s travel and leisure businesses and other ventures.

Vanessa Chandler, Virgin Galactic’s former general counsel, left the company in 2020 following a reorganization of its legal function.

In early 2021, she landed a new role as senior counsel with Vivino Inc., a San Francisco-based wine startup that raised $155 million from investors to expand its business after reaping the benefits from strong sales during the pandemic.

Chandler didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Max Neuberger, who spent over eight years in-house at Virgin Group, where he handled corporate transactions and growth capital investments, also left his role as an assistant legal director in December to become general counsel at London-based venture capital firm the Bloc Exchange Ltd.

More Hospitality Hires

Standard International isn’t alone in promoting its former legal chief to CEO, as turnover in the latter position was robust among hospitality companies during 2021, according to trade publication Skift.

Best Western International Inc. announced Dec. 2 its promotion of vice president of legal and corporate counsel Jay Pricher to general counsel. Pricher, who has spent 13 years in-house at the Phoenix-based hotel chain, succeeds Lawrence Cuculic.

Pricher will continue to report to Cuculic, who spent more than a dozen years as Best Western’s top lawyer prior to being promoted to president and CEO in December.

Other hospitality-related legal hires include:

  • CitizenM Operations Holding BV, a privately held, Amsterdam-based hotel chain that raised $1 billion from investors in November to accelerate its post-pandemic expansion plans in North America, landed Lowenstein Sandler partner Patricia Perez as its U.S. general counsel in September. Perez spent three years doing commercial real estate and debt finance work at Lowenstein in Roseland, N.J.
  • Costa Isabela Partners Inc., a company that owns Puerto Rico’s oceanfront Royal Isabela golf resort, welcomed aboard former Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati senior litigation counsel Shelby Pasarell Tsai in San Francisco last summer as its vice president of operations and business development.
  • Radisson Hotel Group AB tapped former Yonder Media Mobile Inc. general counsel and head of business and legal affairs Tanya Taylor last year to be its Americas legal chief. Her move marked a return to the hospitality sector, as Taylor spent a decade in-house at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Inc. She took a Radisson role vacated by Jenny Lindstrom, who switched industries by becoming legal chief and corporate secretary for health care technology company Mitesco Inc.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com