He used to restock vending machines. Now he owns Miami luxury hotels

Neil Shah and Juhi Saigal-Shah at their Miami home. Photograph by Nick Garcia for INDULGE.
Neil Shah and Juhi Saigal-Shah at their Miami home. Photograph by Nick Garcia for INDULGE.

Neil Shah, president and COO of Hersha Hospitality Trust saw something about Miami that he loved — first for his hotel-investment business, then for his family.

VITALS 43. President and Chief Operating Officer of Hersha Hospitality Trust, a hotel operator and real estate investment firm that manages more than $2.5 billion in assets. Neil H. Shah was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the younger sibling and future business partner of his brother, Jay. His parents, Hasu and Hersha, emigrated to Central Pennsylvania from Mumbai. While Hasu took a chemical engineering job with the state, Hersha raised their two sons and, in her spare time, bought and fixed up small real estate investments.

The Shahs eventually purchased the Red Rose Motel, moving their family into the 24-room property. Using the family matriarch’s name, The Hersha Group went on to acquire another seven properties. Neil Shah, meanwhile, earned degrees from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and from Harvard Business School.

In 1998, he and his brother took the family business to new heights — and took it public — with Hersha Hospitality Trust. The company has clusters of hotels in Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Washington. South Florida came across their radar in 2011, with the company buying real estate in Miami Beach, Key West and, later, Coconut Grove.

Drawn to the warm weather and warmer community, Shah moved his family — his wife of 13 years, Juhi, whom he met on a trip to Bombay, and their two kids, Simran, 10, and Arhan, 8 — to Coconut Grove last year. The timing was perfect: Hersha Hospitality Trust has since acquired the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove and announced plans to build a new hotel at Merrick Park in Coral Gables.

Neil Shah. Photograph by Nick Garcia for INDULGE.

CURRENT OBSESSION “The Ritz-Carlton will really engage the community in Coconut Grove. The Grove has always been a great residential neighborhood, so we’re developing the restaurant and the bar really for the neighborhood.”

FIRST PAYING JOB “A vending-machine business for some of our properties. Before we could drive, someone would drive us around to restock the cigarette and candy machines.”

STUDY FIRST, THEN DESIGN “Our assets don’t have a kind of cookie-cutter look. It’s really about getting to know a neighborhood, getting to know a location, getting to understand what guests are going to feel when they walk into a place. I spend a lot of time just getting to know our markets.”

KEEP EXPLORING “I am driven by discovery. After living 25 years between Boston and Washington and New York and Philadelphia, I knew all the backroads. Coming to Miami has given me opportunities to find so many delights at every corner. It’s still uncharted territory, and that’s exciting for me.”

THE GREAT OUTDOORS “We love going anywhere under this beautiful canopy in Coconut Grove. We go to the Kampong and Barnacle State Park frequently, and biking in Matheson Hammock Park and down Old Cutler. I do a lot of biking with the kids.”

Neil Shah. Photograph by Nick Garcia for INDULGE.

BEST ADVICE EVER RECEIVED “Life is a long road. Careers are long, family relationships are long, friendships are long. And, I think because I’m now in my 40s, I can finally believe it.”

LESSONS FROM DAD “My father has a kind of intellectual honesty and spirituality that’s infused with real positivity. He taught me to be humble, because you don’t have control over everything.”

ON BEING A FATHER “Maybe I’m still allowed to do this because they’re only 8 and 10, but I try to be friends with them. At a certain age you really can’t do that, because you have to have that distance to have discipline, but for now we get to have a lot of fun.”

WHAT YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB “I like the constant growth. We’re always upgrading what we do, and the quality of what we do. Growth provides variety, so I have a lot of different things I’m able to work on and add value to.”

GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT “I feel very accomplished when I’m with my wife, our children, my parents and my brother’s family. When we’re all together and we’re feeling good and we’re healthy and happy.”

IF YOU COULDN’T DO WHAT YOU DO “I would love to be a travel writer. That would be really interesting and fun.”

LAST TIME YOU DID SOMETHING FOR THE FIRST TIME “We fostered a dog. I was never brought up with a pet — except goldfish.”

MOTTO “You can achieve anything you can conceive. That has influenced every step in my life. If you’re creative enough to conceive of it, then you can achieve it — but you still have to work at it.”