Q & A with Chip Conley: Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, Philanthropist

Chip Conley truly does it all. He's an author, speaker, philanthropist, and the founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality. If you're looking to find your life's calling, or incorporate spirituality and yoga into your life, then you'll want to read this interview. (They all play a large role in Chip's life -- and it seems to be rubbing off as Joie de Vivre was awarded the 2nd Best Place to Work in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2008. Chip and his company’s time-tested techniques have been featured in TIME, Fast Company, Fortune, People and the Wall Street Journal.

In addition to running his hotels, Chip is also a best-selling author. In his most recent book, PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, Chip shares his unique prescription for success based on the iconic Hierarchy of Needs. His new theory illustrates how Employees, Customers and Investors are ultimately motivated by peak experiences.  Chip has delivered numerous key note presentations and leadership seminars, and has spoken to hundreds of corporate groups from Schwab to State Farm Insurance to Google. Chip’s other books include The Rebel Rules: Daring to be Yourself in Business and Marketing That Matters: 10 Practices That Can Profit Your Business and Change the World (co-authored with Eric Friedenwald-Fishman).

Chip is a big believer in giving back to the community and is recognized as a committed and creative philanthropist. He is the founder of San Francisco’s Annual Celebrity Pool Toss, which has raised over $3 million for inner city youth programs now thriving in the troubled neighborhood where he launched his first hotel.

MindBodyGreen: When did you first become exposed to spirituality and eastern religion/philosophy -- and when did it begin to influence you/how has it influenced you?

Chip Conley: I took a philosophy class in college that compared western and eastern religions and philosophies. I tended to relate more with the eastern modalities. Of course, living in San Francisco has also introduced me to a wide variety of spiritual choices. People frequently ask me if I'm Buddhist (maybe it's my sort of shaved head), but I'm never clear how to answer that because I believe deeply in the teachings of Buddha, but can't say that I've gotten actively involved in the local Buddhist religious organizations.

MBG: Do you have any advice for someone who's looking to find "their calling"?

CC: First off, how do you know when you've found your calling? A calling energizes you, while a job depletes you. The easiest path to a calling is to do an inventory of what you've always loved to do...what activities or hobbies put you in that "flow" in which you lose touch with time and feel connected to something bigger than yourself. Don't feel badly if you don't find your calling in your profession as many people live their calling outside of work, whether it's being a little league baseball coach or a grandmother.

MBG: As a CEO/Author/Speaker, how do you find time to relax?

CC: Strangely, when I'm in the "flow" living my calling, I find each of these vocations to be a form of relaxation. And, each of these vocations sort of feeds off each other so what I do as a CEO can inspire what I might write or talk about.  But, practically speaking, I probably sleep an hour or two less than most people so that affords me an additional 500 hours of time in my waking life per year compared to most people....and you can do a lot with 500 hours!

MBG: You practice meditation and yoga. Please tell us more about your meditation room (did feng shui play a role?)  What type of type of yoga do you practice?  How often do you practice?

CC: I'm so fortunate that Salliji, an 81-year old wise meditation teacher approached me nine years ago and told me that she wanted to share her gift with me. I've created a meditation altar in my entry hallway next to the pond, waterfall and Buddha statue. It's a really amazing space to meditate in, but meditation can happen anywhere: on an airplane, in line at the bank, etc... As for yoga, I have a private yoga teacher come to my home every other week to do a form of a hatha yoga and I go to a Bikram class every week. I do a little yoga and stretching at least every other day.

MBG: We have a favorite childhood book in common, The Little Engine That Could -- why/how do so many lose their child-like belief that anything is possible -- and what can we do as adults to retain this belief?

CC: Great leaders are one part childhood idealism and one part adult practicality. Unfortunately, many of us get a little too carried away with the latter. Again, if you follow your calling with passion, I believe you'll connect with that childhood idealism. I also use great quotes as inspirations on a daily basis.

MBG: What does "mind/body/green" wellness mean to you?

CC: It means connecting with nature and realizing that each of us is just a form of nature. Everything is connected. Wellness without making a difference to earth isn't holistic wellness. But, I'm also not a nature Nazi....I'm a big believer in moderation and not being preachy with those who haven't seen the light yet.

MBG: Any words of wisdom/tips for any entrepreneurs out there right now?

CC: It's not for everyone. You have to be willing to pour your life into that blender of being an entrepreneur. My best advice is to find a niche in which you can absolutely be the best. In this era of "word of mouse" (computer mouse based upon Web 2.0 and social media networking), if you create an amazing product for a particular psycho-graphic niche, they'll tell everyone they know.

MBG: When you're on the road for work or play -- what are some of your favorite eco-friendly hotels or spas?

CC: That's a tough question to answer as it really depends on the location of where I'm visiting. I've found some of the best eco-resorts to be outside the U.S. in places like New Zealand, South America, and the Caribbean. I'm a fan of Post Ranch Inn and our Ventana Inn in Big Sur, but there are many cities in the U.S. where you could visit and not have the opportunity of staying at a truly eco-friendly hotel.

MBG: What is your favorite Joie de Vivre property?

CC: That's like asking who is my favorite child. It really depends upon many variables as we have three dozen hotels and each one speaks to me in a different way. I'm sentimental about The Phoenix since it was my first, but I've sort of outgrown it as it's best for those looking for funk-appeal. My style is now more like the Hotel Vitale, but some of my other favorites include The Citizen in Sacramento, the Hotel Maya in my hometown Long Beach, and the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz.

MBG: One item you can't live without when you travel?

CC: A great book...the best companion for a long flight.

MBG: What are you most proud of?

CC: I have a 33-year old foster son and three grandkids.  He was an inner city youth who I tutored and, ultimately, I became his parent when his parents became homeless.  It's been quite a journey and I have his kids (my grandkids) stay with me as much as we can.

MBG: Favorite guilty indulgence?

CC: Chocolate....I can never get enough of it and now there are so many different subtle flavors and brands

MBG: Favorite quote?

CC: "The cost of something is measured by how much life you have to give for it." - Henry David Thoreau

MBG: You've met some amazing people, who inspires you?

CC: I was fortunate enough to meet Barack Obama two years before he elected and have a five minute conversation with him. He's a soulful man in a rather soulless profession. If he can keep his soul and sense of depth in the shallow world of Washington politics, he's a better man than me. See the Thoreau quote above -- that's why I'll never run for office. Of course, I'm also inspired by Dr. Abraham Maslow based upon how he helped the psychology profession see a new way based upon best practices in the human condition as opposed to worst practices.

MBG: If it was your Last Supper, what would your last meal be? Where would the meal be? Who would you like to be there (past/present/future)?

CC: I'd order up my mom's special spaghetti recipe and we'd have the feast next to a waterfall in a verdant valley of Bali (which is sort of like my second home).  As for who would be there, it wouldn't be famous people. It would be all my best friends and family as those are the people who truly sustain me. I'm fortunate enough that once every five years I do a big birthday party somewhere in the world (the last one was in Marrakech) and have sort of an over-the-top Last Supper with the people who matter to me. I'm doing my 50th b'day with friends at Burning Man next year.

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