Dennis Vollink logs a lot of time in the air as president of Drury Southwest Inc.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Dennis Vollink is president of Drury Southwest Inc. and a pilot for the company. (Fred Lynch)

Dennis Vollink, president of Drury Southwest Inc., got his start with the company as a pilot and engineer. Although his role with the company has evolved over the years, he still flies regularly as he travels to tend to business at Drury properties in several Western states.

Question: Tell me how your career with Drury Southwest started.

Answer: In 1981, Bob Drury was looking for a company pilot who was also an engineer. He was building the first Drury hotel in San Antonio. He contacted the Air Force personnel office at Randolph Air Force Base and inquired about officers who were leaving the Air Force and who were engineers also. I was a T-38 instructor pilot at Randolph. At night I was attending graduate school in solar engineering at Trinity University. I had an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the Air Force Academy. ... My goal was to fly for a corporation where I could also be an engineer. Bob and I were introduced, and I was soon working for Drury Development.

Q: What are some of the various roles you've had with the company before becoming president of Drury Southwest?

A: In 1981, I started with the company as pilot and civil/mechanical engineer. I did site design and plumbing and cooling systems for the new Drury Hotels. After several years I obtained my professional engineering registration and was able to seal plans for the new construction projects and also worked on most phases of the construction. In 1990 I was made president of Drury Development. I became responsible for non-hotel development and some hotel construction. In 1999 I was named president of Drury Southwest by Bob Drury.

Q: Tell me about the different sectors of the Drury Southwest company and the areas in addition to Southeast Missouri where your businesses are located.

A: Drury Southwest has a number of non-hotel businesses in Cape Girardeau and San Antonio: commercial leasing, residential leasing, convenience stores, land development, bowling alleys, roof decks, etc. Our major line of business outside of Cape Girardeau is developing and building the Drury Hotel brand. Drury Southwest owns half of the 126 hotels in the brand. Drury Development, owned by Bob's brother Charles, owns the other half. The hotels are all operated by Drury Hotel Corp., with Chuck Drury as president. Drury Southwest has a strong development and construction team that is able to tackle difficult historical projects in house. We have done two major historical renovations of 1920s buildings in San Antonio on the Riverwalk, one in New Orleans, and are now renovating in Wichita, Kan., and Santa Fe, N.M. We also have the only LEED (Green) Silver rated hotel in the state of Arizona, located in Flagstaff.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

A: Previously it was our ... historical restorations, but right now it's the very slow economy. The hotel industry has been especially hard hit. We have had to drastically shift our construction schedules to keep all of our team members working and productive. However, we are blessed that the Drury brand continues to grow. We have won JD Powers Awards for five consecutive years, top ratings in Consumer Report, and first place Market Matrix ratings. We are still adjusting to the new market conditions.

Q: Commercial real estate development has slowed in recent years due to the economy. Are you seeing any signs that interest in this sector is picking up?

A: The Cape area has remained more stable than the larger metropolitan areas. However, it has still slowed. The challenges in the larger cities we work in are much more severe. Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta and part of San Antonio are very slow. ... There are development opportunities in the current economy and we are watching these opportunities very closely.

Q: You serve on the Cape Girardeau Partnership for Higher Education's advisory committee. How did you get involved with group? What are your hopes for the future of this Partnership?

A: I got involved with the committee while discussing local area needs and opportunities with Earl Norman and other local business people. A number of the concerned business owners, along with the city and the local educators, financially supported the study that started the committee moving. The Partnership is now in operation, which is a huge step for local student opportunities. I sincerely hope that it continues to expand. I feel that this area can become a much larger center for education and can have expanded opportunities for our students that other Missouri cities provide. All entities, including the university, CTC, will benefit with increased enrollment and expanded work forces.

I am also involved with local students by serving as the volunteer recruiter and interviewer as the Liaison Officer in Southeast Missouri for the Air Force Academy.

Q: Tell me about your career with the U.S. Air Force.

A: I attended USAF undergraduate pilot training in 1974 after graduating from the Air Force Academy. I flew in the Air Force for 7 1/2 years before transferring to the Air Force Reserves when I moved to Cape to work for Drury Development. I have over 7,500 hours of flying. I retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2004 from the Air Force Reserves.

Q: What do you love most about flying?

A: I truly love to fly. It's the awe inspiring scenery, freedom, challenge of staying really proficient, and the feeling of accomplishment after getting through difficult flight conditions when the flight has gone well. The speed of travel in a corporate jet is also a major benefit for family time at home for our company employees.

Q: Where is the most interesting place you've flown to?

A: We get out west to Arizona regularly -- and this terrain is especially beautiful. We usually give our passengers the Grand Canyon tour coming out of Flagstaff on flights to Santa Fe. We have been to Canada and Mexico also.

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