Shared Memories Recorded by Sharon Scott Wilson
Rich Romanello, who passed away earlier his year, was one of the timeshare industry’s greatest early innovators. With his boundless imagination, creativity and enthusiasm, Rich created many of the marketing tools the industry uses today. He may have been, most notably, creator of the 3-day/2-night voucher system, or as we used to call them, ‘certs.’ If he wasn’t the daddy of the concept, he was certainly the favorite uncle. With Rich, it was an art form as well as a science. He had an innate ability to create ideas for vacation vouchers that were so unique and so highly valued, they were always quickly copied by competitors.
In fact, when a would-be competitor’s company failed and left a paper trail of unredeemable certs behind them, Rich took over and fulfilled them on his own. He didn’t recognize any revenue from the gesture, but he knew the industry would have a big blot on it if someone didn’t do something.
At one time Rich said, “We are leaders in both sales and customer satisfaction. Consistent delivery of a sound product is one of the keys to the success of Holiday Travel of America….” He said it, and he meant it. He was wholehearted and he was genuine.
He was a generous philanthropist, as well. Many would be surprised and impressed at the level of his investment in his local community and, in particular, his service to those that benefit children such as The Boys and Girls Club of Carlsbad, St. Claire’s Home (for troubled families), and Children’s Hospital. Rich served for many years on the Honorary Board of the Angel’s Depot, which supports underprivileged senior citizens.
“Of all of his charitable work, Rich was MOST involved in Angel’s Depot,” says Rich’s widow Ann Romanello. “Angel’s Depot’s mission could be described as seeking to “END SENIOR HUNGER for impoverished seniors, who are of the generations who fought our wars, paid taxes and built this great country for us.”
Reaching back in history, Rich became the first manager of the musical group, Sly & the Family Stone, in 1967. At the time he owned a successful night club in the Bay Area, Winchester Cathedral. Rich commented that at the time, when top musicians such as Santana were getting their start, they would play a gig for as little as $75.00 in cash.
Greg Errico, the original drummer for Sly and the Family Stone, remembers Rich as inspirational to the group and to him, personally. “He brought energy and enthusiasm to whatever he did. He raised the bar and inspired me to always strive for excellence.”
Errico fondly remembers Rich as a pace-setter, even in later life. “He had a hard time walking in the last few years. When he’d go to Costco with his handicap sticker and found the handicapped spaces all taken, he just parked beside the shopping carts. Apparently, he made a habit out of it because eventually the manager threatened to tow his car on the occasion.” But that was Rich: He was bold and audacious; the type to ask forgiveness, not permission.
“He recognized our group had talent in 1966,” Greg continues. “He was our manager up until the time Columbia Records signed us, After that, Rich promoted music shows for a while before getting involved in real estate with Boise Cascade. We lost track of one another for several years until a group European kids who were writing a book about the group got us reconnected. I’m so glad they did. We’ve been close friends ever since.”
Years later after a stint at selling timeshare, Rich launched Holiday Travel of America. About their startup in March 1988, Rich wrote, “We would like to thank Jim Watkins! Without his confidence and support, we might not be here today. We were only 30 days old when he gave us the opportunity to sell him 1,000 tour premiums a week for the next three years. Soon after, Winners Circle joint ventured with Shell Resorts and Shell joint ventured with Lawrence Welk Resorts, and we want to thank them all for bringing us along to do our job. We will never forget those start-up years.” It is a sad paradox that Rich passed before celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary this past March.
Rich was always eager to acknowledge the contributions of others. At one time, he wrote, “To our Board of Directors: Joe Hutchings, Joe McAdams and Jim Broughton, you bring years of experience and we are proud & blessed to have you.” He heaped further praise, on “Anne White, CFO; Randy Fish, VP and the great management team and staff that works so hard with a commitment to consumer satisfaction.”
A heartbroken staff of loyal HTOA employees wished to add their own, private sentiments:
“Rich was a great leader that showed us the way to success. He leaves behind a team of great leaders to pave the way to new boundaries.”
–Nuvia Preciado, Reservations Supervisor
“I am extremely blessed to have known Rich for the last 10 years. He was a joy to everybody that knew him and worked for him and we will do what it takes to keep his legacy moving forward. The respect he received and gave to all was paramount to anybody I have ever worked for. He is sorely missed by me and all that he came across.”
–Fern Vojnovich, Customer Service Manager
Rich will always be a great leader, role model and my determination and energy to keep his legacy going. Remember, the difference between a boss and a leader… A boss says “Go”, A leader says “Let’s go”.
–Estela Frias, General Manager
“Having worked for Rich nearly 21 years, he became one of my closest friends.
He was a brilliant, innovative, motivator, and the strong management team he put together will work hard to ensure that his legacy grows.
He always had a kind word and an interesting story to tell. The fond memories I have of him, will last me another 21 years!”
–Anne White, CFO / COO
Prior to his passing, Rich spent significant time with his personal attorneys to set up separate business and family trusts to ensure the company would survive moving forward and his family was taken care of. Today, Intern-CEO (and Board Member), Joe Hutchings is working closely with the company’s executive and management teams to ensure Rich’s vision lives on.
“The staff at HTOA and Assured Travel were devastated to learn of Rich’s passing, but when the shock wore off, we looked at each other and committed ourselves to Rich’s legacy”, says Randy Fish, Vice President.
“Rich was not only my closest friend and our friendship ran very deep, but I served on the Board of Directors for his company for 20 years,” says Joe. “The thing I most admired about Rich was that he continued to do the right things as it pertains to his commitment to excellence, integrity to his customers, and also for the company. It is because of that relationship that I am planning to continue in my capacity as a director and hope to assist in a smooth transition to ensure his long-term vision and legacy. ”
Rich’s management team has been together a collective 140 years working, servicing various industries and will continue to lead the industry in innovation, customer service and providing memorable vacation experiences for all.
In my memory, Rich will always be the consummate charmer. His personality virtually sparked with energy and contagious enthusiasm for whatever project in which we were engaged. He provided true leadership that empowered others to think creatively. We were all gratified to have his approval when it was earned or to learn from his suggestions when they were offered. That’s why I’m sure that the companies he launched – HTOA and Assured Travel – will continue his legacy under the guidance of Joe, Randy and Anne. They are inheriting the results of his mastery at deal-making and incredible imagination.
Adds Hutchings: “I think that Rich exemplified the most important part of life, which is living it. There’s not much that he missed. I have many, many tremendous memories and reflections of our relationship that will stay with me through the rest of my time!”
“Rich Romanello is the most amazing man I have ever known in my life,” says his wife Ann. “I think most of us who knew him well would say the same. I was so blessed to be with a man who was respected by his friends and family as well as by everyone he personally worked with or did business with. Not only did he have so much integrity in how he lived and worked but he truly cared about his employees, clients and vendors. He gave his heart to everything he did and in our marriage his heart was mine and mine, his. Rich is my soulmate and dream husband! He helped me understand my true value and changed the way I see myself forever. A quote by Helen Keller that is helping me heal: ‘What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply become a part of us.’ Rich will forever be a part of me, his family, his friends, his companies and the entire timeshare industry. That is Rich’s legacy!”