Drury Hotel founder says faith, family shape business decisions

Charles and Shirley Drury Credit Michelle Bauman CNA CNA500 US Catholic News 12 12 12 Charles and Shirley Drury. | Michelle Bauman/CNA.

Missouri business executive Charles Drury, who helped found the hotel chain that bears his name, attributes his success to a firm reliance on God and a willingness to value family over material possessions.

"We don't believe that we are smart enough to be successful on our own," Drury told CNA on Dec. 11.

At age 85, Drury has enjoyed a successful career with Drury Hotels Company, LLC, which has more than 130 hotels in 20 states. However, life was not always easy for him and his family.

Drury came from humble beginnings, raised on a farm is southeast Missouri during the Depression era.

"Everybody that was in that area was very, very poor," he recalled, noting that no one in town had electric lights and that he was the first child in the area who was able to go to high school.

The second of nine children, Drury learned on the farm "how to do things by instinct." Working with hogs, chicken and cattle taught him valuable lessons that helped him later in business.

While the family was not wealthy, they were sustained by their strong Catholic faith, Drury explained.

He recalled his mother listening to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen when he was young and how he was taught by Catholic nuns in school.

"We worked every holiday – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day – but we never did work a Holy Day," he said.

"We would go to confession every Saturday night to prepare for Sunday morning Mass," he added.

Drury also discussed the importance of family meals. He remembered how all 11 members of the family would come together to eat and how they would pray before and after every meal.

"I think family life is one thing that we're eliminating today," he said, lamenting that family meals are today too often replaced with eating alone in front of a television.

"Our culture has changed so much," he said.

After graduating from high school, Drury served for two years in the Air Force and then returned home to work with his family.

With his father and brothers, he began plastering, laying ceramic tile and setting marble and structural steel. Eventually, they started working as subcontractors, although his father refused to work for anyone who required a contract, teaching his sons that they must always follow through on their word.

After working at many hotels, "we decided we ought to build one of our own," Drury said.

His family initially bought one Holiday Inn franchise and five Ramada Inn franchises. The company moved forward, learning from their mistakes, and they eventually decided to start their own hotel. 

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As the company grew, Drury remembered his roots. Since no one in the family business had attended college, most of their instincts came from working with animals on the farm, he recalled.

In addition, a strong faith continued to influence the Drurys' business decisions. Whenever there was a dispute that could not be resolved – sometimes thousands of dollars – they would settle it by offering to give the disputed sum to the Church and allow the other party to take the deduction for it, a practice that he continues today.

When the company bought interstate sites that they later realized they did not need for their hotels, they donated them to the Church, he added.

Drury hotels have never had pornographic television channels in any of their rooms, he said, adding that he has received numerous letters of gratitude from parents who appreciate the ability to bring their children to hotels without worrying about exposing them to inappropriate sexual content.

In his personal life, Drury continues his Church-related philanthropy, a practice that his family maintained even when they were living on the farm with very few material possessions.

He and his wife Shirley participate in local fundraisers and community initiatives, as well as international efforts to help those in need around the world through organizations such as the Papal Foundation.

Currently, Drury is dealing with the federal contraception mandate. Issued in Jan. 2012 by the Department of Health and Human Services, the mandate requires employers to offer health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and drugs that have the potential to cause abortions.

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Although he is pro-life and objects to the mandate, his company is subject to it because it is considered "secular" by the government, despite the fact that it is a private family company.

Drury said that he has sent out notices that the company – which is self-insured – will not comply with the mandate and is in the process of pursuing a legal challenge to it.

"We will not participate in payments of any kind" that oppose Church teaching, he said.

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