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Not many lawyers would consider dancing a job requirement. But then not many companies operate the way FelCor Lodging Trust Inc. does. One of the duties of executive vice president and general counsel Lawrence D. Robinson is to take a turn cooking for employees at the Irving, Texas-based company and to keep them entertained. The assignment a few months ago: Set up a luncheon with a Spanish theme. The team didn’t skimp on anything, including the entertainment. “Me dancing with the flamenco dancer was pretty interesting,” Robinson says. It was just another day at the FelCor offices, where the employees work hard and play hard. President and CEO Thomas Corcoran Jr., who has established a fun, family-oriented office, cooks every other month for his employees. On alternating months, he assigns teams of employees to take over the cooking chores. The events reflect the culture at FelCor, which has a vice president of mischief, whose job it is to make sure the proper atmosphere prevails. The nation got a taste of the fun on May 31 through the CNBC program “Wake-Up Call,” which featured cook Corcoran making breakfast in the appropriately titled “Breakfast with the CEO” segment. Employees lined up at the crack of dawn to partake in pancakes, omelets and other culinary treats made by the boss. “It’s my favorite day of the month,” says Barbara Lacy, who serves as mischief VP — she also handles human resources and is the office manager at FelCor — and who has cooked alongside Corcoran since the company was founded. “People who don’t know each other very well become friends over the course of preparing a lunch.” Robinson, who describes himself as a fair chef but a great scullery maid, fits right in at the company, one of the nation’s largest hotel real estate investment trusts. As top attorney and a senior officer, Robinson, who’s been general counsel since 1996, oversees legal work and helps craft business strategy. His work involves buying properties; setting up franchise agreements; defending against suits, (mostly slip-and-fall cases); drawing up employment and construction contracts; complying with securities requirements; and keeping records on company business. Then there are the special events. Back when the company employed just eight people, Corcoran cooked lunch each month for everyone. Once the roster hit about 25, the luncheons became a team-building event. Now that 60 employees work at FelCor, the lunches are elaborate productions. Every other month, Corcoran assigns a team to set up an event. (The surest way to land on a team is to miss a meeting or special occasion — Robinson’s fate was sealed a few months ago when he grabbed a sandwich instead of joining in on one of the special Mexican meals he thought might disagree with him.) The CEO announces the theme to team members three days in advance but waits until 7 a.m. of the day of the luncheon to issue the menu. The team swings into action then. Employees at the office calculate the amounts needed; the rules say that all food must be prepared from scratch. Team members stationed at grocery stores and armed with cell phones wait for the word on how much to buy. Once they return to the office, cooking begins in the company kitchen. The REIT Suite, the company’s main conference room, is spruced up with decorations. The meal is served at noon, accompanied by entertainment arranged in advance. “It does help to teach organization skills and the allocation of work among various skill levels,” Robinson says of the monthly meal. “Basically, it builds camaraderie and good community relations within the office.” The events also sharpen creative thinking skills. One month, the theme was food that babies eat. Employees were served pudding, applesauce and other soft food on potty chairs that doubled for trays. “We’ll do almost anything for a chuckle or two,” Robinson says. On nonluncheon days, Robinson usually begins his day at 9 a.m. Typically, he spends the morning going through mail, dealing with invoices and responding to e-mails. The afternoon is devoted to projects, such as preparing an acquisition or contract. Sometimes, he’s coordinating outside lawyers or dealing with insurance adjusters. Near the end of the workday, he does his correspondence and prepares a pile of material for the mail. The last hour, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., is spent reviewing his to-do list, going through his appointment book and sending out e-mails. In the evening after dinner, Robinson works a few hours at his home office, where he has access to his e-mail and records. The work frequently involves record-keeping on stock options, limited partnerships or other company business. “I tend to be a night creature,” he says. He’s goes to bed at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. and gets up at 7 a.m. to begin again. One of FelCor’s latest projects is creating a paperless office. The stack of documents needed to operate a real-estate investment trust (REIT) and the number of employees who need access to those documents can make it difficult at times to locate a particular piece of paper quickly, Robinson says. The company is scanning all corporate and real estate documents, which probably total about 1 million pages, to make them accessible by computer. MICHIGAN MAN Robinson, 58, came to Texas from colder climates. The youngest of five children, he grew up in Michigan and earned a business administration degree at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Next came a J.D. in 1968 from the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. For almost the next three decades, Robinson worked at big firms. He was a partner in Stinson, Mag & Fizzell (now Stinson Morrison Hecker) and worked at the Kansas City, Mo., main office until 1982, when the firm decided to expand to Texas. Robinson and his wife, Lynn, and their two daughters moved to Dallas, where he opened a branch office that eventually grew to 25 lawyers. In 1989, Stinson Mag decided to concentrate its practice in Kansas City, and Robinson transferred the Dallas office lock, stock and barrel to Bracewell & Patterson. He was a partner in the Houston-based firm for seven years and served for a time as managing partner of the Dallas office, the head of that office’s corporate and securities law section and chairman of the firmwide hospitality group. In Dallas, he hooked up with an old client, FelCor CEO Corcoran. When he was with Stinson Mag in Kansas City, Robinson was outside counsel for Brock Hotel Corp. of Topeka, Kan., owner of ShowBiz Pizza Time Inc. (now Chuck E. Cheese Entertainment Inc.). Corcoran, who served in various positions with ShowBiz and Brock, including president and CEO of the parent company, had moved to Dallas in 1991 because of an opportunity to buy a hotel with business partner Hervey Feldman. In 1994, Corcoran and Feldman formed FelCor Suite Hotels Inc. (they got the name by combining the first three letters of their last names) and selected Robinson as outside counsel. Corcoran says Robinson was a natural choice for the job. “He is the best business lawyer that I’ve had the pleasure to work with,” the CEO says. “In his capacity as outside counsel for the various companies that I’ve been involved with, he was always somebody I could go to. He was a problem solver, someone who was able to get things done. He thinks outside the box.” He adds that Robinson is a tough negotiator but “an absolute professional.” Two years after its founding, Robinson joined FelCor in-house. “After 28 years living in big law firms, this was a good move for me,” he says. Jack Eslick, FelCor senior vice president and director of asset management, says Robinson is a good fit at the company. The general counsel does much of the work on mergers and is an extremely competent attorney, he says, and on the flip side, he’s good at dealing with people. “We have a special culture here,” Eslick says. “He’s very approachable and he has a good sense of humor. It’s a great balance; he’s someone you enjoy talking to and a great team member to be around. That makes him a well-rounded executive member.” Robinson likes the camaraderie at the company and adheres to a casual dress style. “When I came, I said never again will I wear a tie,” he says. “You can always pick me out in company pictures.” During his association with FelCor, the company has grown by leaps and bounds. When FelCor went public in 1994, it had seven hotels. Two years later, when Robinson came in-house, the company had grown to 43 properties. Today, FelCor’s portfolio lists 182 hotels and is valued at approximately $3.3 billion. The properties, in 35 states and Canada, have about 50,000 rooms and suites in primarily upscale and full-service hotels. The company owns the largest number of Embassy Suites, Crown Plaza, Holiday Inn and independently owned Doubletree hotels. Other brands under which FelCor hotels operate are Sheraton Suites, Sheraton and Westin. The company almost was bigger. Last fall, Robinson was working on the $2 billion-plus acquisition of MeriStar Hospitality, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate investment trust, that was to become effective on Sept. 11. He was talking by phone to a Securities and Exchange Commission official in Washington, D.C., that day when the conversation was cut short because of the terrorist attacks. The next day, no one was available at the SEC to sign a required order. The deal was called off. The attacks affected the hotel business overall. The economy already was slowing travel-related industries, and Sept. 11 brought another dip in hotel occupancy. Rates still are a little down. “We, like the airlines, are waiting for business travelers to return full force,” Robinson says. But FelCor always has taken a fairly conservative approach and ended last year in good shape, he says. In fact, the company is in a good position to take advantage of some opportunities that other businesses can’t because they weren’t as conservative, he says. In-house, Robinson heads a legal team of three other attorneys. Larry Mundy concentrates on existing franchise relationships, Joel Eastman on real estate, Charles Nye on operations and contractual issues and Robinson on corporate securities and finance. “We’ve got a fairly well-rounded group,” Robinson says. Eastman, the company’s senior real estate counsel, says Robinson is an exceptional lawyer, especially in the area of securities, and a good boss who delegates work well. “He treats us as professionals and gives us the responsibility to do our job,” Eastman says. “He makes it a great place to work.” Robinson also works with outside counsel, many of whom are attorneys who worked with him at Stinson, Mag or Bracewell. Among them are three lawyers — Robert Dockery, Thomas Davis and Daryl Robertson — who now are corporate and securities partners in the Dallas office of Jenkens & Gilchrist. “He’s very effective and focused on getting the job done,” Robertson says of Robinson, who hired him in 1985 at Stinson, Mag. “He’s been described as a lawyer’s lawyer. He’s got a brilliant, analytical mind.” In his off-hours, Robinson puts those analytical skills to use plotting a course on the water. For years, he owned a 34-foot sailboat that he raced and took out for family outings and vacations, including a yearly boys’ week, when he and his buddies go on a sailing trip. Robinson sold his boat to his brother in Nova Scotia last year and hasn’t replaced it yet; instead, he uses the money he would have spent on the upkeep to charter a boat. He plans to go to Canada this summer to teach his brother to sail. He’ll also be bonding with his family in Texas. He hosted the biannual get-together of the Robinson siblings over the July 4 holiday — quite a crowd with his brother, three sisters and their families. Some family members stayed at the Robinson home and the others stayed in hotels. Were the reservations made at FelCor properties? You bet. Robinson says, “Whenever possible, we always stay in the best places.”

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