Both new hires will serve in C-suite level positions, with Jim Grube stepping into the role of chief financial officer and Jeff Bryner becoming Vacasa’s chief information security officer (CISO). The hires hint that Vacasa — which manages vacation-oriented rental properties on behalf of individual owners — has major growth aspirations.
In Grube’s case, Vacasa said in a statement that he previously worked at online pet retailer Chewy, where he grew the company “from $200 million to nearly $4 billion in annualized net sales.” The statement adds that Grube “achieved on-line market parity for the pet sector with Amazon.”
Grube’s experience growing a startup, as well as the mention of Amazon, are especially significant as the vacation rental sector heats up. Though Vacasa became the largest vacation rental company in North America last year, the firm faces competition from upstarts such as iTrip Vacations and Lyric, as well as from established players such as Marriott and Expedia. And of course Airbnb continues to dominate the vacation rental industry, though Vacasa uses Airbnb’s platform to list properties and doesn’t see the company as a competitor.
Either way though, the fact that Vacasa turned to someone who previously fought — and to some extent won — a kind of David-and-Goliath struggle against Amazon suggests that the company is in it to win it when it comes to vacation rental management.
Though the exact strategies Grube might spearhead remain to be seen, in a conversation with Inman he said that he would focus both on growing Vacasa’s portfolio by adding individual properties, as well as through acquisitions. He also said that Vacasa “wants to do it all” but that his job will be to ensure the company invests money in the right places at the right times.
“You have to ensure that you have the cash available to invest in that growth,” Grube explained.
Grube also said that he sees the potential to grow Vacasa’s involvement in real estate transactions, so that the company is part of the conversation as would-be investors choose and purchase vacation homes.
“If we’re a part of that real estate process, and part of that referral process, we can get them into our ecosystem,” he added. “We want to be in that process and we want to be that trusted authority.”
Prior to Chewy, Grube worked for hotelier Hilton, as well as for Amazon itself as a financial director.
In a statement, Vacasa founder and CEO Eric Breon described Grube’s experience as “exactly what we need at this stage” of the company’s life.
“His track record of bringing a disciplined and rigorous approach to the CFO role while driving profitable growth is very valuable to Vacasa,” Breon added.
Bryner’s hiring is significant as well. Prior to joining Vacasa, he worked in digital security for Mozilla, the company best known for its Firefox web browser. He also spent years doing security for Portland General Electric.
In his new role, “Bryner will bring a holistic risk management approach to Vacasa’s information security and data protection across its central offices and the 30 U.S. states and 16 countries it operates in,” according to a company statement.
Bryner will be Vacasa’s first CISO.
The decision to bring on a CISO comes amid an increased focus on digital security, particularly in the real estate industry. Recent research has shown that real estate companies are frequent targets of cyber attacks, for example, in part because they handle large financial transactions that take place mostly online. Federal officials have also revealed that phishing scams — which involve fraudulent emails that dupe victims into giving away sensitive information — rose a staggering 1,100 percent between 2015 and 2017.
Bryner’s job will be to make sure that both Vacasa guests and property owners don’t fall victim to scams.
“With our full-service business model, guests and homeowners can rest assured that every detail is taken care of,” Breon said. “We take that same approach to security and privacy, from front door access codes to credit card information. Jeff’s proven ability to bring enhanced data security practices at large corporations will ensure the highest levels of privacy for all Vacasa homeowners, guests and partners.”
Vacasa was founded in 2009, and in addition to growing its size, has also diversified its business model in recent years. Though individual property owners can still have the company operate their homes as rentals — the firm’s bread-and-butter service — Vacasa also now manages entire communities, offers an interior design service and has hinted at a possible initial public offering.
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