SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA—Corry W. Oakes III, co-founder and CEO of OTO Development, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, August 7, leaving behind his beloved wife, Amy, and their three daughters Ashley, Elizabeth, and Lauren.
“Corry was a beloved leader and a dear friend to so many in our community and our industry,” says Todd Turner, co-founder and VP/Real Estate at OTO Development, which is part of The Johnson Group. “His impact on our lives is as immeasurable as the grief we feel and the love for him and his family.”
Oakes and Turner, along with Jim Ovenden, provided their initials to name the hotel development and hospitality management company they founded alongside George Dean Johnson Jr. and the late H. Wayne Huizenga in May 2004.
George Dean Johnson Jr., Oakes’ long-time mentor and business partner, Geordy Johnson, and Susanna Johnson Shannon shared a statement on behalf of The Johnson Group and the Johnson family, “Corry was more than just the consummate professional and leader in the lodging industry. He was a tremendous community servant, a mentor to all he worked with, a loving father and family man, and a most trusted advisor on so many different levels to our family. Words cannot describe how deeply he will be missed.”
A native of Lawrenceville, Georgia, Oakes moved to upstate South Carolina in 1985 to attend Wofford College, where he played outside linebacker for the Terriers. After earning a bachelor’s degree in business economics, he held roles of increasing responsibility with Johnson’s WJB Blockbuster Video and then Extended Stay America, where he served as president and chief operating officer. As an NYSE-listed lodging chain, ESA thrived under his leadership, becoming the fastest-growing owner-operated hotel chain in lodging history prior to its sale to Blackstone. OTO Development was founded on the very day the ESA sale closed.
Dedicated to his alma mater, Oakes served as a member of Wofford’s Terrier Club Board of Directors, President’s Advisory Board, and Wofford College Board of Trustees from 2009-2021. He served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 2019-2021.
“Corry’s impact on our community will stretch far beyond the 37 years he’s been a Terrier,” says Wofford College President Nayef Samhat. “Future generations will have opportunities for a Wofford education and for international travel, study, and internships because of his legacy. He was a champion for student success, dedicated to the educational mission, and we will always remember his commitment, generosity, and love for Wofford College.”
Funeral arrangements are forthcoming. In the meantime, OTO Development appreciates all colleagues, employees, and friends keeping the Oakes family in their prayers.
Words of support are pouring in from community and business leaders, including the following:
“I was fortunate to meet Corry nearly 20 years ago. He was as fine a man as I have ever known—warm, kind, and big-hearted. He conducted complex business negotiations without any of the acrimony typical of some hard-driving entrepreneurs. He had a magnificent, gentle way about him that made you smile. He almost seemed from a different era of grace and honor and goodness. You knew you could trust his word. You knew that he cared about being fair. You knew he took care of the ones he loved. And you knew he always put others first. May his memory be a blessing for all of us. He certainly showed us the way,” said Jonathan D. Gray, president and chief operating officer of Blackstone Group.
“Corry was a man who displayed complete integrity in business, and incredible generosity and grace in person. I and everyone at Hilton feel so blessed to have known this wonderful man and will continue to do all we can to honor his legacy,” said Christopher J. Nassetta, CEO of Hilton.
“For years, we have had the privilege of working with Corry and appreciated his dedication to excellent hotels and exceptional people. He served with distinction as a member of our Advisory Councils, and we benefited from his insights and his ability to work to reach consensus on complicated issues. We appreciated Corry’s long-standing friendship, business acumen, and his humanity. He will be deeply missed,” said Anthony Capuano, CEO of Marriott International Inc.
“In a business based on relationships, we count none higher than that which we enjoyed with Corry. His focus, clarity and the extraordinary way he was able to provide feedback with a set of excellent ideas and inputs helped us all at Hyatt be better. On a personal level, I already miss him deeply as a friend. The industry lost a great person who meant so much to so many,” said Mark Hoplamazian, CEO of Hyatt Hotels.
“My deepest sympathies go out to Corry’s family and the Johnson Group. Corry was a great business partner, but more importantly, he was a great husband, father, and friend. He will be dearly missed by all, said” Greg Carmichael, executive chairman of Fifth Third Bankcorp.
“It was a great privilege to work with Corry in business as well as for our community and observe firsthand his powerful leadership. He genuinely cared about others and made everyone feel important. Corry touched so many people and had an immeasurable impact on their lives. He will be greatly missed,” said Benjamin Wall, managing partner of WJ Partners.
“Corry was an industry titan, but the real measure of his success was his care and concern for people and community. He was an encourager, compassionate leader, and a lover of all things Spartanburg. His example calls all of us to strive for better,” said Allen Smith, president/CEO of OneSpartanburg.
“I will remember Corry for his warm handshake and knowing nod of support; it always meant so much. Corry was committed to quiet and generous community philanthropy, particularly when those efforts were in support of his employees who were affected by hardship. He will be greatly missed,” said Troy Hanna, president and CEO of the Spartanburg County Foundation.
“Corry’s passing is a severe blow to our community. As a business leader, job creator, and engaged citizen, he was quite special. His leadership at Wofford, in the lodging industry, and in numerous civic endeavors will be sorely missed. Corry loved his family, his teammates, and he loved Spartanburg. This is a huge loss,” said former Spartanburg Mayor Bill Barnet.
“Corry was a stalwart champion for Spartanburg. He was a catalyst and visionary for downtown progress and a great steward of our institutions. The strong company he built and the many lives he touched will ensure his positive impact on this community lasts long after his passing,” said Chris Story, Spartanburg City manager.
“The Oakes family and our family have been very close as we have seen our kids grow up together through the Spartanburg Day School and beyond. Corry was an awesome father, husband, friend, and businessman. We will miss him terribly,” said Jack McBride, CEO of Contec Inc.
“Corry lived a life in service to his family, the community he loved, and the OTO team. He always gave the best of his time and his talents to others. As a gifted listener and leader, he elevated every encounter to a memorable and affirming event,” said Halsey Cook, CEO of Milliken.