Hilton Worldwide President & CEO: Resource Groups, Customer Service Keys to Our Success

A transcript of the interview is below the video.

Luke Visconti: You’ve been a visible proponent of diversity as a key driver of business both globally and domestically. Why do you feel this is so essential to Hilton Worldwide’s success?

Christopher J. Nassetta: At Hilton Worldwide, we have a very simple vision, which is to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality. Said even more simply, it’s about providing our customers with exceptional experiences.

When you’re operating at our level, which is 4,000 hotels in nearly 100 countries, and when you’re serving a very diverse customer base that is literally in the millions of customers a day, having diversity among our Team[A1]  Members is absolutely critical to delivering the service that these diverse customers require all around the globe.

Visconti: How are you working to invigorate the diversity-management program at Hilton Worldwide?

Nassetta: Ultimately, I have a very simple philosophy on diversity: It is what allows us to perform and deliver for our customers and, frankly, outperform the competition. In order to do that, it has to become part of the muscle memory of our organization.

There are a number of things that we do in order to help make sure that it does become part of that muscle memory. The first is starting with me: The tone at the top is critical to making sure that this is a very important priority for the organization, that it is mission critical to our being able to ultimately serve our customers’ needs and to our performance overall. Sponsorship at the CEO level in any organization is critical.

I chair an executive diversity council that is made up of a cross section of the most senior people in the company. I want it to be top of mind for the senior management of the company. This executive diversity council basically sets the tone for the hundreds of thousands of Team Members that we have around the globe, to make sure that this is a priority.

We also have Team Member Resource Groups; we’re up to 20 chapters. These Team Member Resource Groups really allow us to have great sightlines into the needs of our diverse population and to understand how we can help respond to those needs and develop greater diversity at higher levels of the company.

We’re also, importantly, building diversity into the compensation systems of the company.  There’s a portion of compensation of senior management of the company that is dependent on meeting our diversity objectives. Again, all of this is just the way we do business.

In my opinion, the big mistake that companies make—and I’ve seen it happen many, many times—is that diversity becomes a subset of different programs. Diversity, if done properly and reinforced properly, basically takes care of itself because everybody in an organization realizes that the organization is better, stronger and faster as a result of the diverse nature of its workforce.  This way people seek it out instead of it becoming just a series of programs that they need to adhere to.

When a company is recruiting, they might make the mistake not to focus on diversity because, for some cases and some positions, they may think it requires more work to find diverse candidates. My attitude is that the benefit in the end is well worth it.

Visconti: How are you holding your executives accountable for results?

Nassetta: We’re doing it through the talent-review process. Every time we’re assessing people in the organization, we’re looking at all layers of the organization for where we have talent.  Diversity is front and center in this process.  We want to ensure we have diversity throughout the organization, that we’re providing the necessary resources and training to people, and that we’re ultimately developing them with the best career opportunities. We know that we have greater success in serving our customers as a result of that.

Visconti: How are you ensuring global cultural competency in your teams?

Nassetta: We’re assuring global competency in our teams in the most basic way that you could, which is attracting the right talent. That means we’re attracting people with global sensitivities; we’re hiring locally in all of the places that we operate around the world so our Team Members understand the local customs; and we’re providing them, both those who are local as well as those that might be more international in orientation, with the resources that they need. We are also launching Culture Wise, which is a database of information on cultural sensitivities that our teams can read through our Hilton Worldwide University.

It’s really imperative that we have local people working at our hotels, that our international folks who are there have an unbelievable cultural sensitivity, and that they really are part of that community and understand the diverse needs of that community. If they don’t, we fail.

Visconti: You have a long history of community work, especially with underprivileged youth. Why is this important to you and how do you encourage your executive team to be active in multicultural communities and charities?

Nassetta: This is one of my priorities. I’m on the board of the International Youth Foundation, and have been very active with them. Youth employment and youth education are very, very important issues. At its core, from a societal point of view, given that we have 75 million unemployed youth in the world, there is a real risk of a lost generation. When you think about all the unrest that we have around the world, particularly in some of the hot spots, it is in large part driven by the youth of those regions not having a line of sight to something better. They don’t have an education in many cases, and as a result they don’t have jobs, and so there is no future for them and they look to other things to satisfy their needs.

There is, societally, a huge issue and a huge opportunity. It so happens that it matches up very nicely with our business.  We also are growing, both as a company and as an industry, and it’s coming disproportionally now from the emerging markets. These are the same markets where you have the most extreme problems with youth unemployment, where most of those 75 million people are, and so there’s an opportunity and a necessity for our company and our industry in those regions.

The opportunity is that we need to hire people of that age cohort in order to do the things that we do, and it provides an opportunity for us to be part of the process of giving people basic education on life and work skills. It becomes a necessity simply because we can’t do what we do in terms of serving our customers, and grow at the pace we’re growing, without being able to get a large segment of that population of unemployed youth into the system.

It’s estimated that in the next 10 years, travel and tourism is going to need to employ 73 million. That matches up approximately with the unemployed population of youth today.

Visconti: Do you see a connection between that and interacting with local regulators, legislators, people who approve or disapprove your permits to build or operate?

Nassetta: A large part of our success over a long period of time is being a part of the communities where we operate. We do this in many ways, whether it’s offering apprenticeships to young people in our hotels or providing donations from our food and beverage operations or collecting and recycling used soap to assist in the area of health and hygiene.  We believe being a good corporate citizen is a smart business practice and creates long-term value for our Team Members, hotel owners, guests and local communities around the world.

There are natural benefits. It’s one thing to come flying into town and say, “I’m a global brand and I’ve arrived on the scene and I’m here to help,” and have one type of relationship with the local municipalities or the broader governmental regimes. But when you literally have an active role within the community, and your people are part of the community and have been for long periods of time, you have a very different relationship. Hilton Worldwide is very much an international brand, and we’re a part of peoples’ lives all over the world.

Visconti: You’re under a great deal of pressure. You’ve got an outside sponsor [Blackstone]. How are you convincing your sponsor that diversity is a key part of your success?

Nassetta: When I got here, I laid out a plan for them that articulated what our vision of the future was in terms of the footprint, the growth and the bottom-line numbers, and diversity was a key component. To their credit, our sponsors are amazingly smart and recognize that in the end, our business is all about hearts and minds—hundreds of thousands of Team Members are on the front line interacting with our customers every day. Diversity plays a very large role in making sure that we have the hearts and minds of the people of this organization focused on our true north.

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