From plunging toilets in a hotel to spending several years in real estate and private equity to moving back into the hotel industry, Chris Nassetta has had an interesting path to his position as CEO of Hilton (a DiversityInc Hall of Fame company).
In a Q&A with DiversityInc, Nassetta shared how he rose to CEO, the importance of diversity to the company and more.
DiversityInc: You have an interesting story as to how you got your start in the hotel business. Can you talk a little bit about your start in the engineering department of a hotel, what that entailed and where you went from there in your career?
Nassetta: “That’s right – in high school, I needed to make some money over the summer, so my father suggested I get a job in a hotel. I started at the Capitol Holiday Inn on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. I was young and the lowest-level person in the engineering department, so I got all the jobs that nobody else wanted to do – including plunging a lot of toilets! That job really opened my eyes to how a hotel operates and all that the hospitality industry could offer – even though it took me a while to get back to hospitality after I started my career in real estate.
“After I graduated from the University of Virginia, I spent several years in real estate and private equity before getting back to lodging and hospitality. My business partner and I were recruited to run Host Marriott – now Host Hotels & Resorts. I joined Host and was CEO when Blackstone took Hilton private. After spending many years on the ownership side of the business with Host, it was an incredible opportunity to come to Hilton.”
DiversityInc: Hilton was struggling a bit when you joined in 2007 and you really helped get the company on the right track by shifting the corporate culture. How did you decide what a good corporate culture should look like and what it meant for Hilton? And how did moving Hilton’s headquarters from Beverly Hills to McLean, Virginia, play into this corporate culture?
“When I joined the company, it was not performing the way it could be in large part because it lost sight of its dynamic, entrepreneurial culture. The leadership team had to paint a picture of the future for our teams and show that we were on a path to building a bigger and better company. We had to get back to the basics and remind ourselves what made Hilton so iconic in the first place – our hospitality.
“The decision to move Hilton’s headquarters away from Beverly Hills was part of the transformation effort – it was clear that we needed a fresh start. Northern Virginia was appealing for many reasons. Running a global organization based on the East Coast allowed for more alignment and engagement with our teams in time zones all over the world.
“Today, we operate corporate offices around the world, including London, Singapore, Memphis, and Dallas, in addition to our full-time remote Team Members, giving us the opportunity to recruit from an even wider, more culturally and generationally diverse candidate pool.”
DiversityInc: Hilton was No. 1 on our 2021 Top 50 list of diverse employers and ascended into the Hall of Fame this year. How and when did you realize diversity, equity and inclusion were a big part of your corporate culture and how do you maintain focus on DEI?
“Hilton was founded on the belief that travel could bring people together to celebrate different cultures and experiences, so inclusivity has always been a part of our company’s DNA. From a business perspective, that foundation of inclusivity helps us better serve our incredibly diverse customer base so we can deliver returns for our owners and investors. Everything we do from a DEI perspective is anchored on listening and learning from our Team Members’ unique perspectives, along with those of our guests, owners, suppliers and partners to create better experiences for everyone.
“Around the world, we have hundreds of thousands of Team Members representing more than 170 nationalities, speaking over 40 languages, and spanning five generations – and we’re committed to creating the best, most inclusive home away from home for each and every one of them. We continue to recruit and hire the best and brightest talent that represents the communities we serve, develop that talent into leaders across the company, and encourage and empower all of our Team Members to share their perspectives at every opportunity. And we take their feedback to heart – with concrete goals designed to help our Team Members to thrive – from ongoing education opportunities to mental wellness programs to best-in-class parental leave.
“We’re also committed to creating more opportunities for women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, disabled individuals and veterans through our supplier diversity program and work with our ownership community. And, we have been able to have such a huge impact because we partner with organizations that share our goals and are deeply invested in supporting these efforts.
“I’m extremely proud of the progress we’ve made, and recognition like our No. 1 ranking with DiversityInc, but we also know that the work is never done – and the past two years have especially served as a reminder of that. Through all the uncertainty we’ve faced, we have remained committed to the people and communities we serve, even expanding our work and deepening our goals that guide us in this commitment. Our hospitality is an unstoppable force for good, and will continue to be for years to come.”
DiversityInc: Were there any DEI lessons you learned early on during your career that has carried through to your role as CEO and led Hilton to be a top employer for diversity?
“I learned early on that you can’t surround yourself with people with the same background or point of view as you. You have to build a team around you that challenges you and brings their unique skills and life experiences to the table – and you have to act on what you hear and learn. That diversity of thought, coupled with our bias towards action is really important at Hilton and helps us better serve all our stakeholders. It’s also helped us build this really inclusive culture that enables our Team Members to bring their authentic selves to work each day – because they feel supported and know that they have a meaningful impact on the business.”
DiversityInc: What does your partnership with DiversityInc mean to your company and your DEI strategies?
“Our Team Members are the driving force for everything we do – and that includes helping us create the best and most inclusive culture we can. Partnering with organizations like DiversityInc not only helps us learn and grow, but also helps to hold us accountable as they share incredibly valuable data and feedback. We are so proud of the meaningful work we have done over the past decade and extremely honored to have received recognition for our efforts. Still, we know there is still more work to be done to make Hilton – and the industry – truly inclusive for everyone. I am so appreciative of our Team Members and partners like DiversityInc on this journey and look forward to our bright future together.”