Q&A with Danny Hughes, Hilton

Just over a year ago, Hilton named Danny Hughes EVP/president, the Americas. With more than 30 years with the Hilton family, Hughes began his career in F&B, working his way up to the management level and, eventually, the executive office. Hughes shared insight with Hotel Business about his first year in the new position, his goals and the path that guided him here.

How have you seen Hilton evolve over the years? I’ve been privileged to witness many of Hilton’s milestones over the last 30 years. Two of the many that I am proud of include the evolution of our portfolio and the company’s Travel with Purpose corporate responsibility commitment. When I started with Hilton, I had only heard of the brand “Hilton.” Today, Hilton is represented by 17 brands, across 117 countries and territories, with nearly 6,000 properties.

Three decades ago, corporate responsibility was not a common term, and today it is top of mind in everything we do as hotel operators. And every team member knows about Hilton’s Travel with Purpose strategy, which is redefining sustainable travel globally.

With all this, there is one thing that remains as important today as it was decades ago. Our founder Conrad Hilton declared his vision to “fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality,” and through years of evolution and innovation, this vision has remained at the core of Hilton’s culture.

What do you like best about your role? There is no better job than hospitality and the experiences you gain from being part of the industry. But the best part will always be the people: our team members, owners and guests.

Over the past year, I have had the privilege of engaging with so many people across the Americas, reconnecting with old friends and establishing new connections along the way.

I was reminded of the incredible teams we have operating and leading our hotels; they are the reason our properties are successful. Their energy, commitment and passion has driven Hilton to be a great place to work with—most notably, no. 1 placements in the U.S., Argentina and Peru.

I also had the opportunity to spend time with our ownership, realizing how fortunate we are to work with owners who truly believe in our partnership.

How do you plan on enhancing Hilton’s sustainability initiatives? We have identified three priority areas for 2020: soap recycling, reducing food waste and eliminating plastics.

One initiative I am particularly excited to launch in the beginning of 2020 is our Travel with Purpose champions network in the Americas. The network will be made up of a cross-functional team of hotel and corporate leaders who will drive the integration of Travel with Purpose across the business and the implementation of our 2030 goals. 

How do you maintain a work/life balance? Today, there seems to be a shift from work/life balance to work/life integration. I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with leading author and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin who said, “More and more, it seems to me that about the best thing in life is to have a piece of work worth doing and then to do it well.”

I have found a piece of work worth doing (and I aim to do it well). And, having “done” this with Hilton for more than 30 years, the work is not just work; it is a significant and fulfilling part of my life, and my family’s.

What’s something the industry may not know about you? I started in F&B, working in the kitchen. When I started, I had no idea where I would end up, but it didn’t take me long to realize I could make a career for myself in hospitality and quickly set my sights on one day becoming a GM. Today, I often have to pinch myself to believe I am actually president of the Americas.

How did your start in F&B prepare you for future leadership roles? Those early days of working hard in the back of house are what set me up for a lifelong and rewarding career in hospitality and helped shape who I am today.

I learned the value of hard work, but also the value of the people working in hotels. Every single hotel team member plays a role in the hotel’s success. We are a business of people serving people, and our team members ultimately set the culture within our hotels and create the experiences for our guests.

What challenges are you keeping an eye on? The word “uncertainty” is one we are hearing across a number of global topics. And while consumers are paying attention to what is happening around the world, it is more important than ever that we stay focused on delivering exceptional experiences for our team members, owners, guests and communities.

This brings us back to people. Connectivity and fostering communication is a big part of what will lead our strategy. We need to keep our hotel and enterprise teams close, while also continuing our commitment to our team members and their development; we have to continue focusing on our owners and being flexible to their needs; we have to deliver on our promise to guests, while recognizing their preferences; and always remember our obligation to the communities in which we operate by furthering our Travel with Purpose 2030 Goals.

What’s your five-to-10-year plan? Heading into the future, we will remain disciplined and focused.

A top priority will be growing the management company, focused on delivering personalized experiences for our guests and positioning ourselves with our owners in a way that sets us apart from the pack.

Aligned with this will be our continued drive for industry-leading performance, through focus and a mindset of innovation. We know innovation lives in hotels and we foster an environment that supports operational excellence and encourages invention. As I like to say, “the brownie wasn’t created in the boardroom.” HB

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