After spending more than 30 years tending to Hampton by Hilton and other focused-service brands, Hilton’s Phil Cordell turns his attention to building new brands across the board.
LOS ANGELES—Phil Cordell is reinventing himself, and plans to alter at least part of Hilton’s future as a result. After a brief sabbatical to recharge, the former patriarch of the Hampton by Hilton brand finds himself as the company’s global head of new brand development.
Cordell is responsible for the inception and development of new Hilton brands and cultivation and enhancement of existing brands in development.
During a break at last week’s Americas Lodging Investment Summit, Cordell said he is hitting the ground running as Hilton explores multiple growth opportunities. It’s no secret that the company is working on additional brands—during Hilton’s third-quarter conference call, president and CEO Chris Nassetta outlined his expectations to launch several new brands in 2018.
“One that we’re working on now is an urban micro brand,” Cordell said. “It’s one that would exist in an urban environment, smaller guestrooms, really hyper-charged food and beverage opportunities. We’re in the midst of planning and pulling together thoughts on that now.
“There are a couple other things in the pipeline that we’re just starting to kind of think about and make sure we get involvement and thought into,” he added.
He declined to comment on brand names, launches dates and other details.
The new role does present some learning curves for himself and for Hilton, Cordell said.
“We’re going to kind of learn and create along the way,” he said. “Hilton has always looked for an opportunity to think about having brands that fit a customer’s needs and expectations, and an owner’s needs and expectations. In the past, that’s been somewhat decentralized by category.
“Now what we’re doing is taking the opportunity to centralize some of those efforts, sequence out how we think about what the right opportunities are: When is the right time for those opportunities? Is it the right opportunity?” Cordell added. “My task will be to lead that effort with a team on behalf of Hilton to help us think about where are those white-space opportunities, and which ones do we jump into.”
The 35-year industry veteran is drawing on previous experience working with new brands at Hilton. In addition to leading Hampton’s growth to more than 2,100 hotels worldwide as global head of focused serve brands, Cordell was involved in the development of Home2 Suites and Tru.
“To see (Hampton) now in 10-plus countries and the pipeline of almost 200 now in China—that’s been an amazing part of Hilton’s history that I’ve been able to be with,” Cordell said. He added that he also is pleased with the reception that Home2 Suites and Tru has received from owners, developers and consumers.
Stepping away provided internal insight
Cordell’s path to his current position includes a sabbatical in mid-2017. When he stepped away, SVP Shruti Buckley assumed the lead at Hampton.
“I’ve been with Hilton for 30-something years. I hit the ground running right out of school, and I’ve had a great opportunity to do lots of exciting things with Hilton,” Cordell said. “I just needed to take a little bit of time to regroup and recharge, and so I took a few months to do that. And now I’m back and excited about new opportunities. So, life is good.”
The executive said he spend a bit of time in the desert thinking about his physical and mental health.
“We all love the hotel industry, but there’s also life outside of the hotel industry,” he said. “It was a time of rebalancing and refocusing. So, all is good.”
Moving forward, Cordell’s mission is clear: “It’s time now to think about what’s next for the Hilton portfolio,” he said.
Understanding the competitive landscape from his days at Hampton will serve him well in the new capacity, Cordell said. It also helps that his personality profile fits the mold.
“One of the tools that we use within part of Hilton is a tool called ‘StandOut’—it’s an assessment tool that helps us understands our traits as leaders and individuals, and narrows them down into neat little buckets,” Cordell said. “I’m a ‘pioneer’ and an ‘influencer.’”
Those traits are ideal for his new role, but so is intimately knowing the hotel business, he said.
“The discipline of knowing that a hotel has to be profitable has to be front and center if we’re going to be successful in launching brands from an ownership perspective,” Cordell said.
He said he expects much of the opportunities for growth might come more from niche markets.
“(That’s) not to say at some point we (won’t) launch another 2,000-unit brand, but I don’t know if that’ll be in the next couple of years,” he said. “Thinking creatively of where the opportunities are still in that flight space without tripping over existing owners or customers—that’s part of the opportunity and the challenge.”
That means making tough decisions and collecting consumer research to ensure any new brand will have a strong foundation on which to build, he said.
“It’s all about ensuring we have the right product at the right price point for the right customer,” Cordell said. “We’re not really working towards a magic number of how many brands we want to have. I think sometimes some companies may fall into the trap of thinking more brands equals a better portfolio. I’m not sure that’s the case. I think it’s more about having the right brands for the portfolio.”
The executive said Hilton won’t rule out acquiring smaller companies or even an individual hotel that could “become the root system” for a larger brand.
“But we’ll focus more on organic brands,” Cordell said.