In a series of Ted Talk-style presentations at this week’s AAHOA conference, hotel company executives shared insights on the leadership traits they value most.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—In a twist on the traditional executives panel, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association invited hotel brand company leaders to take the stage individually in a series of Ted Talk-style presentations at the association’s annual convention this week.
On Thursday, InterContinental Hotels Group’s Elie Maalouf, Red Roof’s Andrew Alexander, RLH Corporation’s Greg Mount, Magnuson Worldwide’s Tom Magnuson and Wyndham Hotel Group’s Geoff Ballotti shared messages of what leadership traits they look for in their organizations, and how that contributes to corporate culture.
Elie Maalouf, CEO, Americas, IHG
Maalouf cited good judgment as “the first thing I look for in an executive,” he said.
“Judgment is knowing the right decision to make. It’s having the internal compass to lead in the right direction,” he said. “It’s the judgment to make the right bets by understanding our markets, to react the right way under pressure in a crisis, to hire other good leaders who also have good judgment.”
On top of good judgment, Maalouf said courage is a necessity in a good leader.
“It’s the courage to act on that market opportunity before everyone else has already moved in that direction,” he said. “We could say leadership is the judgment to come up with the right decisions and the courage to act on them.”
Andrew Alexander, president, Red Roof
Alexander said the ability to be a forward-thinker is the trait he looks for in a good leader.
“Someone who is foresighted, concerned about the future, with a sense of clarity of direction,” he said. “I’ll take ‘Back to the Future’s’ Biff with tomorrow’s score sheets any day.”
He told the audience that Apple founder Steve Jobs is his favorite modern visionary when it comes to business.
“In true visionary style, the vision of what could be completely drove him,” he said. “He understood he had to get a team to follow him into the future. Although his leadership style was demanding, his employees and customers followed—even celebrated him. His clarity of direction was ever-present. … And he knew what to look for in senior executives. He said, ‘The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.’”
Greg Mount, president and CEO, RLH Corporation
Sharing his message for the audience via video, Mount said the qualities he looks for in strong leaders are differentiation and diversity.
“I never want everyone on the team to be identical,” he said. He cited a quote from Marriott International founder Bill Marriott Jr. who said, “There are qualities you hire for and qualities you teach.”
“I can’t think of a more accurate statement than that for all of us in the industry,” Mount said.
Confidence in what sets yourself apart also makes for good leadership, Mount said.
“I like to bring people on the team who are comfortable and confident in their own skin,” he said. “Their confidence comes from their subject matter and knowledge and abilities, and they’re passionate about what they believe in. When you bring those types of people into your organization, you’ll have a comfortable and confident leader and your team will be very successful.”
Tom Magnuson, CEO, Magnuson Worldwide
Magnuson said the ability to deal with chaos and turbulence is a critical leadership quality in today’s business environment.
“Hotel owners … run 24/7; we never stop, and we have the highest labor costs,” he said. “Through all this, we often project our own stress on the situation, and we color it with anger and the inability to act. Every one of us says, ‘Life is so crazy right now. When it quiets down, I’ll deal with it.’ But the chaos and turbulence is never going to stop.”
He said eliminating distractions and being able to hold on to feelings of peace and calmness help leaders focus on decisions.
“What are you going to do about that new hotel across the street? Or when Airbnb takes your guests? Or if the factory in your town shuts down?” he said. “What will we do with the struggles handed to us? The answers are in our guts and in our hearts, but we have to become quiet enough to hear them.”
Wyndham Hotel Group
Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO, Wyndham Hotel Group
Ballotti started his presentation by sharing the traditional images of leadership that appear when you search for that term in Google Images. He said the results, showing people shaking hands, sitting around boardroom tables and giving presentations are all “useless.”
“The one image that does not come up is the image of empathy,” he said.
Citing empathy as the characteristic that matters most to him in leadership, Ballotti shared the story of Christel DeHaan, the German-born former owner of RCI, which went on to become a timeshare division of Wyndham Worldwide. DeHaan made philanthropy a cornerstone of her life and founded Christel House International, which operates learning centers and schools in India, Mexico, South Africa and the United States.
“We all have to give back,” Ballotti said. “It is our duty. Whenever we think of great leaders—like so many of you who are giving back—we think of those who are listening through others’ ears, and seeing through others’ eyes and feeling through others’ hearts. We are standing in awe of what we all can do to give back.”