Minaz Abji, EVP of asset management for Host Hotels & Resorts, has seen a lot in his 42 years in the hospitality industry—his first official job out of college, before the time of computers, entailed posting charges on the NCR 4200 machine. That job, of course, no longer exists, but as Abji climbed the ranks, he has dedicated himself to helping young hotel professionals confidently fill the many jobs that still do exist through his works of charity in education. Abji explains why helping students hits home and how Host adapts to stay on the forefront of hospitality.
How did you get your start in the industry? I was born in Uganda, East Africa. When I was 16 years old, I came home one night, and my dad asked me, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” I said, “Dad, I don’t know.” He said, “You’re not going to amount to anything, because you have to know where you’re going.”
I was very dejected that my dad spoke to me that way. That Saturday, I was meeting a friend who was going to be a pharmacist, and I said that I would meet him at the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. I came to the hotel, and I was sitting in the lobby waiting for him, and I saw this man walking around, nicely dressed, telling people what to do, and being in charge. I looked at him, I looked around at the hotel, and I said, “You know, that’s what I want to do.” So I went home, and I said, “Dad, I want to be a hotel manager one day.” He said, “Great. I’m going to send you to Great Britain, and you’re going to study hotel management. When you come back, we’ll open a hotel.” So that’s how I got into the hotel business—through a totally out of the blue situation.
You were honored at the 2016 Lodging Conference for your humanitarian work. What cause is close to your heart? My biggest cause is the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation. I have been working for them for 11 years, and have chaired for them for almost as long. The reason why I do that is, in 1972, while I was studying in North Wales, my family had to leave Uganda and came to Canada as refugees. And then I joined them the year after and I went to hotel school. I didn’t have any money, so I took out loans and things like that. I also received a scholarship for $500 from a company called the FG Bradley Meat Company. That helped me realize what an impact scholarships make for kids who don’t have any money but still want an education. I have a passion for giving, especially for students and people who want to advance their careers, but can’t afford to go back to school.
You have been in the industry for a long time—what is the most significant change you’ve seen? When I first started out, there were no computers. The principle of running a hotel has not changed, but what has changed is you need fewer people now than you did in the ’70s because you have automation and technology. And the customers are more demanding today, because they expect things now. Many years ago, customers would not be in that kind of a hurry. Today, customers get emails and messages fast. They get responsiveness. We as a whole are more impatient as customers today than we were then.
What is Host Hotels & Resorts’ growth strategy? Our core strategy has always been that we want to be the best in class for upper-upscale and luxury properties. We want to be in the top markets and we want to work with the best brands in the business. We also want to grow, but we want to maintain the integrity of our portfolio. We sometimes prune hotels that we don’t think fit our long-term strategy. Then we mine newer assets to make sure that we have a solid, quality group of assets in our portfolio.
What industry issue concerns you the most? One of the biggest issues we face is the threat of being a commodity. Each of the brands that we work with need to make sure they truly differentiate themselves and communicate the differentiation to the customer, so the customer knows what each brand stands for.