As Senior Vice President and Global Head for Hilton Supply Management (HSM), Anu Saxena leads the global procurement of over $5 billion in more than 90 countries with more than 2,000 global suppliers. Saxena recently discussed with LODGING how her love of travel, a job at Ohio State University’s office of information technology, and a Big 4 consulting career led her to Hilton and an industry she loves, as well as her plans for what she calls “HSM 2.0.”
How did you get your start in hospitality and how did that career lead you to your current position at Hilton?
I’ve always had a passion for travel and adventure. By the time I was 17, I had been to 10 countries, which was unusual for someone growing up in India at the time. Then, as a student at Ohio State University, I badgered the office of information technology until they gave me a job, which ultimately enabled me to work on a university-wide technology project. Based on that experience, I landed a job right out of college in management consulting with Capgemini Ernst & Young. There, I had an opportunity to work in multiple industries and disciplines—including retail, healthcare, and telecommunications—with Fortune 500 companies.
Then, Hilton called after it moved its HQ to McLean, Va. Given that I loved to travel and figured I could leverage my consulting work with a global company like Hilton, it seemed like a great fit. I never looked back. At Hilton, I first worked with the procurement team and then had the opportunity to lead the product management team within the brand organization, where I was responsible for guest-facing products for all 14 brands, which was a really exciting opportunity. I also established what we call the “Product Advisory Council,” a forum to bring the voice of our owners into our product development process, which has helped us ensure that we are putting the right products in front of our consumers.
You were promoted to Global Head of HSM last September. How has your first year been?
It’s been a phenomenal year. In terms of procurement, we’ve been on an incredibly innovative journey. We’ve redefined our areas of focus, strengthened our capabilities, and committed to an extremely aggressive growth plan. As part of this transformational journey we call HSM 2.0 — that is, Hilton Supply Management 2.0—we’ve invested heavily in our talent and our technology, creating a bigger and better version of ourselves with a laser focus on making procurement more efficient for our properties, our owners, and our management companies.
“We’ve transformed how we do business, and are on track to have a record year, with more hotels than ever participating in our procurement program.”
We now have a stronger partnership with our owner and supplier community, and we have set up what we call a “Procurement Center of Excellence” to streamline our data, our category intelligence activities, and our analytics capabilities. We are also tightly aligned with our brand organization to partner with them and help them develop new programs. Our team recently developed a program to save owners 18 percent on the new prototype package that was announced for the Hampton Inn by Hilton brand on September 28. It is great for owners because it offers an easy-to-purchase option for properties, with few to no approvals needed for purchasing.
We’ve transformed how we do business, and are on track to have a record year, with more hotels than ever participating in our procurement program; and we’re forecasting record savings from these programs.
I would add, that even with all of this growth, we haven’t wavered in our commitment to responsible sourcing and sustainability, which we refer to as our “Travel with Purpose” program. We’re doubling our sourcing from local and small- to medium-sized enterprises and minority-owned suppliers. In fact, we’ve been recognized as one of the highest achievers in supply diversity in hospitality by organizations such as DiversityInc.
I get a lot of energy from being around people and leading a global function. It helps that our team here is like a family. Everyone is committed to each other’s success, and we all are committed to the success of the function. Having the opportunity to work with such a terrific team has made it easier for all of us throughout our journey during the last year.
What has surprised you?
I represent HSM at a lot of owner events—including trade shows and our advisory councils—and I’m always amazed that so many hotel owners don’t know much about our services. Many don’t realize that we also operate as a group-purchasing organization and that we offer our procurement services outside of just the Hilton brand or Hilton portfolio brands. When we started our 2.0 journey, we engaged several owners and management companies to help us understand what owners expect from a world-class procurement organization. Unfortunately, what we learned was that HSM is the best-kept secret in the hospitality industry. Even today, when I go to some of these events, people ask me, “So what does Hilton Supply Management do?”
For that reason, we’re aggressively marketing who we are and how we can drive procurement efficiencies for hotel owners—whether it’s a property renovation, a new build, or operating supply for a hotel opening. We’re trying to convey that we’re a one-stop procurement shop that’s there for them from the beginning. And today, while other procurement companies are blending their categories or generalizing their products, we remain the only truly global hospitality-focused supply chain solution that services every procurement category. We know hospitality, and we’re very proud of our nearly 100-year hospitality heritage.
How has supply management, in general, evolved over the past few years?
I’d say the role of procurement, as well as expectations of a global procurement function, have changed dramatically in recent years—especially at Hilton. We are no longer just driving savings to our supply chain reach; we are constantly bringing new products to our hotels and to our guests, and are therefore challenging our supply partners to keep us at the forefront of new, unique products. For example, in response to pressure to phase out plastic straws due to environmental concerns, we signed a new supplier from Latin America that provides a biodegradable straw that is not paper or plastic.
Another aspect of procurement that has changed quite a bit is talent. As part of HSM 2.0, we focused on bringing the best talent in the industry into procurement. This includes people from different industries and different disciplines. We have a phenomenal international team; they understand the global market and they are expanding our influence globally. There is a renewed focus on sustainability and recognition of the impact that changes in supply chain can make. I’m very proud that Hilton was named to Fortune magazine’s annual “Change the World” list. It shows the tremendous impact we have in the communities where we live, work, and travel. I feel like these are new expectations of a supply chain function and we are proud to contribute to it.
What kind of difficulties have you encountered with new supply chain functionality compared to in the past?
As with any function for which expectations change, there have been some challenges. Being one of the only procurement companies that operates on a global scale does bring with it some complexities. Part of what our international team does every day is ensure that our supplies are getting to our hotels, that supplies are crossing borders, and that they are getting to places like Puerto Rico after a natural disaster. There are enormous benefits that come with being part of a global procurement function, but there are higher stakes for us in the expectations that come with the reach and scale of a large, hospitality-backed procurement function.
What are your top priorities for 2019?
In many ways, I feel like our work has only just begun. At the start of our HSM 2.0 journey, we identified a few priorities to get us started. Growing our scale and keeping our programs competitive has always been a priority, but it is important to our owners that, as a large organization, we are also agile and customer-focused. A lot of my focus has been to ensure that the right people set us apart as a procurement function. For that reason, during the last year alone, we’ve recruited some of the best talent, bringing people in from a variety of sectors. I feel like the best is yet to come for HSM. Now, with the right talent in place and a transformation behind us, we have to keep our focus on our strategic priorities and deliver a seamless experience to our owners and properties.
We’re setting even more aggressive goals for 2019. We’re committing to being even more innovative by constantly enhancing our brand product and supporting our pipeline; and we’re continuously improving our capabilities to be a competitive differentiator in every market around the world. The technology team has been hard at work to make us a disruptor in procurement applications. We’re soon launching a new, proprietary, mobile-friendly, cloud-based platform that will give our owners an end-to-end view of all aspects of spend and procurement. It also allows for analysis of data in real time, from a group of properties down to an individual product. We want our owners to know the value we bring, and the advantage our extensive industry partnerships offer in terms of growth and scalability.
How has your background in consulting helped you in your current role?
Working with a consulting company early in my career taught me how to work on multi-dimensional and cross-functional engagements, so I find an environment of change and transformation stimulating and exciting. It also enabled me to work with the United Nations, which was the first time I embarked on a global project and got a taste of what it feels like to impact multiple countries and work with a diverse global workforce.
You’re also very active in Hilton’s Asian and Pacific Islander resource group. How did you first get involved?
I’ve been involved with the Asian Pacific Islander team member resource group ever since it started, and am now its leadership advocate. The group helps foster an inclusive corporate culture and promotes professional growth and development. Being from India originally, I’m very close to my Asian culture and values, and I believe in the importance of working in an inclusive environment where we celebrate diversity. I’ve seen firsthand how this helps attract and retain the brightest talent and drive innovation through diversity of thought. I’m very proud of and committed to being involved with the team member resource group, and I serve as a mentor to several of its members.