This past Monday marked Cecil Staton’s first day as the new CEO of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA). The former legislator, educator, and entrepreneur succeeds COO Rachel Humphrey, who served as interim CEO for most of 2019 following the departure of Chip Rogers—now president and CEO of AHLA. LODGING connected with Staton to talk about how his career path led to AAHOA and what he’s most looking forward to in his new role.
What inspired you to go after the AAHOA position?
The story of AAHOA resonated with me. It’s the story of 19,000-plus entrepreneurs, people who lived the American dream, people who have created business sometimes from almost nothin, then today they are creating jobs and impacting the economy where they are located and across this country. That’s why I was excited about the opportunity to talk to the search committee, the board of directors, and, now, the members. I may not be a first- or second- or third-generation American, but I do come from a background where I deeply value the American dream and I love the fact that AAHOA is in the business of protecting that American dream for our members. So, it was exciting to get to interview. It was very humbling to be chosen as a finalist for this position.
Also, people have asked me, “Why you? Why AAHOA? Why now?” And I simply say I can’t think of a better place to be or a better way to invest my time and talent and energy than working for and alongside 19,000-plus entrepreneurs who are responsible for over one million jobs in our economy and who are doing such wonderful things. It’s just an exciting place to be and I can’t think of a better place to be than here with them.
What sort of insights do you think your background will bring to this position?
Particularly as it relates to innovation and the speed of change as brought on by disruptive technology, I think education is going to be really important moving forward in this industry. I have insights and relationships that will help us in our endeavors to provide educational opportunities and resources to our members and their employees.
I also hope that my work in the legislature for 10 years will help me understand and be prepared to be an advocate for the issues that we represent when we go to talk to our elected officials at both the state and federal levels. I’ve found that when I talk to those individuals, just having walked in their shoes sometimes opens up doors and provides me an opportunity to have conversations that maybe would otherwise be a little more difficult or challenging. I really do believe that advocacy is about relationship building, and I understand that and I look forward to that component of my work as CEO of AAHOA.
And then just having been a small business owner—having grown businesses from literally an idea or concept into multimillion-dollar organizations—helps me to understand our members, as well as their struggles and challenges. I really hope that every aspect of my journey brings something that will help me be a better advocate for our members.
What are your goals for the rest of the year?
Candidly, one of the first things I’m doing is spending a lot of time learning about AAHOA. This is an organization that does a lot, as you well know. We host almost 200 events every year, but it’s so much more than just that. We have a wonderful team here in Atlanta and in Washington, D.C. I’m spending these early days getting to know them, understanding what we do, and what our challenges and needs are. I want to understand fully every aspect of this work. I consider myself a lifelong learner and certainly I’ve worked successfully in different endeavors. I don’t think this will be any different.
Early next year, you’re going to find me traveling quite a bit. I’m first of all committed to getting out there and meeting more and more of our members. I’ll do that by attending our regional events as well as town halls around the country, all leading up to our big convention in Orlando in April. I want to meet our members. I want to hear their stories. I want to hear from them about their challenges and aspirations because that will help better prepare me to serve them and to be successful.
I also have a goal to meet as many industry professionals as possible to let them know that I’m in place, that I care, and that our relationships are significant.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I just want to reiterate how excited I am to be here. AAHOA has been on a steep upward trajectory for some time now, and I think that’s going to continue. And I am really excited to be here for that journey and to be able to help to make sure we are continuing in our commitment to meet the needs of our members as we deal with the future, with innovation, and with the speed of change. We’re going to make sure this association is well situated and prepared to continue that trajectory.