Ama Romaine, global general counsel of Blackstone Real Estate Asset Management, always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. For her, working as a hostess and then a server in a family-run restaurant in Toronto during high school and college was just an enjoyable means to an end. Yet, even then, having “the ability to surprise and delight” gave her satisfaction beyond “really good tips,” she says. Romaine’s desire to serve by going above and beyond what guests expect isn’t all that different from how she strives to practice law. “I really do think about how I practice as operating in service of my clients, but also the greater good, because the two things are not mutually exclusive,” she explains.
Building a Knowledge Base
Romaine began her career with a global law firm, but eventually took what she calls a “serendipitous opportunity” with Choice Hotels, which set her on course for a career in hospitality. Next came Hilton, where she rose to the position of vice president and senior counsel for brands. “While Choice was exclusively a franchise company, Hilton Worldwide was an owner, manager, and franchisor,” she says. “Those experiences together gave me a breadth of experience that really solidified my expertise as a hospitality lawyer, because I saw the industry from a number of different perspectives.”
Between stints at Hilton and G6 Hospitality, Romaine took a position a bit afield from hospitality that gave her yet another perspective that served her well after she returned to the industry. “From my position as general counsel & head of risk management at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, I learned how scientists view the world—think statistically significant sample size—which changed the way that I now present legal risk assessments.”
She then assumed a role that marked her return to hospitality: taking responsibility for elevating the Motel 6 brand and leading G6 Hospitality’s ESG platform as general counsel & chief compliance officer. That position filled in the gaps in Romaine’s experience and primed her for her current role, where she oversees asset management legal matters for Blackstone Real Estate’s $577 billion portfolio. “From a legal perspective, my role at G6 was to have a thoughtfully executed legal and compliance strategy that supported responsible operations. Now, I’m taking what I learned at G6 to provide strategic guidance to our asset managers and our general counsels across all our portfolio companies in real estate on a broad range of issues to support operations, while also making sure that our businesses are doing the right thing, showing up in the right way, and contributing positively to our communities,” she explains.
Romaine is a great believer in mentorship, and says both men and women have a role to play in helping to advance the next generation. “No one achieves success in their career on their own. All who ascend do it standing on the shoulders of others,” she asserts. Romaine encourages what she calls “network 360” practices, a term she lifted from a mentor during her early law firm days, Sherry Blount, whose point was, “You just don’t know how anyone else’s career will evolve.” Thus, one should network as widely as possible. Romaine doesn’t hesitate to credit “an incredibly diverse group of wonderful people from every stage of my career who have supported and guided my growth.” They include Blackstone Senior Managing Director Bill Stein, G6 CEO Rob Palleschi, and Kristin Campbell, the current executive vice president, general counsel & chief ESG officer at Hilton, who promoted Romaine to her first vice president role and told her she could be a general counsel. “She was an opportunity identifier, an example of someone who saw my potential, after which I saw myself differently, and started reaching for more challenging roles,” Romaine says of Campbell.
Leadership at All Levels
Romaine believes that, whatever their title, everyone can be a leader by identifying and nurturing talent, creating opportunities for people to thrive. “Leaders elevate their teams, create space for people to grow,” she says. Succession planning in particular is a critical skill that organization leaders should develop: “We should be thinking beyond just doing our own job. We should be looking at the next group behind us who can step into our shoes and take this company even further.” This is the kind of thinking—both for the leaders and the people they help elevate—that keeps people engaged in their companies. “Leaders can take satisfaction in creating an environment designed to provide opportunity, a place where people can see a path for themselves and feel like they’re growing and learning and really developing.”
A Heart for Service
Romaine says she hasn’t forgotten what she loved about hospitality as a teenager, and that continues to engage her. “I think the industry is a warm and caring space, and the people who are drawn to it really do have a heart for service,” she observes. “What the hospitality industry provides is actually an essential part of what humans need to thrive—that ability to connect, meet, have fun, and have new experiences.”
Advancing Women: Multiple Organizations Are Helping to Improve Female Representation in Hospitality
Helping women find their voice and place in the hospitality industry is especially important to Ama Romaine, global general counsel of Blackstone Real Estate Asset Management. “Women have an important role to play in every industry, and we should be leading to help each other to get there. I don’t think our industry will achieve its full potential until we elevate all the voices—including the incredibly talented and smart women who sometimes lead quietly behind the scenes,” she maintains. “It’s essential that we really invest in this talent pool so that it stays in the industry.” This, she says, is the mission of the AHLA ForWard Advisory Committee she chairs, which is aimed at mentoring, educating, and leading women to the next level of their career. Romaine also mentions related initiatives including Castell, an AHLA Foundation Project that is dedicated to accelerating the careers of women professionals in the hospitality industry, and the Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance. Launched in August, the Alliance is a collaborative partnership made up of 18 independent organizations committed to advancing women in hospitality industry leadership and amplifying their programs, messaging, and initiatives. Rachel Humphrey, former AAHOA executive vice president and chief operating officer, founded the organization.