Dave Johnson, president and CEO of Plano, Texas- based management company Aimbridge Hospitality has been involved with the American Hotel & Lodging Association for many years. In 2018, he takes the reins as chair of the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation (AHLEF), a job that will help him further causes that are pivotal to AHLA and the industry as a whole. “It has never been more important to have an association that is front and center in Washington and around the country ensuring our voice is heard,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to working with the other trustees to raise the profile of all the good work the Foundation does.” Johnson spoke with LODGING about what his chairmanship will mean for the Foundation and how AHLEF will approach key industry issues over the next few years.
What are your goals as chair of AHLEF?
The Foundation has a strong history of giving back. Since the Foundation’s inception, more than $21.5 million has been distributed through its scholarship, education, outreach, and research programs. Last year alone, AHLEF disbursed a record $850,000 in academic scholarships. We also announced a national grant, funded in part through AHLEF, for Opportunity Youth to train young kids out of school to work in our industry. These efforts are critical to the future of our industry. I see my role as chair as two-fold: preserving this tradition of giving back and investing in our people and future talent, and, raising the profile of AHLEF to help grow support from the broader hospitality industry. We, as hoteliers, must give back to our industry’s sole Foundation, not only because it’s the right thing to do but also because the strength of our industry comes when we join together. I think we would all agree that talent is our number one priority.
What were some of the organization’s great successes in 2017?
Year after year, the Foundation leaves a mark. While we can talk about the nearly $1 million they disbursed in scholarships, what really counts are those 300 individuals on the receiving end, talented people who needed that scholarship to stay in school, to get a degree to get a foothold in hospitality. When I hear the stories of how AHLEF scholarships transformed lives, making it possible for some to even go to school, I am reminded of why we are in this business. And now, with its focus on enrolling apprentices and developing an Opportunity Youth program, announced this year, to help young people acquire training in our industry, I’m even more convinced that we will touch hundreds more people around the country. In many ways, I feel like we are just starting to see and feel the impact, and I’m excited about where we are heading.
How has the organization grown over the past few years?
The Foundation is coming off of a successful capital campaign, “Opening Doors to Opportunity,” which raised some $8 million. So many people before me—most importantly Kirk Kinsell—led that hugely successful and important effort, and my thanks goes to all of them and all the generous donors who contributed. These funds will allow us to continue the legacy of investments in our industry and the talent that fuels it. But it’s so important that we think about our Foundation in a new way—investing must be a yearly commitment from each of us. Individually, we do so much to support the industry and our communities, but channeling that collectively, through AHLEF, will make us stronger and even more powerful.
What specific initiatives are you most excited about?
Our industry is about hospitality and giving back. That’s exactly what the Foundation is all about. AHLEF has a history of providing scholarships not only to young professionals who want to get a foothold in our industry, but also to those already working in hotels who want to get ahead. It’s so important for us to build on this legacy, get more attention for the good work the Foundation does, and recognize all the people who are supporting it in big and small ways. I couldn’t be more excited about the renewed emphasis on career development through our apprenticeship program and the awarding of grants to enlist Opportunity Youth in our industry. Both efforts are centered around doing what we do best: giving back, supporting our communities, filling the jobs gap with good people, and helping young people who need a break to get ahead. It’s so important for the industry as a whole to recognize what AHLEF is doing on a local and national level and help us fund its future.
Why are these programs important?
Together, all of the programs AHLEF is focused on support our industry in really powerful ways. We are facing a very real jobs gap. If you ask any hotelier, the number one requirement for a successful operation is good people. If we don’t train and develop the right talent, we simply cannot function. That’s why it’s so important to fund the Foundation. If you just think about all the young professionals who were only able get into our industry because they received a scholarship from the Foundation or the apprentices who got ahead through training opportunities because of AHLEF’s programs, it’s clear we are changing people’s lives. There’s no doubt we need to invest in them and the Foundation so we can provide even greater opportunities in the future.