This week, LODGING is turning the spotlight on the women serving on the 2021 AHLA Foundation (AHLAF) Board of Trustees. These ambitious and successful female executives bring decades of hospitality experience to their Board positions, and their perspective is essential as the hotel industry begins to rebound from the devastating impact of COVID-19.
Anu Saxena, SVP and global head of Hilton Supply Management, wasn’t always in the hotel business. She spoke with LODGING about how she got into the industry, how Hilton Supply Management evolved to meet the needs of hoteliers during the pandemic, and the importance of delivering light in dark moments.
How did you get your start in hospitality?
I actually didn’t start in hospitality like many others, which I think is a testament that ours is a terrific industry for talent regardless of where you begin your career. Growing up in India, my fondest memories are from being in hotels for family gatherings, special occasions and events. After college in the U.S., I landed my first job in consulting and worked in several industries—telecom, retail, healthcare. I even had a chance to consult for the United Nations. When the opportunity to work in hospitality arose, I jumped at it. It has been an incredibly journey working at Hilton. I’ve had a chance to wear a few different hats along the way and I’m so proud to be here.
What made you become involved with AHLAF?
When I reflect back on leaving my home country to come to the United States to pursue opportunities that, to be honest, I couldn’t even imagine at the time—it was a bold decision for a young person. It’s why I’m so inspired by AHLAF’s incredible team and their work helping young people enter this industry through the Workforce Development Program, their commitment to diversity and inclusion and so many other avenues that are positively impacting the lives of young people looking to make a difference. I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of, and I’m thrilled to play a part in giving back to it.
How has COVID impacted Hilton Supply Management? How have you adapted?
We felt the impact early on, and have been in the trenches with our owners, operators, and suppliers from the outset. We found ourselves stretching muscles we always had and now needed to put into overdrive. Our expertise as an organization is in recognizing efficiencies, mitigating risks, driving cost competitiveness, and sourcing products to meet new demands, something that was especially critical in being able to move quickly to assist our business and support our partners as we worked to weather the storm together. Our value proposition is being stress-tested, but has come through exceptionally well, and we’re proud of the support and responsiveness we are consistently providing our network. As a result, we’ve seen hundreds of properties join our program over the year.
What Foundation initiatives are you most invested in this year?
This year has been a pivotal year for the Foundation with so many impactful programs and initiatives while also representing supporting the AHLA’s efforts during the crisis. I’m especially proud of the recent commitment and investment to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry. This investment along with the workforce development programs will make a tremendous impact to the future leaders of our industry.
The Foundation’s efforts are very much aligned with our efforts at Hilton. As a business of people serving people, Hilton has always been committed to building a workforce that is diverse, inclusive and creates an enduring sense of belonging. By all of us rowing in the same direction, our collective efforts will help to create a more diverse and inclusive industry with opportunity for all.
Do you think the pandemic has permanently altered the hotel industry?
This has been a year unlike any other for everyone, and that certainly applies to the hospitality industry. We’ve been tested in ways that were unexpected and difficult, which changes us.
However, even in the face of great challenge, there are silver linings to be found and of which to be proud. I’ve been amazed at the adaptability of our industry, the strength of our values which have guided us through and the resiliency of our Team Members. Through what has been the most challenging year in our 101-year history, we’ve found new, innovative ways to care for guests, owners, clients, and one another. From rapidly responding to guest needs with new programs such as Hilton CleanStay, to supporting frontline workers with our donation of one million rooms, we’ve found ways to deliver the light and warmth of hospitality during dark moments. And while the industry will continue to evolve, one thing that will always remain constant is our ability to find new ways to lead with hospitality.
Editor’s note: Read LODGING’s spotlights on the women serving on the 2021 AHLAF Board here.