Global/Corporate News

Why Youth Matter

Christopher J. Nassetta, President & CEO, Hilton Worldwide Youth@Work: Bridging the Opportunity Divide IYF Global Partner Meeting June 21, 2012

June 21, 2012  |  This information originated in American English.

Full speech text as prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon everyone and thanks, Doug, for your kind introduction.

You know, I thought I had a tough job, but it's really NOTHING compared to what all of you have signed up for - to generate literally hundreds of millions of jobs for young people in the next decade.  And so it is great to be here to be able share a few ideas on what we are doing as an industry and as a company to work with all of you to meet this challenge. 

I must admit, it's a bit intimidating to be here to speak on a topic with the world's experts as my audience.  While not my day job, it is a topic I feel very passionate about.

We ALL share a world with 1.3 billion young people about to enter adulthood.  Nothing could be more important than making sure that they have opportunities. 

In fact, this issue hits very close to home for me, literally.  What Doug left out of his introduction is my most important job.  That is being a father to six daughters.  So it's something I think about all the time in my personal life, and it resonates in my role at Hilton.    

My daughters will be fortunate enough to have choices.  Many young people their age will not be so lucky.  The writer Nicholas Sparks wrote: "Youth offers the promise of happiness, but life offers the realities of grief."  Youth is supposed to be a time of dreams about a better future but because of a host of challenges that future doesn't always pan out. 

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The fact that there are more than 200 million young people living in poverty, and an estimated 100 million unable to find employment, shows that for far too many young people, even the faint promise of happiness can be overwhelmed by reality.

In my humble opinion, what is at stake is nothing short of our collective future.  If we don't work together to find positive solutions, we will have created a lost generation and will experience increasing instability and decline around the world.  We are experiencing the effects of this unrest in many parts of the world today, and in my opinion, without corrective action what we have seen is just the tip of the iceberg.  We must help develop a line of sight to something better for this generation. And let's focus on the positive, because if we do create a line of sight to a better future, we will experience social and economic dividends of the likes never seen before.

We are all here today - representing business, government and civil society - because we know this problem is serious.  We face an expanding youth demographic boom - more than a billion young people seeking their places in the world, living mainly in the developing world - and they all need chances to succeed. For many of them, their prospects simply aren't equal to their energy and ambition.

Many find this challenge daunting.  Some find it downright threatening.  But I don't.

Those who know me, will tell you I am an eternal optimist, and I love challenges. This is why I became the CEO of Hilton Worldwide: to take on the challenge of leading what was a bit of a sleepy 93-year old company and energize it and prepare it for the next 100 years.  So far so good!  We are the fastest growing global hospitality company in the world.  And I think there are valuable lessons from the business community that can help us create a better and stronger world for ourselves, our families and future generations.   

Why?  Because I believe that in every community across this Earth, there is a future leader who can transform his or her village, town, city or country and as a result change our world for the better.  They are the keys to resolving the entrenched problems that our generation has failed to fix.  They are our hope, and it is our responsibility to figure out how to provide a ladder for their success.  Their achievements will clearly benefit us all.

This belief is deeply embedded in our company's culture, placed there directly by our founder Conrad Hilton.  Our corporate vision is to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality, and Conrad Hilton didn't think our vision stopped at the walls of our properties.  He issued a challenge to all of us:  "Assume your full share of responsibility for the world in which you live." 

Today, all of us at Hilton remain deeply committed to continuing and extending our founder's legacy through our work with youth programs and leaders like so many of you in this room. That's why we are so excited about working with you to bridge the opportunity divide for young people in this country and across the globe. 

I would like to share with you what I know best, which is what we in the travel and tourism industry can do, and frankly are already doing, to help provide a ladder for youth all over the globe.

You may be surprised by the scope of our industry.  The numbers are pretty impressive, and the impact is significant and felt in nearly every country in the world.

Travel and tourism already contributes six trillion dollars to the global economy, equal to about nine percent of global GDP.

Travel and tourism is the single largest employer in the world, accounting for almost ten percent of global employment - a staggering 260 million jobs.  Many of these jobs are located in some of the most challenged areas on the planet and have an economic ripple effect that extends throughout these communities.

As an example, travel and tourism provides five million jobs in the Middle East, 18 million in Africa and 146 million in the Asia Pacific region. 

And that is just today.  What's truly exciting is that this industry is positioned for very rapid growth.  We expect our sector will create an additional 65 million new jobs over the next decade.

And it is an industry that employs young people at a very high rate; in fact they make up a majority of the labor force in the travel sector.

Many of the jobs that our sector creates for young people are the most important jobs that they will hold.  Often they represent their first experience in the formal workforce and start them on the path to achieving their dreams of financial security and fulfillment. 

Remember your first job?  Let's face it, it may not have been the best or where you wanted to stay forever, but I guarantee that you learned some important life and work skills that have helped you on the path to your present success. 

The travel and tourism industry is a great place to start.  It provides skills training for young employees that are invaluable to future jobs inside and outside the industry.  Skills like IT, life skills, communications and management skills; frankly, the habits, structure, rigors and discipline of work.

I will never forget my first job. It was in the engineering department of the Capitol Holiday Inn just down the street where I received SERIOUS on-the-job training in hotel operations, including the finer points of plumbing - a more glamorous name for plunging toilets! I aspired to greater things, and I know there are young people in our organization performing similar work who have the same dreams. 

As my life journey demonstrates, these are jobs with a path of upward mobility that can lead to more significant roles. Today's housekeeper or busboy can become tomorrow's manager.  Our company literally is filled with such stories.  Men and women who have risen through the ranks and climbed the ladder to success within Hilton.

Let me share a few of them with you.

Dave Horton started off at Hilton in one of the most junior positions available at any of our properties - as a busboy in a hotel restaurant in Arizona.  Today, he is the global head of our flagship brand, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, successfully leading a portfolio of more than 550 hotels and resorts across six continents. 

Others are earlier in their careers, but no less impressive.  Zoltan Payerli from Chicago started working with Hilton Worldwide right out of high school at 18 as a guest service agent on the night shift - helping check in customers and answer phones.  By the time he was 20, he had already been promoted twice.  And he's continued his rapid rise through the ranks - he's now the Front Office Supervisor at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando, Florida, at age 23. 

Some of the most compelling stories are from our team members outside the US. 

Amanda Simoes, a young woman from Brazil, began her career working in housekeeping at the Hilton in the north-central region of Para. She then took a job as a hotel operator upon graduation from school.  Because of her outstanding performance, she has been promoted to positions of increasing responsibility in properties in Brazil, U.S., Portugal and Spain, and is now Director of Operations overseeing projects in our entire European region.

And you will be hearing from one of our team members later today, Pedro Amorim.  Born in Rio, he started his career in hospitality with an internship at a hotel.  He joined Hilton in late 2009 and has worked his way up in three short years to become the Food & Beverage Manager at our awarding winning Hilton Orlando.  His energy and passion have had amazing results and have sent our Trip Advisor ratings through the roof!

Of course, we are a business that is driven by successful hires and the development of our front line team members who interact with our guests. So employing youth with talent is not only, first and foremost, a key to the long-term success of our company, it is also a first step to expanding their horizons.   

And because of our strong global growth, we are looking forward to continuing in our roles as leaders in job creation for youth in communities all over the world. 

I've discussed the key role of travel and tourism in job creation and GDP globally.  But Hilton is a significant part of this story.

The reach of Hilton is pretty remarkable.  We have a presence in 91 countries and a footprint larger than the Peace Corps.  We have more than 300,000 team members working in these countries, more than General Electric or Pepsi.

Of particular note, over the last five years, we created close to 70,000 net new jobs at a time when the global economy faced significant challenges.  This year alone we are poised to create 17,000 jobs worldwide, and over the next five years, 100,000 jobs.  A significant number of these jobs will be in Asia and the Middle East, places where demographic challenges make job creation even more important.

These new jobs will have an impact on the lives of each new worker as well as their families who may depend on them for support.  Hilton provides much needed earning power and economic security to them.  But we do a whole lot more.

One of the things that I am most proud of at Hilton is our well deserved reputation as a leader in training and development.  Our team members receive education in work and life skills, which equip them to deliver great guest experiences as well as reach their full potential in their lives beyond Hilton.

In many ways, we resemble a large university in that we provide classes to all levels of our employees, from our most junior, line level team members to our hotel general managers up to and including our senior leadership group. 

In the last two years alone, students at Hilton Worldwide University, our internal training program, have completed more than 1.6 million courses both online and in the classroom.  Compare that locally to the University of Maryland system that has 26,000 students taking approximately 100,000 courses every year and you can see the impressive size of our effort.

It's important to note though that we don't fly solo in our work to train and educate. Through alliances and partnerships, we are helping to train the next generation of leaders in our industry through support of degree programs.

We leverage the excellent hospitality programs at a number of institutions by funding scholarships at universities like Taylor University School of Hospitality in Malaysia, The Conrad N. Hilton School at the University of Houston and the Guangdong Shunde Polytechnic in China. We also offer scholarships through programs such as the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund in the United States. 

Our efforts start even before we begin to hire a young person.  We are engaged globally to expand youth opportunity by harnessing the resources of our organization from top to bottom.  It's at the core of our corporate responsibility commitment "Travel with Purpose" - our company's efforts to create opportunities for young people by providing them with first-hand access to education and training.

Apprenticeship offers one such approach.  In Egypt, for example, a Hilton resort puts youth through a three month training program to enhance their work skills, resulting in certification and hands-on experience in each department of the hotel. 

In China and Brazil, Hilton hotels manage a year round apprenticeship program for young people designed to provide critical experience needed to get through the door and win their first jobs.  And right here in Washington, DC, the Washington Hilton hosts hospitality workshop camps for city youth, and partners with a local hospitality high school that offers internships.

So here's the bottom line, this is both good business and good corporate citizenship.  When our business thrives, so does the community.  The programs are designed to improve the success of our company and build the sustainability of the communities in which we operate.  We simply believe it is impossible to have one without the other. 

We are really excited about the work we are already doing, and proud of the fact that more than eight out of 10 Hilton properties currently participate in programs that support young people in their communities.  And we look forward to expanding this work through a new initiative to be launched this summer, designed to broaden our work in helping young people achieve stability and discover hope by contributing our resources and expertise across the globe.

By leveraging the resources of our global brand and engaging our team members, we believe we can make a real difference. 

This program will provide each of our properties the information, resources and toolkits for them to support youth in their community in three key areas:  education, volunteering and partnering.

Education means providing mentoring, training and job opportunities.  Volunteering is about having team members get directly involved with local youth-serving organizations. And partnering is about leveraging hotels' expertise in areas like food and beverage or operations to help local organizations in their operations.

As part of this new initiative, we will work with IYF to develop these programs and deepen relationships with local youth organizations that are playing such an important role in engaging young people in need.

We want to ensure deep and measurable impact in the programs we develop to help young people reach their full potential.

Bill Reese, IYF's president and CEO, put the challenge to me directly.  He told me: "Let's face it. Time is running out if we want to turn the global 'youth bulge' into an economic and social asset.  A 'youth bonus' could pay out dividends for decades to come in terms of productive lives...But to get there, we need concerted, organized action."

We at Hilton have heard the call. Earlier this month, we announced our new partnership with IYF, including my participation on the board of directors and a three million dollar commitment to your youth development work.  My role will be to help us leverage our properties and team members on behalf of this challenge.  And I will work to build corporate support for this effort within the global travel and tourism sector through industry leaders and with our corporate partners.  I hope they, too, will rise to this challenge, for the same untapped potential of young people around the world can raise all boats and enrich our colleagues and competitors in the same way it has deeply benefitted the Hilton Worldwide family.

Working together in partnership with everyone here in this room, I believe we can make a difference and tip the balance toward real and sustainable progress for today's youth, from Washington, DC to Wuhan, China.

Truth is, the stakes are high, but the payoff is higher; not only for our business, but also for our collective future.

So let me close as I began.  You cannot watch six fantastic young women grow up - or imagine what kind of futures await them - without doing everything possible to equip them with the skills they need to have a plan for where they want to go, and what they want to accomplish.  And if we do that for our own children, how can we do anything less in the homes of our employees and in the homes of young people all across the world?

In the face of these great challenges, I still believe there is a way to succeed.  If we can bring the private sector together in partnership with the NGO community, we can make a difference, opening new doors and providing a line of sight to a better future. 

The greatest generation doesn't have to be in the past; it can be right in front of us.  Through focus and effort, we have the power to make it so. In that I am confident.

So thank you and I appreciate your time today.