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Phil Cordell Interview

phil cordellMeet Phil Cordell – Global Head, Focused Service Brands, Hilton Worldwide

You are often referred to as a passionate leader.  Where does that passion come from?

Passion comes from the heart. As leaders, we’re often challenged to find a balance between “head and heart.” Obviously, we need to establish strategic direction for our organizations and for our teams – that’s simply a game plan. And game plans are important for “one voice” understanding of our mission, goals, and metrics.  But to inspire teams to follow that game plan we must have passion – heartfelt passion. Passion reflects our beliefs. Belief and confidence in self.  Belief and confidence in others. Belief and confidence in the mission and plan.  For me, that belief comes from one simple idea. On the first day of first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Viniarski, shared a simple thought: “Expect the Best” – and that’s been my mantra ever since. If you believe the best in yourself and in others, you can genuinely lead with heart – and  your passion becomes contagious.

 Is passion important to what you are trying to accomplish at Hilton?

Passion is critically important in my role at Hilton. In my business unit, we rely on third-party franchisees and their operating teams to bring our brands to life with our customers every single day. Yes, product differentiation is important – but those are table stakes. Products can be innovative and unique, but can also be easily copied by competition. What can’t be copied is culture – and to me, culture is simply passion packaged in a meaningful and heartfelt way. Successfully working with 3,000 hotels requires being able to connect with what we refer to as the “chain of influence” The chain starts with our brand and moves through our corporate team – our hotel franchisees – our hotel general managers – our hotel teams – and the hotel guests. Our passion, our culture, has to be threaded through that entire chain in order to ensure success.

 At Popeyes, we develop statements of personal purpose for our work. If you had a personal purpose statement – what would be the main idea? 

I actually have one – and hearing a speaker at a Popeyes conference inspired me to develop it. It is “to be a force for good in the world by inspiring and connecting people in a way that multiplies their talents and creates something greater than the sum of its parts.” The key words here are “connect” and “multiply.” To me, purpose refers back to passion. My passion is to seek, connect, and amplify people and their talents — to help them do more than they could have imagined. 

How does knowing why you lead help you reach enterprise success? 

I strongly believe that the world’s best leaders “walk the talk.” Every day, in every interaction, with every audience. So by default, as leaders, we need to understand our purpose – so that we can genuinely walk the talk every day. That commitment and energy has extreme potential to ensure that those around us understand the mission, and are committed to playing their part in the success of that mission. Hard work is important and will get an organization and/or its teams so far. But hard work with heart will allow companies to excel. With our team, every member understands that although there are multiple metrics for success, our common goal is to “add more hotels/units.” And by ensuring that the chain of influence I referenced earlier remains focused and purposeful, the enterprise has the best chance of achieving success.

 What mindsets derail leaders from passion and purpose? 

As humans, every day that we wake up, we make a choice. We may not be able to control our environment, but we can control ourselves – by “bringing our best selves to work/life every day.”  Often, as leaders, we get caught up in the routine and normalcy of our daily responsibilities.  But it’s just that – our responsibilities. But if we can carry out those responsibilities by “being our best self” (passion), that’s where the spark begins. And often, I think we allow many things to detract us from being our “best selves” every day. If so, we miss many opportunities – as people and as leaders.

 What advice would you give a young leader who aims one day to be a CEO? 

Never stop learning. We live in a world and business environment that changes at warp speed. New trends. New technologies. New competitors – traditional and non-traditional. New expectations. To ensure that we thrive as leaders, we have to be in a constant state of learning – from both within our industry and outside of it. Experiencing new things. Gaining new insights. Learning from others. If we’re not in that constant state of learning, we become obsolete.  So my advice to aspiring CEOs and leaders – never stop learning.

Phil Cordell is one of the nation’s leading hospitality-industry experts, serving as the Global Head of Focused Service and Hampton Brand Management, Hilton Worldwide. He leads all of the mid-priced brands for Hilton Worldwide, including Hampton Hotels — the largest hotel brand in America — and the only hotel brand in the world to top the “Franchise 500” list for three consecutive years. An expert in branding, franchise management and customer service, Cordell has been covered by The New York Times, USA Today, Entrepreneur Magazine, Harvard Business Review, Fox Business, Reuters TV and others, and is a sought-after speaker.

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