As focus grows for African-Americans to become more richly involved and interested in science and technological fields, some historically black colleges and universities have begun strategic development in the multi-billion dollar industry of hospitality management. Students at several HBCUs nationwide are being exposed to management and executive training provided by global hoteliers and food service companies, all seeking chances to lead and own in an industry intimately connected to black college culture through sports, large-scale conferences and meetings, and academic partnerships.
Hilton Worldwide is among the leaders in the effort to find and attract HBCU student talent to leadership positions in hospitality management and services. Through partnerships with Virginia State University, Morgan State University, Howard University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Hilton Worldwide leverages HBCUs as a good resource for talent acquisition and diversifying their pool of employees as it seeks to manage more than 4000 hotels in 90 countries worldwide.
“You can find talent anywhere, but when you have had a great track record of success, you want to go back,” says Michael C. Ford, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Hilton Worldwide. “We have such a record with our HBCU partners, and we want to leverage the talents of HBCUs and their students. HBCUs will continue to be part of our strategy in identifying top talent.”
Ford says experiences with HBCUs throughout his life have helped to shape a respect and desire to engage black colleges in partnership over his three years overseeing Hilton’s diversity business strategies. Among its key programs, the Management Development Program, a five-month program giving graduating seniors paid entry-level experience in food and beverage, front office, housekeeping, sales and event services.
All potential managers and executives, Ford says, should enter the business aware of our mission to be the preeminent global hospitality company- the first choice of our guests, Team Members, and owners alike.
“You have to have an interest in hospitality. Our business is about making people feel special and delivering exceptional guest experiences. No one enters as a general manager. You have to learn the business before becoming a GM. Indeed, we have found that every interaction is an opportunity for guests to share their experience.”
That goal of special interactions is an intimate feeling for many HBCU graduates, including Hilton Vice-President and Senior Counsel of Brands Ama Romaine. A 1999 graduate of the Howard University School of Law, Romaine says her HBCU experience continues to assist her in daily interactions and projects for Hilton.
“There’s so much I appreciate from my education at Howard, but what was fascinating to me is that in my first job out of school, I’m sitting at my desk and I could hear my contracts professor speaking to me when I was working on issues. The training was very strong, very solid, and it helps me address legal issues I confront every day.”
Romaine specifically cites Howard Law Professor Spencer Boyer as key figure in her legal training. She remembers a class where Boyer entered the room and announced a pop quiz. After administering the quiz to the nervous law students, he asked the class about the error they just made.
“He told us, ‘why did you take a test for which you were unprepared and weren’t informed about? Why didn’t anyone challenge the fact that we were having such an examination? If you weren’t prepared to advocate for yourself, how are you prepared to advocate for someone else?'”
Dr. Deanne Williams-Bryant, Department Chair and Associate Professor of Virginia State University’s hospitality management program says that Hilton’s partnership in the preparation and excellence of their students is essential. She cites the Hilton Worldwide Scholar program, which awards deserving students from diverse and underserved backgrounds opportunities with internship and career development.
“Hilton local representatives have also made themselves available as resources to our students, filling in as guest lecturers, mentors and provide resources to augment the level of hospitality education that we deliver, and in so doing have enhanced our ability to deliver a well-rounded and competitive graduate. The level of support the VSU Hospitality Management Department has received from Hilton Worldwide is a testament to their strong commitment to hospitality education and community as a whole.”
When asked how Hilton cuts through negative coverage and perceptions of HBCUs to engage with students and faculty, Romaine says that the excellence of HBCU graduates is the most effective tool in helping companies to see beyond surface challenges or misperceptions.
“Everyday I do a good job of delivering success, I minimize those perceptions. And I’m demonstrating that HBCUs produce strong graduates. It’s baby steps. We (graduates) can’t accept those types of perceptions, and the only thing we can do to change them is to demonstrate that we’re prepared and capable in any industry.”
Ford says that talent must be nurtured to be a critical asset to any industry, and says its his personal mission to encourage the nurturing process for HBCU students entering Hilton’s programs.
“The way the talent gets to the top is through mentoring and sponsorship. This is my opportunity in terms of giving back. It’s really all about talent, and we work closely with our leadership team to make sure all of our entrants are placed on a path to success.”