Baseball Strike, Tech Turmoil, Financial Collapse: Lessons in Diversity of Thinking

January 6, 2015 12:30 pm

A Q&A With Matthew W. Schuyler, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Hilton Worldwide

Matthew Schuyler, Hilton WorldwideLuke Visconti: You have a very interesting background—you’ve worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cisco, Capital One. Do you think that those varied experiences have evolved your thinking to the very sharp edge that it has today?

Matthew Schuyler: They were incredible learning experiences, and in all of those instances I saw the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I was there the day Cisco was the most valuable company on the planet from a market-cap perspective and I was there for the first round of layoffs that ever occurred in the company’s history.

The Pirates were fascinating because the baseball strike was looming in 1992 and we weren’t exactly sure what was going to happen post that time period, but it’s recovered nicely and done all the right things. Finally, banking and what’s still in the gestation period relative to the changes that occurred from 2009 forward. Not quite through all of that yet.

At the core of all of these and really every industry I’ve worked at is this notion of talent—great talent with a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, and people who have been there, done that, whether in their personal life, their professional life, their life working for corporations or not-for-profits or just working through different challenges in their day-to-day family existence.

If you ever want a business case on how diversity of thinking can help you get through a crisis, look at any of those instances. If you had had people with similar backgrounds and similar ways of thinking, the results would not have been nearly as successful as tapping into people who had a different approach toward problem solving.

Visconti: You have an MBA, which is also very interesting for a human-resources officer. How does that MBA factor into your business experience to give you your philosophy today?

Schuyler: It’s not unlike an undergraduate degree in that it exposed you to different ways of thinking. I was fortunate enough to have a great undergraduate program at Penn State and a great MBA program at the University of Michigan. The entire purpose of those curricula was to open up your panorama of thinking to different points of view to get you ready.

Current Position
Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Hilton Worldwide (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies)

Previous Positions
Chief Human Resources Officer, Capital One

Vice President, Human Resources, Cisco

Partner, Global Human Resources Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, Pennsylvania State University

Master of Business Administration, University of Michigan

Member, Board of Directors, Make-A-Wish Foundation of America

Member, Board of Visitors, Penn State Smeal College of Business

Member, Industry Advisory Board, Penn State School of Hospitality Management

Member, Advisory Board, Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology

For the MBA in particular, it was all about case studies and problem solving. One of the most memorable parts of my MBA curriculum was when we watched the film and studied the decision making that occurred around the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster and how all parties were moving in the same direction because of groupthink. Essentially, this was a course on groupthink. There was no one who had the positioning or the encouragement to step forward and say, “Let’s call timeout on this. Let’s get all the facts. Let’s make sure that we know what’s going on before we say go.”

There was such pressure to make a decision to launch because of weather delays that had occurred and so forth that groupthink took over. That was Exhibit A on how diversity can make a difference. No one stood forward with a diverse perspective or opinion to say, “I vehemently think we should stop.”

Visconti: What made you come to Hilton Worldwide in 2008?

Schuyler: It was an opportunity for me to be part of a great organization. Not often do they come to your backyard. I was working here in McLean, Virginia, for another employer at the time, Capital One, as their head of human resources and got a call one day that another great company was moving into the area and was looking for a new head of human resources. The more I found out and dug deep, the more I realized what a great opportunity it was to work for an incredible coiled spring of a company with an amazing brand and brand recognition and, more importantly, with a CEO who understood talent, its importance, and what it meant to work in a talent ecosystem that could make a big difference.
When you’re an HR person and you have all those things line up—great company, great brand and a CEO who gets it—[there’s] nothing better than that.

Visconti: When you respect people for what they bring to the table, what other benefits do you see from a workforce standpoint?

Schuyler: You will not solve the problem in the best possible way as a leader unless you have varying opinions relative to the problem. In terms of leadership style and leadership behavior, you want people around you who don’t think exactly the same way you do.

We owe it as fiduciaries of organizations like Hilton Worldwide, or for that matter any employer who might employ you, to make sure that everyone around you is in a learning environment. You learn way more when you’re surrounded by different points of view and different perspectives and different backgrounds and different ways of thinking.

There’s a business, return-on-investment approach to diversity but then there’s a moral obligation to provide everyone around you with great learning environments.

Visconti: That requires you to respect people as they are. Do you think that that enhances productivity when you bring that into the equation between employer and employee?

Schuyler: Absolutely. Coming back to our values here at Hilton Worldwide, respect is laden throughout each of our values. Respect for people around you, respect for our traditions, respect for our customers, starts there. That’s the hospitality industry at its core. That respect has to be borne out of the type of work and products that we bring forward to our customers.

In our business—hospitality—you have to meet the guest where they want to be met in terms of the service delivery. We’re in 93 countries around the world and have 155,000 Team Members at our owned and managed properties and at our corporate offices. Varying backgrounds and varying ethnicities and varying genders and so forth are at the core of our service-delivery model. When you’re in 93 countries with more than 4,250 properties, that’s going to be the case by nature and by design. We try to make sure that our values start with respect for one another in terms of that global delivery model and meet the guests where they want the services and want the hospitality.

Visconti: Hilton Worldwide recently went public. Now the company has a board of directors. How will they be involved with the ownership of the diversity strategy?

Schuyler: The tone for all of our people programs starts at the top. Our talent ecosystem really is borne out of the belief by our board that the most talented people with the greatest array of potential problem-solving capabilities is what we want in each and every one of our jobs around the world. It starts with their belief that our mission, our vision or values, and our strategic priorities are the foundation. You build up on the foundation with great people.

It starts with their mentality and cascades to our CEO, who is a big believer in the talent ecosystem. He obviously then distills that through his senior team and the people he’s hired to run the biggest parts of the company and so forth. It cascades through the organization.

That was their belief when we were private and it’s their belief now that we’re public. We’re adding new board members all the time under the guise of diverse thinking, and different skills will help us solve our problems even more so over time. Two of our newest board members are women who bring to the table an incredible array of experiences from their backgrounds and, frankly, a diversity of thought that our board will absolutely leverage in their thinking about our talent ecosystem.

Visconti: How’s diversity in HR all evolving now?

Schuyler: We’re way past the point of the beginning stages of setting up programs and initiatives and having to justify that programs and initiatives are important. It’s really becoming part of the day-to-day fabric of our organization and the way leaders think.

We still measure and we still reward and we still encourage as we have in the past. Frankly, it’s at a higher level.

The most visible aspects of it in our company are the Team Member Resource Groups that we established four years ago, and we’ve been adding to them as we go. The most recent one is a military Team Member Resource Group where we’ve got veterans and their spouses who are coming together to form a group that, as other Team Member Resource Groups do, shares thoughts and ways to improve the organization.

We’ve always had a strong focus on supplier diversity. That continues to get honed over time and is providing better returns than initially when it was first established.

Having the right suppliers and a diverse approach toward our supply chain holistically is a really important part of our business model. We can’t be dependent upon single-source suppliers. We’re too global for that.

This gives us another chance to reinforce the points that diverse approaches toward our business model are important as well.

Visconti: Is this how you’re delivering this business message to places that may not be as far along on the continuum?

Schuyler: Wherever we have the chance to reinforce the fact that a diverse approach to our business model is critical, we do. This is one of the more visible ways because supply-chain management is important everywhere we do business, as the talent ecosystem is important.

The talent and supply ecosystem of some of our largest properties in our system is alive and thriving. You see it when you visit the Conrad in Dubai or the Waldorf Astoria in Ras Al Khaimah, where you see Team Members from all over the world who have come to these properties to provide services to guests. They need to be able to speak multiple languages or be from the countries where most of the guests come from.

As a company headquartered in the United States, our lens on diversity is often U.S.-centric, but when you get out into the 93 countries where we do business, you see it in a multitude of ways.

Visconti: This organization was going through a very focused period of time during which the goal was to assemble all the pieces that had been disassembled and get them into profitable shape to launch a successful IPO, all of which has been very successful. You might be tempted to think or to say, “We don’t have time for diversity. We don’t have time for diverse thoughts.”

Schuyler: Actually, it was the exact opposite, where we led with that. When we picked up the company’s headquarters from Beverly Hills and made a strategic decision to move it 3,000 miles east to McLean, Virginia, at the forefront of that thinking was to garner the best talent we could possibly get, regardless of where it came from, and in some ways leading with: We want diversity of background and diversity of opinion and diversity of various dimensions.

That has worked out incredibly well over the last five years that we’ve been here. We brought with us 90 people from Beverly Hills and we’ve hired 700 more since we’ve been here. Of the 700, the vast majority—it was approaching 70 percent the last time I saw it—came from different industries, which is pretty unorthodox, but I give Chris [CEO Christopher J. Nassetta] credit.

His thought was, “I want the best talent regardless of where it came from.”