2016 Hospitality Leader of the Year – Revisited


Our January article presented our nominee for “2016 Hospitality Leader of the Year,” though we clearly noted there were many worthy candidates. Exercises like this are always subjective and often boil down to splitting hairs among a shortlist of superstars. Since the publication of this article, however, we have been asked to reveal some of the “runners-up” we deliberated. We are happy to oblige.

First, there are many influential leaders outside the service-hospitality industry that are noteworthy, such as 39-year-old Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame. Elon overcame severe childhood bullying to become a transformational thinker and doer – a person of tremendous vision and drive. And there’s Laura Weidman Powers, CEO of Code2040, a non-profit focused on industry diversity. At a mere 33 years old, she exemplifies women in leadership. She left a tech start-up to create Code2040 and serves as senior policy adviser to U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, in the White House. Her goals are to promote inclusion and make capital accessible to a diverse pool of innovators. People like this are inspirational case studies of leadership success.

But let’s refocus on the hospitality industry. Two individuals aptly illustrate our thinking as we contemplate “servant leadership” both in attitude and action.

On the hotel side of the industry, we note David Kong, CEO, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, whose busy year included:

  • Cultivating a mind-set of innovation
  • Fully embracing and deploying technology
  • Completely revamping the brand and name
  • Introducing new, state-of-the-art brands, like Vib
  • Leading with genuine humility
  • Modelling and maintaining the company’s key values

On the restaurant side of the industry, we were impressed with Steve Easterbrook, CEO, McDonald’s Corp. In a market where fast casual concepts dominate, it’s compelling to see a leader in the fast food sector making bold moves to promote social consciousness, consumer relevancy and market competitiveness.

Since taking the helm in March 2015, Steve and his team have:

  • Launched “All Day Breakfast”
  • Removed high-fructose corn syrup from the company’s buns
  • Ended the use of key antibiotics in the company’s chickens
  • Launched a 10-year plan to free the birds from their cages that lay the eggs

Actions like these help to refine or even transform the company’s values, and ultimately, they may help to evolve the American food industry. Again, these weren’t the only runners-up we considered, but Kong and Easterbrook’s leadership are instructive and representative of the focus on both business practices and people practices that servant leaders exhibit and that which gain our attention and respect.

Please let us know your own nominations for “Leader of the Year,” and what attitudes and actions cause you to label them as role models of servant leadership!