This month Hilton is celebrating Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month with events across its U.S. corporate offices. These explore the culture of Asian communities, share career stories and personal reflections from Asian & Pacific Islander Team Members and feature talks from executives who are also part of the Asian & Pacific Islander community.
We asked head of the Asian & Pacific Islander Team Member Resource Group, Elizabeth Lane, to speak with Anu Saxena, Senior Vice President of Hilton Supply Management and co-sponsor of the Asian & Pacific Islander Team Member Resource Group, about what being part of this community means to her.
Liz: Thanks for sitting down with us today! Can you start by telling us a little about your career journey, and what you do at Hilton?
Anu: My career began in consulting, where I worked across multiple categories and industries, including, Mergers & Acquisitions, Healthcare, Telecom/Media, Higher Education, and Retail. This gave me an early insight into a diverse set of businesses, cultures, customers and of course, teams.
After a few demanding years in management consulting, I had a unique opportunity to serve as an advisor to the United Nations. It was an extremely meaningful experience that gave me a rare view into how people from a number of countries with a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences were able to abandon individual differences and achieve common goals to make the world a better place.
I was thrilled to join Hilton in 2011 and it has been a wonderful journey since. I started in the Supply Management function and then led the Product Management team in the Global Brand organization. Most recently, I returned to Hilton Supply Management as the Global Head. We’ve re-defined the function with an industry leading team, increased our group purchasing spend across the globe and are coming off of a record year. I am also extremely proud of the work we do with our sustainability efforts and supplier diversity programs.
Liz: That’s impressive! You also make the time to serve as co-sponsor of the Asian & Pacific Islander Team Member Resource Group. Why are you passionate about this?
Anu: I consider myself fortunate to be the business leadership sponsor for the Asian & Pacific Islander Resource Group and it is the favorite part of the work I do here. I remember when I first joined Hilton, it was not only a new city but a new industry, a new culture. Having a resource like the then-new APITMRG was invaluable to me. It gave me a sense of community and belonging. I come from an Asian background, and getting an opportunity to engage with a group of colleagues that share my cultural values was important to me. I want to be the same valuable resource for every member of the APITMRG community and strongly believe that it is one of the pillars that makes Hilton the greatest place to work.
Liz: What have been some of the most impactful moments of being involved with the group?
Anu: Each year I look forward to all the terrific events planned around the offices to celebrate API Heritage month. It is also humbling to see the diversity within the membership, we have people from all different areas of the business and backgrounds who join the group to learn more about the API community and culture within Hilton. There are many moments that make this group special. If I were to pick one I enjoy the most, it’s the opportunity to network and connect with the rising stars within the membership group that I wouldn’t get a chance to meet otherwise.
Liz: Why do you think it is important that companies recognize Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month and foster diversity and inclusion?
Anu: The bar has been raised on this topic around the world. Realizing the importance of D&I is yesterday’s news – everyone gets it. In fact, I recently spoke at the D&I conference in Philadelphia and one of the questions they asked was around the barriers to promoting an inclusive agenda. If there are any barriers, it is the inability for large organizations to clearly define what it means to be inclusive. At Hilton, we embrace it naturally at so many levels – starting with our guests, to our team members and finally the supplier community. It is also critical that we are going beyond just the numbers and are promoting an inclusive leadership culture where different ideas are not only encouraged but celebrated. It’s important that API Heritage month is highlighted, but it is exciting to see that we embrace the values of diversity and inclusion every day at Hilton.
Liz: How has your heritage and culture influenced your career and your approach as a leader?
Anu: It is who I am. Having been raised in India, surrounded by my family, extended family and friends, has given me an invaluable strength of character that only comes from being raised by “a village.” I learned how to respect the ideas and experiences of people who have been there before me, how to advocate for myself and fight for what I believed in, and finally, how to be comfortable with failing and learning from it because I had an entire village supporting me. I fall back on these lessons and values every day as a leader, and I am incredibly proud of my heritage.
Liz: Finally, you have such a stellar career. What advice would you give to others?
Anu: I have little advice but can certainly share lessons I have learned along my journey. I have lived my professional and personal life with a similar set of values that continue to be my guiding principles.
I force myself out of my comfort zone to think and see things differently. Whether it’s volunteering to be the room mom in my daughter’s class (scary since I have no experience being one!) or raising my hand for a stretch opportunity at work – I challenge myself so I don’t get too comfortable with the present.
I realized early on that if I just focus on learning and growing, career and other opportunities follow. I always find mentors and advisors at work and home who I can learn from. You have to seek them out and then make time to learn from them. I have been extremely fortunate at Hilton to have found a community of mentors, several from the APITMRG over the years who I still lean on.
So there you go - challenge yourself to think beyond the present and lean on your community to learn and grow.
For more about Hilton’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, check out Hilton’s Diversity & Inclusion Brochure.