Hilton CultureCategory|

Q&A: Gary Steffen on Pride, Lessons in Leadership and Brand Updates to Get Excited About

Hilton is a global leader in service, driven by our founding vision to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality to its guests, Team Members, and the communities in which we operate. This Pride Month, as we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, Hilton is showcasing what makes it a top company for diversity and one of the best workplaces in the world—championing diversity and inclusion for all.

We spoke with Gary Steffen, global category head for full-service brands and Leadership Advocate for Hilton’s LGBTQ+ Pride Team Member Resource Group. Gary shared his experience in the hospitality industry, what he’s learned along the way, his best leadership lessons and the importance of making brands inclusive for Hilton’s customers and Team Members alike. 

You’ve worked in hospitality for nearly 30 years, including 15 years with Hilton. What originally inspired you to work in hospitality? 

Like many other young adults, I wasn’t sure of my career aspirations in high school. I actually started my college studies with the intent to become an accountant! It wasn’t until I started working at a resort the summer between high school and my freshman year of college (picture the “Dirty Dancing” resort, but near my childhood home in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin) that I was introduced to the hospitality industry. Those early summer days at the resort really opened my eyes to all of the possibilities in hospitality, which led me to a change in careers. I would say that was a good move since I can’t imagine sitting behind a desk and analyzing numbers all day!

You lead Hilton’s full-service hotel category, including its flagship Hilton Hotels & Resorts, and Signia by Hilton brands. Can you share a little more on your role and any exciting recent updates?

I am very fortunate to work with some of the best full-service brands and brand leaders in the industry who are responsible for the overall strategic direction of the brands. We have achieved some incredible milestones in the past few months including the opening of the 100th Curio Collection by Hilton, the 50th Tapestry Collection by Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton’s entrance into its 50th country, and the ground-breaking for our first Signia by Hilton in Atlanta. We also expect our conversion-friendly brands, like DoubleTree, Curio Collection, and Tapestry Collection, to continue to have huge momentum over the next few years as owners look to reposition their hotels to drive performance. 

Hilton has returned to Las Vegas in a big way in 2021. What can you share with us about our recent and upcoming projects in the market?

June has been an incredible month for us, not just because it’s Pride Month in the U.S. and several cities around the world, but because we will be celebrating Hilton’s return to the Las Vegas Strip in a big way. We kicked off the celebrations with the grand opening of the 1,500-room Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, a Curio Collection with Sir Richard Branson on June 10, followed by the grand opening of the brand new Resorts World Las Vegas, a complex featuring 3,500 rooms and suites, making this Hilton’s largest property globally. Resorts World Las Vegas also integrates three of our premier brands: Las Vegas Hilton at Resorts World, Conrad Las Vegas at Resorts World and Crockfords Las Vegas, LXR Hotels & Resorts. The opening of Las Vegas Hilton at Resorts World Hilton comes 50 years after the grand opening of the original Las Vegas Hilton, which was once one of the largest hotels in the world and the ideal option for some of the world’s most notable entertainers… I think it’s safe to say that Hilton is officially back on the strip! 

As a global category head, what are some of the most important lessons you learned about leadership?

I’m very fortunate to have had several incredible mentors and role models throughout my career. All of those leaders had their own styles of management, but all shared a few similar beliefs that helped shape my own leadership style. I’ve learned that it all starts with a solid culture, with people being at the heart of everything. But even more so, you have to be a great human being, be humble, have fun and have a sense of humor. I am a firm believer that we have a responsibility to help develop and nurture the next generation of leaders by sharing our knowledge and experience, just as all my role models have done for me; and I can say it is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of my job. 

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month in the U.S. and several other countries around the world. What is Pride and why is it important for companies to celebrate it? 

It’s hard to believe that Pride began over 50 years ago with the first parade in June of 1970 to commemorate the events of the Stonewall Uprising the year prior. We have come a long way since then and, in part, this wave of progress can be attributed to corporations dedicated to understanding the importance of diversity, inclusion and belonging for their team members, as well as their customers. We should be proud of the leadership role that Hilton has assumed in these critical areas including the LGBTQ+ community. Earning the #1 ranking in DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity and a perfect score of 100% in HRC Equality Index for the eighth year in a row sends a strong message, both internally and externally, on Hilton’s commitment in this respect. With this as the foundation, there is a real belief amongst our Team Members that they can bring their authentic selves to work and be proud of who they are and who they love, which is what I think Pride is really about. 

Hilton has several Team Member Resource Groups (TMRG). As the Leadership Advocate, can you tell us about the Pride TMRG and the importance of having a dedicated group for LGBTQ+ Team Members?

I am thrilled to be the champion for the Pride TRMG. As I look at our Pride Month theme and activations this year, “Stride with Pride: Moving the Needle Forward,” it speaks volumes to the importance of creating a community for LGBTQ+ Team Members and allies. Our passionate TMRG leaders designed the agenda around activation, education, advocacy and allyship. We are thrilled to partner with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) and the National LGBTQ Task Force in bringing our signature events to life. We have made incredible strides this year as our membership has increased by nearly threefold with the addition of our London and Glasgow offices and our passionate TMRG leaders putting impressive programs together for our members throughout the year. One of the things I am most proud of is supporting our TMRG leaders and Team Members as they grow in confidence and get exposure to the senior leaders within Hilton.

Where are you most excited to travel this year, personally or professionally?

Overall, I have been blessed to have been able to experience so many different cultures and great people of the world during my time in hospitality, spanning over 50 countries. However, for me, this year’s priorities will be reconnecting with family and friends, including my 83-year-old father who I was only able to see once last year, as well as my good friends from Denver for our annual “golf and laughs” outing. Professionally, the team is embarking on quite the journey with our rapidly expanding all-inclusive portfolio, so destinations throughout the Caribbean and Latin America region will be high on my travel list as well.