In this latest episode of the Northwest Hospitality Leadership Podcast, Washington Hospitality Association President & CEO Anthony Anton sat down with Frank Welton, former regional vice president of Hilton International and a recent recipient of the Burtenshaw Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Welton was one of the first chairs of the Washington Hospitality Association after the merger of the previous Washington Lodging Association and Washington Restaurant Association. 

In this conversation, Frank reflects on his 50-year career in hospitality and his own four principles of leadership. 

“I’ve been retired for a few years, but hospitality is in your blood,” Welton said. “I spent 50 years in hospitality almost and I still think about a lot of things you guys are facing every day.” 

Taking ownership 

“You have to take ownership,” Welton said of new general managers coming into a hotel. They may not have a thorough understanding of all aspects of the business, but they need to care about what they are doing. 

When he thinks about the general managers of hotels, Welton said they should consider themselves the CEO of their business. 

“They are officers of the business,” he said. “They need to respond as an owner and make sure they’re really focused on all aspects of it and responsible for the business.” 

He said that as a leader, you and your executive teams have to ensure there is a quality experience for your guests. Make sure your managers understand the responsibility of taking ownership. If there is a rip in the fabric of a booth, if there is a stain on the carpet or the drapes are dirty, find a way to take care of these problems. 

Being clear on your purpose 

You have to have a reason for what you are doing and everyone in the hotel needs to understand your purpose, Welton said.  

“Create an environment where others can flourish, while at the same time supporting the company’s goals,” he said. 

Communicate your values and mission to your employees often.  

It is also important that you have solid discussions with your team about their needs, growth and development. 

“Most leaders know that recognition is probably one of the most important things you can do,” he said.  

Your team wants to be part of something bigger, so you are creating an environment where they are flourishing in their roles, they are getting the training they need and they are also able to participate in the greater good, such as Relay for Life or other charitable organizations. 

Valuing others’ opinions 

“None of us start in this business knowing everything,” Welton said. Make sure you have the right people, which may not be from within. 

“You don’t want to perpetuate the same thinking all the time,” he said. 

He said that he would find people who may not have been brought up in the hotel industry, but had the skills that would translate well into it. He once found an operations manager from an airline. He managed the baggage and the engineers. 

“He never worked in a hotel in his life,” Welton said. “I brought him on the executive committee as director of operations. Together with our team we created some new and amazing things.” 

Getting to know your team to build trust 

“You have to make people feel comfortable,” Welton said. The first thing he would do in the morning would be to walk around the hotel and say good morning and ask how they were doing.  

“The more they trust you, they’re going to be more candid,” he said. 

One time a team member went off on a tangent in a meeting and Welton let him air it out. His director of finance asked him why he didn’t take the employee’s head off. 

“I feel good that he felt comfortable enough downloading whatever he was downloading at the time,” Welton said. 

As a CEO, you are intimidating, whatever you are going to do, but you should at least get to know them a little better. 

Coming in part 2 

In the next episode of the Northwest Hospitality Leadership Podcast, Welton and Anthony discuss leading the next generation of employees in this new age of hospitality.