About Hilton hotels
Simon Bell met Rachid ‘Ben’ Bengougam, VP HR Europe for Hilton Worldwide. Ben is leading the HR agenda across Europe at an exciting period of growth. With a grounding in operations and a passion for the hospitality industry he has worked internationally and speaks five languages.
Conrad N. Hilton began with a 40 room hotel in a small Texas town in 1919. Today, Hilton Worldwide is the world's preeminent hospitality company with 10 brands, more than 3,750 hotels and 130,000 team members across 84 countries. In Europe, Hilton Worldwide operates over 200 hotels with a further 100 hotels currently in development. With over 50,000 rooms, they more than doubled their market share in two years from 5% in 2009 to 14% in 2011 and have more than 25,000 employees in the region.
The priorities for Hilton
What are the current priorities for Hilton Worldwide in Europe?
Continued growth. We are focusing on strategic development markets including Turkey, Russia, Poland, Germany and Italy, as well as here in the UK. We want to be the number one choice for all stakeholders: owners, customers and employees. Competition is fierce, but there is something a bit special about Hilton and we work hard to keep it that way. As well as our organic growth there is also some acquisition activity. Our owners Blackstone recently acquired Mint Hotels in the UK and the Netherlands and we will be managing them.
Establishing HR at Hilton
What have you focused on since joining the business?
I am a year and a half in. My first priority was to ensure ‘?t for purpose’ HR. I assessed the existing capability and found some gaps in what was required. I clearly stated my expectations and raised the bar. I now have a very capable team. I also aligned HR to the business. Our number one priority is growth and so my focus has been on talent; recruiting, developing and retaining individuals at all levels. We had depleted talent pools and some high-pro?le gaps for key roles. At a local level, we need to ensure we have enough high calibre people to open our hotels on time. In Turkey, we have started a hotel school to grow talent at grass roots level.
Being part of a global organisation, it was also important to execute the global HR strategy, so we have been working on a number of business wide projects including the implementation of Taleo and Success Factors.
How do you measure the success of your HR team?
My HR team is very business focused. My main measurement is to ask my business colleagues how they perform. I challenge them about what they should be focusing on and they all have clear objectives in place. I have a lean team of five regional HR directors and four directors leading the centres of excellence. In addition to their own areas of responsibility everyone is also managing a pan European project which is great for their development and business reputation. The rest is managed at a local level in each hotel. We deliver an experience to our customers which is both challenging and compelling. Our focus is to ensure warmth and friendliness whilst ensuring consistency and safety.
Providing great service
With such a large number of hotels across diverse locations how do you ensure consistency of service?
We have a mix of franchised and managed hotels. We have dedicated brand performance support teams and quality assurance audits are performed at our franchised hotels regularly. In the unusual event that a hotel does not record a satisfactory visit then a follow-up visit will be scheduled, which must be passed otherwise the hotel will be submitted for review by the Quality Audit Committee. In our managed hotels, training and development, along with ongoing engagement are key.
What do you look for when hiring someone to join the business?
I look for passion, intelligence, the ability to learn and then a little something different; some edge, something kooky or crazy. This might be someone who doesn’t conform, but with amazing drive. I look for people who will challenge and change things.
How would your colleagues describe you?
The president would say I am challenging. I ask the hard questions. I am obsessive about delivery. He would also say I am supportive. Some of my colleagues would say I am cranky and thorny! I hold them to account and encourage them to manage their own people issues.
Successes & challenges
What are you most proud of?
The number of individuals who have worked for me and progressed to senior roles elsewhere. I challenge people and have honest two way conversations with them. I am not territorial; one of my top performing HR directors has recently moved on. I see this as a fundamental part of my role and good for the business to develop strong professionals.
What has been your biggest challenge in the career to date?
I have had lots of challenges and learnings. One that stands out was earlier in my career when Forte acquired some hotels in Italy. I went there to work with the MD. I didn’t speak Italian. We had some big issues around service and some trade union challenges. We had four months before the launch event and I wanted to deliver it in Italian so I spent three hours every night learning the language with a tutor; we had class, then dinner, speaking only in Italian. I think the first few meals must’ve been very boring for her! But I did it and the launch was a success and I think 80% of my HR knowledge came from that time.
Advice for HR professionals
What advice would you give to someone as they progress their career in HR?
Play to your strengths. Don’t focus on things you don’t have the skills for. Choose the areas where you can add value and do a great job.
Ben Bengougam was appointed in May 2010 as VP HR Europe for Hilton Worldwide, having previously been based in Kuwait in the position of HR director Middle East for MHAlshaya. Ben had run his strategic HR practice for nearly a year after seven years at the Dixons Group where he was group HR director on the executive board. He was previously chief people officer at ebeon, an Irish/global e-business builder and services provider. Ben had joined ebeon from Pegasus Solutions, Inc a Dallas based Nasdaq quoted hotel technology and distribution management company, where he was executive vice president, human resources. Prior to that he was at REZsolutions Inc as executive vice president based in Phoenix, Arizona USA and as human resources director of London based Utell International. Previously, Bengougam had spent 11 years with Forte International Hotels in various operational and human resource management roles. His last role there was as human resources director for the Forte Grand Division.
He is a BSc engineering science graduate and subsequently obtained a Masters Degree in HR Development.