I was brought up in a small, remote town in West Wales. I went to school with a wide variety of people, from children who lived on remote hills to children whose parents were university professors. It taught me how to get along with people of all walks of life. One of the great things of working in hospitality is you deal with all kinds of different people.
I developed an interest in marketing during college. I became passionate about understanding what motivates consumers and how it drives consumer behavior. I coupled that with a lot of experience working with businesses and franchisees over the years on branding and marketing campaigns.
I eventually landed at Ford Motor Co., which gave me a terrifically broad commercial grounding. The most defining moment of my time there was spearheading the launch of the Ford Focus in the U.K.
Ford Escort, which predates the Focus, was very successful but getting very tired. We decided to change the name and launch Ford Focus. It was really critical. It needed to be established as the number one best-selling car in the U.K. Anything else would’ve been a failure.
And we succeeded.
Through a combination of the usual levers around marketing and a huge amount of work with the way the car was positioned at the dealers, we made Ford Focus something special.
It went from a standing start to being the best-selling car in the U.K. in the first year.
Because I had previously worked on the ground with dealers optimizing their performance, I had a great understanding of how to get dealers to react positively to initiatives from corporate.
I learned that when you’re working in a corporate center, it’s very important that you understand the day-to-day realities of the people on the ground running the business.
I eventually switched across to the hospitality industry. In a sense, a hotel is like a theater show every day.
You have the stage, which is the hotel itself, and all the employees, which are the actors on stage. The consumer’s experience living there defines the brand in the consumer’s mind.
The next key milestone was joining the management executive committee at De Vere Group, which taught me a lot about moving from management to leadership.
Then I joined the operational side of Hilton in 2007. That taught me a lot about the day-to-day pressures of running hotels and the day-to-day priorities owners have around their commercial returns.
Now at Embassy Suites, my objective is to grow it to more than 300 outlets in the United States.
We can only do that if our partners and owners are commercially successful and by giving our guests what they want.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: Global head of Embassy Suites Hotels, a hotel company that is a brand of McLean-based Hilton Worldwide.
Career highlights: Regional vice president, Hilton U.K.; sales and marketing director, De Vere Group; marketing director, Costa Coffee; director of marketing, Whitbread; brand manager on the Ford Focus U.K. launch; Ford Motor Co.
Education: BSc, management sciences, London School of Economics.
Personal: Lives in Vienna with his wife and two children, ages 8 and 10.