How My Passion for Helping People Became a Career

As we approach Hilton’s 100th anniversary next year, we looked back on our legacy. What we found was the Hilton Effect: our company’s transformative impact on the travel experience of more than three billion guests and counting; on the nearly 10 million Team Members who have contributed to the company’s success, including almost 400,000 across the globe today; and on the communities surrounding Hilton’s hotels in 106 countries and territories, where it often plays a tremendous role in economic development.

To better understand just how impactful Hilton’s presence in a community really is, we sat down with the General Manager of the London Hilton on Park Lane, Michael Shepherd, who has been with our company nearly 40 years.

1. Tell us about your career journey.

In total, I’ve worked for Hilton for more than 36 years. I started at Hilton when I graduated from university in 1976 as a receptionist at the front desk at the London Hilton on Park Lane, a hotel iconic to our city even then. I then went on to work overseas for more than 20 years in a variety of management positions with Hilton. I worked in 10 countries at 15 different Hilton properties- opening new hotels and expanding our global presence. I then left Hilton to work for Savoy Hotels. This was a very hard but educated decision – leaving Hilton to develop my industry expertise and further my hospitality career. I returned to Hilton after just six years. My career has now come full circle and I serve as the General Manager of the London Hilton on Park Lane.

2. Why did you chose hospitality for your career?

From a young age, I felt a passion to look after people. All of my family were in medicine, so initially, I felt destined to become a doctor. I loved to travel however and was highly influenced by travelling with my family from an early age. For me, hospitality was a straight-forward choice to couple my love for travel with my desire to care for other people.

3. What is your favorite part of your job as General Manager?

I love making people happy! We can make dreams come true for our guests and our Team Members. People stay at our properties for a variety of reasons – they might be celebrating an important anniversary, proposing to their partner or attending crucial career conferences – whatever the reason, we’re there to make sure the execution is perfect for their needs, and the event is the best it can possibly be. Every day is different because you’re looking after people for different reasons, ensuring that they have the most rewarding, positive experience possible. At our heart, we’re a people business.

An important part of Michael’s job is to recognize and celebrate the team. This photo was taken during housekeeping recognition week earlier this year.

4. How do you think Hilton is revolutionizing hospitality?

Hilton has set the pace for hospitality and events and we are a clear leader in this industry. Guest expectation today is so much greater than it was 10 years ago; it has grown beyond amenities – they want experiences! We must continually be ahead of the curve- offering a new variety of products and experiences every day. Not only this, but Hilton must continue to employ inspirational leaders who are changing what hospitality can offer to the communities where we live and work around the world. We work constantly with owners to ensure their hotels are the best they can be in any particular market or location.

5. What does the Hilton Effect mean to you?

Over the years, Hilton has grown its global presence exponentially. We had only 160 properties when I first started with Hilton, and now we’ve grown to more than 5,560 hotels around the world. Hilton is an ambassador in the community – from creating employment, to local wealth and providing safety, security and experience to our guests.

In the early stages of my career when I was helping to open hotels in Africa and the Middle East, we were pioneers. People would rely on us for safety and information. We’d be the first point of call for visitors who wanted to open businesses in those countries or who needed a professional connection. That’s what the Hilton Effect is all about – bringing people together inside and outside the walls of our hotels.

6. How has the London Hilton on Park Lane made an impact over the past 55 years?

This is not just a hotel – this is an institution renowned for training. This hotel is one of the finest examples of a training base for anyone wishing to grow in the hospitality industry. I estimate at least 50+ General Managers around the world have worked at this hotel at some point. We provide a training ground for Team Members and the opportunities from here are endless! Education is fantastic; but the experience gives you grounding. Experience provides a foundational skill set and judgement and Hilton is the best company to get that experience. Hospitality is truly global and Hilton provides this broad base to the leadership required.

7. What do you love about working for Hilton?

The Hilton family is so inspirational.  The camaraderie and teamwork you establish, especially working on properties in countries far away, is very emotional. I’ve had the opportunity to establish friendships with my Team Members over nearly four decades. Whenever I moved on to a new property or country, it was very difficult for me to say goodbye because I’d become so attached to my team. I’ve looked back and realized that I’ve become an inspirational leader to my teams, similar to a coach of a sports team or headmaster at a school. I still hear from many of my fellow and former team members who share how I helped develop their careers and how Hilton has been instrumental in their personal and career growth. It is hugely rewarding to learn of so many personal careers grow and develop.

Michael’s passion outside of family and work is sailing. As an executive team building exercise, he invited his team along and taught them a new life skill!

8. What advice do you have for someone wanting to start their career in hospitality?

Each week I have the opportunity to speak to our new Hilton Team Members and I tell them that there are two types of people out there: there is the person who loves to be with people and the person who is indifferent. Not that it’s bad to be indifferent, but if you aren’t getting out of bed each day excited to please other people then you shouldn’t be in hospitality. To work in hospitality, you must have an inherent desire to please. That takes energy and commitment, but it’s so necessary. If you’re at the end of your shift, worn out and tired, and someone comes to you with an issue, you must address that person as if they’re the first person you’ve spoken to all day and deliver your answer with warmth and energy. That takes a special kind of desire and commitment – not everyone has this.

9. What is your hope for Hilton as we celebrate our centennial?

I hope we engage each of our 400,000+ Team Members in celebrating all we’ve accomplished together over the past 100 years around the world. Our history as a company is very important. You can never repeat yesterday, but yesterday we did a great job and we want to share that with future generations.

The Hilton Effect: London | Revolutionizing Hospitality from Hilton Newsroom on Vimeo.