When Fortune revealed this year's list of 100 Best Companies to Work For on Valentine's Day, Hilton's headquarters in McLean, Va., was filled with party balloons, an associate told me last week. "It was like Christmas!" One year ago, the hotel company was pleased to rank #34 on the coveted list. This year Hilton was #1.
Why? "You'd have to ask all of our 400,000 associates!" Hilton's president and CEO, Chris Nassetta, told me on Friday. As I was short on time, though, he was happy to share his take on the accomplishment:
"When I got here 12 years ago, I realized there was something weren't doing well. We weren't really building a global culture that was focused on purpose, and giving everybody in our organization something to believe in that was bigger than them, and that they were a part of.
"So, I began -- with a lot of help -- on a journey to build our culture and to embrace our people and treat them the way they should be treated. Over that 12-year journey, we have done many, many things to invest in our people, in our culture, and to make Hilton a very special place.
"Everybody always wants to invest in the hotels, you know, for the customers. What about the people who take care of the customers? What about where they live, and the locker rooms and the cafeteria where we feed them? What about making it brighter and cheerier, and making sure they know that they matter?
"We've done those things and a whole bunch of others to say, 'You are part of our family. We want to take care of you. You're part of our purpose.' Knowing that, they are inspired to take even better care of our customers. We're a service industry. We're in the business of serving people. That has to start with serving our own people.
"I'd like to believe that's why we've gone from #34 to #1 -- that it's taking hold in the people of the company, all the way down to the front line. Nothing we've done in my time here has made me more proud. Frankly, I doubt I'll be more proud of anything for the rest of my career."
Look for more insight on Hilton and four other companies profiled in M&C's annual feature, "Best Places to Work in the Meetings Industry," to be released next month. (See last year's feature here.)