My life was a living dream three months ago, my career was successful at Hilton, the best company to work for in the United States in 2020, I had the best boss, and my work-life balance was at all-time high. Last year I was the runner up of the circle of excellence, a Hilton award to the best performers from commercial services and customer teams worldwide, my morale was high, and I couldn’t wish for something better. On February 17, 2020 I traveled to Miami to meet with my team (marketing planning and performance), but little I knew that that trip would be the last one we had together.
While we were in Miami, we had a great time. It was as fun as any of our previous trips to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago or Montreal. But something was slightly off. One night while walking from the hotel to a nearby restaurant in South Beach, I didn’t feel well, I felt out of breath, and my chest was hurting. From Miami, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor, just to make sure there was nothing wrong with my health.
When I was back in Orlando, my cardiologist ordered an electrocardiogram, an ultrasound, and a stress test. The results came back relatively quickly, and the news was not good. I was diagnosed with coronary artery desease and I was scheduled for surgery on Friday, March 13th. For some reason, my cardiologist called me back a couple of days later to push back the surgery date to March 25th. Since my health was deterioration quickly, my wife called the hospital and asked if they had an earlier date available, thankfully they did have one, and I was rescheduled for Thursday, March 12th (by the way, a much better date than Friday the 13th for a heart surgery).
At that point my health was not the only bad news, the outbreak of the coronavirus in China was spreading like fire around the world, and started to hit hard already some parts of the country such as Washington and New York states.
Two days after my surgery, Donald Trump declared a national emergency to speed virus response; the national emergency implied among other things that hospitals wouldn’t be able to perform life-saving surgeries like the one I had just two days earlier. I learned with horror that hospitals were letting people die, because they were already overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases, and not able to perform these surgeries under the national emergency call1. In cities like New York City paramedics were told to leave cardiac-arrest sufferers at home if they couldn’t get a pulse at the scene2. At that point, I realized something scary; I was closer to my death than I originally thought. If my surgery had not been moved to the 12th of March, I would have been died at home waiting for a surgery that nobody was able to perform for months.
After a few days of staying home and focusing on my recovery, I started working for Hilton again. I felt great coming back to work, I loved my job, and it was gratifying being active again. But my enjoyment was short-lived. Due to the international lockdown, the hospitality industry was going into a tailspin, bookings in China, Italy, and the United States were dropping double digits to unsustainable levels. Then the virus continued to spread in the United States at an unprecedented rate and panic spread, Marriott decided to furlough two-thirds of its 4,000 corporate employees on March 22nd, a move that Hilton followed a week later. Despite a lower indebtedness of Hilton and a stronger balance sheet, the move was inevitable, and I was one of the ones affected by this decision.
In just five weeks after our team meeting in Miami, my whole world turned upside down. I became part of the population at risk, lost my job, and the medical bills started to pile up. Never crossed my mind, even remotely, that something like this could have happened to me in such a small period of time.
With no job and no prospects of finding a new one, I decided to stay calm and write my memories of this dark timeframe in history. As an industry insider, I decided to document this crisis and share valuable lessons of corporate resilience and corporate culture that can be used for future generations facing a similar crisis.
That being said, let’s start with the basics. I’m writing these memories as events unfold, so I don’t know where my writing is going or what the learnings would be. But I’m very familiar with the culture that Hilton has built over the course of 10 years. In my opinion, Hilton is posed to navigate this crisis more successfully than any other hospitality company around the world.
I don’t know if, after this crisis, I’ll stay with Hilton or not, but what I have learned about corporate culture while being part of the Hilton family is worth sharing.
Now, before we start with the current crisis, let me take you to the beginnings; let me explain to you how Hilton created such a great culture and how despite the circumstances, it will rise again.