According to Anthony Anton, President & CEO, Washington Hospitality, the industry has been in a perfect storm for most of the last two years: First, the pandemic hit, and 100,000 team members left the workforce almost overnight. Thousands of restaurants closed, and the future looked bleak. “Our association, as well as our members, have rallied to accomplish so much that have helped save businesses and bring back jobs while stopping the spread of COVID. We did this with some of the business fundamentals that are easiest to forget in the heat of the action.”
Anthony believes that success starts with getting the right people on the bus, as discussed in the book “Good to Great.” “Everything you hope for is stuck in the gate without a great team, which we are fortunate to have at the Washington Hospitality Association,” he says. “The next step is to surround those people with a clear vision and goals, which are part of our core values that we live by and adhere to every day. Finally, ensuring that the team has a clear understanding of our business plan keeps the organization aligned and focused to deliver the biggest possible impact.”
Another critical aspect of the association that helps the members achieve that is the open-door policy. Everyone in the organization is encouraged to provide feedback directly to the CEO and their superiors. They have been able to build a culture that encourages that sort of dialogue. That access every team member has helped everyone understand and contribute to their shared vision. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our approach to customer service led by our Membership Director Steven Sweeney. “Then we do whatever we can to support those managers including competitive compensation, constant
improvement to support systems and a strong communication system. This approach has been a game changer. We have a great team in place and we’ve been organized around a common goal to help our industry weather this storm.”
Transforming into A Leader
Anthony has been blessed with many great mentors and role models – but he treasures the time he had to work around Alan Mulally at Boeing. “He is incredible. He perfectly balances all the things we are challenged with as CEOs. He was able to be very direct and kind at the same time, and he did it with a smile on his face,” elucidates the steadfast leader. “Alan was always numbers and fact driven, while still having his heart on display. He knew and emphasized the importance of a strong plan, yet he knew it had to be balanced with flexibility to deal with the unexpected.” Alan addressed the most challenging news head-on while showing calm confidence that they would figure things out together. He ran a huge corporation but still found time to walk the factory floor, remember a machinist’s name, and genuinely appreciate that individual’s contribution. “Much of my leadership style is an attempt to model Alan’s success. His book, “American Icon, the Fight to Save Ford,” is one of my top three favorite books on leadership.”
For Anthony, the easiest part of being a leader in the passion for the job, specifically hospitality. He genuinely loves the industry, which has provided for his grandfathers as new immigrants to the country. “It provided for my family so my sister and I could go on to college and succeed, and it still provides that opportunity to people newly pursuing the American Dream today. To be a small part of preserving that Dream for others drives me and excites me,” he says. “The hardest for me to truly master is time management, and that has only become more difficult through the pandemic. Time discipline and ruthless prioritization are things I know I still must master.”
Their team’s pandemic response is a perfect example of this belief in action: At every decision point, Anthony and his team asked the toughest of questions, pushed against assumptions, and held themselves accountable. Through this, they have consistently helped each other see issues from a new perspective, find novel solutions, and create a roadmap forward. The team understood that this great conflict is pointed towards a goal and not at each other personally.
Actual healthy conflict is a sign of great respect, love, and teamwork. It also leads to buy-in, alignment and focus. One of my other three favorite leadership books, “Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” by Patrick Lencioni, lays this out very well. It is a must-read for leadership teams.
Striving to be the Best
One of the Washington Hospitality Association’s four core functions is to be the industry’s primary source of information. With information resources rapidly changing and evolving, they have been blessed to have their Sr. Communications Director Lex Nepomuceno. Lex is as passionate about the possibilities of technology as he is about the industry itself. He has led the association to many new worlds of communications, from text notifications to integrated websites, infographics, social media, electronic information, electronic toolkits, podcasting, and more. These technologies have the blessing of analytics that allows them to make quick adjustments to information strategies and articles of member value. His communications team has done some groundbreaking work in the association and information space.
Anthony says that a competitor’s success can often be a distraction or an excuse. As a member organization, they must consistently show value to their members. One of their core values is “a desire for greatness.” “If we are truly living that value, pushing ourselves to be better every day, staying focused on why we are here and meeting our goals that provide member value, our members will feel that value and the competition will be irrelevant.”
The team at the Washington Hospitality Association has been amazing, and they have delivered many wins that anyone would be proud to be a small part of. For example, providing substantial enough value to have 95% retention in a time that significant industry segments were collapsing during the pandemic is a testament to how strong this team is. That being said, the association’s most notable achievement is still in front of them in accomplishing the 10-year vision approved by their board of directors.
Of the things in the pipeline, the team led by Teran Petrina and Ken Wells has been developing several exciting business programs for the past few years to complement their very successful workers comp program. “While they are in their infancy, we are on track to see the majority of Washington’s restaurants, hotels and entertainment businesses engage with at least two of our programs,” explains Anthony. “We are hyper focused on our 10-year vision that will require the Association to double in size one more time. This growth will allow us the resources to have the local government affairs support required in today’s world. It also involves re-envisioning our Education Foundation to focus more on collaborating, aligning and creating easier access to the many training and education programs that already exist in Washington state today but are disparate and have low awareness among our workforce.”
President & CEO