Executive Vice President of Global Operations Chris Cahill was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
Chris Cahill is executive vice president of global operations at Las Vegas Sands. He is responsible for overseeing our company’s various property operations, as well as corporate marketing, human resources, aviation, security and other operating departments. Last year, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) bestowed its prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award on Mr. Cahill. I had the opportunity to sit down with him recently to discuss the award, as well glean some advice from him for those who are thinking about starting and succeeding in the hotel business.
What’s it like getting a Lifetime Achievement Award?
Chris Cahill: A little embarrassing. At the end of the day, I was part of a large organization involving many talented and hard-working people. My position within the organization led, I think, to me getting the award. But, truth be told, success in the hotel business is dependent on teamwork. No single individual can claim credit for the achievements of a company, much more an industry.
After so many years in the hotel business, what are your thoughts about the industry? Do you feel optimistic about it?
Chris Cahill: Oh, it’s a great business. And I feel tremendous optimism. When you think about other global industries, there are very few predicted to grow by a 4% or 5% compound growth rate over the next 25 years. Globalization has opened up the world. More and more people want to travel, to see new places, to experience new cultures. Consequently, demand for hotels continues to grow.
Given such growth in our industry, should young people consider a hotel career?
Chris Cahill: Well, I would say our industry is a sweet spot for those looking for work, because you are nearly guaranteed a job; I don’t know very many hospitality schools where recent graduates are unable to find work. You can’t say that about law or business. But hospitality is a global industry. Governments all over the world have determined that tourism is a great economic generator, and so they’re investing in tourism projects and they’re helping create even more markets for the hotel business. So, yes, young people would do well to consider a hospitality career; we are part of a thriving global industry, with jobs around the world that need to be filled.
What advice would you give someone just starting out in hospitality?
Chris Cahill: What I would say is this: Get as much hands-on experience as you can in the first two years. If you pursue a leadership career by, say, getting a degree in hospitality, you’ll never go back to the kitchen; you’ll never go back to cleaning tables; you’ll never go back to the front desk. The only time you’ll have an opportunity to learn and understand those kinds of jobs is when you’re first starting out. I always tell people—whether they’re MBA students or undergrads doing a hospitality degree—go work in the kitchen, work at the line level. On your summer break, go and learn how the whole hotel operates, how it interconnects like an organism. Afterward, with those hands-on experiences under your belt, you’ll have a different feel about hotel operations. You’ll know how hard people work, because you’ve been there; you’ve experienced it. And those experiences will make you a better, smarter leader in the industry.
Is there a particular path that leads to personal success in the hotel business?
Chris Cahill: One can’t always say or know what the path will look like for any given individual. But I have found that if you work for great people, then opportunities to rise in your career will often present themselves. And when I say work with “great people,” I’m not necessarily referring to charismatic leaders. Rather, I mean try to work with those leaders who are known to give opportunities to improve and be recognized. I was always fortunate to work under leaders who weren’t afraid that I wanted to take their job. In fact, it was the other way around: they wanted me to take their jobs. As much as I could take, they would give. As a result of their generous attitude, they helped promote my career. If you can find great people like that to work under, you’ll be well on your way to personal and professional growth.
And what would you say to an employee whose boss does think the employee is after her job? How should an employee handle that sort of situation with his boss?
Chris Cahill: That’s tough. But you start, I think, with an honest and open relationship with the people you work under. If you can’t come to any common ground, or if your boss is sabotaging you, then you may need to think about doing something else. In a company like ours—which is big—there are always opportunities for work in other departments with different managers. So keep an eye out; you don’t have to feel pigeonholed. As I often tell young people, even bad experiences offer valuable lessons. Working under the wrong leaders can teach you a great deal about what not to do as a leader, and that will prove useful later in your own career as you take on leadership positions.
What steps should people take to keep moving forward in their career?
Chris Cahill: Don’t stop learning. Take on new projects. Volunteer in work groups. Take courses. Go to tradeshows and industry events. And seek out people you respect and admire and learn from them. About a year ago, while at a former company, I put together a new vision and strategy in an effort to learn from the repercussions of the recession. I spoke to a thousand leaders, and what I finally told people was this: “If you’ve been here ten years, and if you’ve not taken on a new position or taken courses or educated yourself on the nature of today’s business world, then ten years ago you may have been an “A” player, but now you’re a “C” player. Not because you’ve done anything wrong, but because you haven’t kept up with the changes in the industry.”
What pitfalls then should be avoided in a person’s career?
Chris Cahill: One pitfall is this: Don’t always look for easy assignments. Sticking with what’s comfortable can thwart your career. Sometimes the best way to move forward is daring to take on a tough project. But a warning comes with this advice. You won’t get credit for merely taking on a difficult assignment; very often you’ll only get credit for your results. However, don’t let that be a reason to avoid challenging projects. If you can show that the assignment was tough but also that you helped the company by moving the needle forward a little bit, even if you weren’t completely successful, then the size of your effort and accomplishment can and should be recognized.
Finally, in brief, what is your management philosophy?
Chris Cahill: Well, any decent management philosophy will boil down to looking after the welfare of those working for and around you. If you have motivated team members, whose dignity and feelings are respected, they will provide the kind of work and service that will ultimately make the business profitable. Therefore a key aspect of leadership involves careful attention to human motivation. Managers need to constantly ask themselves how their decisions are impacting the various team members in the office. Emotional intelligence is, in short, required for sound management.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. For those interested in more information about Mr. Cahill, below is an excerpt from his leadership page at Sands.com:
Mr. Cahill has extensive experience in all facets of the hospitality industry. Most recently he was the Chief Operating Officer of Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FRHI). While at FRHI and its predecessor organizations, he gained an international reputation for excellence as he led the company through several successful mergers as both president and chief operating officer.
He began his hospitality career in 1978 as a beverage manager for the Delta Hotel (Delta) in Ottawa, Canada. Over the next twenty years he served in a number of senior positions at Delta and Canadian Pacific Hotels and Resorts. From 2001 to 2008, Mr. Cahill was a board member and committee member in a number of capacities with the Canadian Tourism Commission including serving as vice chairman; chair of the Human Resources Committee; member of the Executive Committee; member of the Nomination Committee; and chairman of the Meeting & Incentive Travel Working Committee.
Mr. Cahill graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Ottawa and holds an MBA from the University of Toronto.