Where Diversity Is Never in Short Supply

Hilton Worldwide’s Fred Lona on inclusion, opportunity, and the bottom line

Before he found his niche in supplier diversity, Hilton Worldwide’s Fred Lona held jobs in the petroleum, computer, pharmaceutical, and telecommunications industries.

Lona was offered the opportunity to become part of AT&T’s world-class supplier diversity program “as a result of my success in dealing with challenging assignments,” he explains. But his interest in supplier diversity was sparked by a desire to give back to the community. “It is essential for diverse suppliers to have the resources and preparation to do business with corporate America,” he says. “Suppliers who are not prepared will miss opportunities that can lead to market success—and they will not evolve into suppliers capable of providing leadership and creative solutions.”

After more than eighteen years at AT&T, Lona was ready for a new challenge. In  2005, he joined Hilton Worldwide as director of supplier diversity. “I was excited about the Hilton opportunity, because developing a world-class supplier diversity program would enable me to help prepare the next generation for the future and demonstrate the importance of supplier diversity to the bottom line.”

At Hilton, Lona is responsible for the development, administration, and execution of the company’s supplier diversity program, global travel program, and the marketing and communications department for Hilton Supply Management. In his words, that also means “ensuring compliance with a corporate-wide diversity strategy and incorporating innovative best-practice programs in supplier diversity and global travel processes—as well as  overseeing communications to our constituents.”

“I want to educate and guide individual team members so that they can operate effectively both independently and together.”

For an international hospitality company like Hilton Worldwide, suppliers provide a vast array of products and services—everything the company’s properties need to operate. That means linens, TVs, and furniture as well as pest control, maintenance, and lawn care—and all of it is Lona’s domain.

Two skills that Lona feels make him good at his job—and help him accomplish his goals—are being a change agent and a teacher. “To me, a change agent is a problem solver, someone with the ability to effect consensual change that affects many people. A change agent utilizes creativity and experience and thinks outside the box. A teacher, on the other hand, is someone with the patience and ability to instruct and demonstrate to others how to solve problems and continually improve their performance.”

Being transparent with information and developing budding talent are also key to his leadership style. “I want to educate and guide individual team members so that they can operate effectively both independently and together,” he says. “I believe a team is stronger and can achieve better results together than any one individual.”

Hilton’s philosophy contends that a diverse workforce and diverse suppliers give the company a competitive advantage. “Diverse suppliers link us to the minority communities and serve as gateways to meet market demand of those communities. In addition, diverse suppliers have more direct knowledge of local communities and can provide Hilton with valuable market intelligence as well as new and creative products, services, and business solutions,” he explains.

Lona has seen the pool of diverse suppliers greatly increase during his time at Hilton. Potential suppliers are evaluated based on criteria such as financial stability, delivery performance, product performance, industry-wide reputation, and responsiveness in solving problems. Lona makes sure to spend some of his time mentoring suppliers who are not quite ready for Hilton. He helps prepare them for making bids geared toward larger corporations. “Suppliers have to be able to stand on their own,” he adds.

“Sometimes a supplier isn’t ready to go national or even regional, but they may be ready to work with one or two smaller hotels.” Hilton’s program also encourages suppliers to implement their own diversity programs. “This not only affords them the opportunity to help their local community,” according to Lona, “but offers them a previously untapped market for their services and products. At Hilton, we also use our second-tier program with our prime suppliers as a means to ensure that potential diverse suppliers are included in our supply chain.”

Lona finds it rewarding to help make supplier diversity part of the procurement process for international corporations—and not just an add-on. “I focus on making sure diverse suppliers are included in the process, from the very beginning to the very end.” His ultimate goal is for Hilton’s worldwide supplier diversity program to be recognized as a world-class example to corporations globally.

He is currently working on expanding the program both internationally and into non-traditional areas such as legal, marketing, and advertising. Earlier this year, Lona was honored to receive the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s Trailblazer award.

“It truly validated my efforts and heightened my passion and dedication to supplier diversity,” says Lona.