By: Cosmas Uzodinma
When people see Hilton Hospitality group spread across the world, they might say, “Wow, this must be a lucky family”. But for Mr. Conrad Hilton the founder, it was not luck but the product of three mutually reinforcing business principles.
This awareness came to me at the occasion of a group study trip to the US. Upon our arrival, we had been booked at the Double Tree Hotel, Washington DC – one of Hilton’s family of hotels. It had been a long journey from Nigeria. With the jetlag and all, I hit the snooze button but not before noticing a book titled, “Be My Guest” by Conrad Hilton, the founder of the Hilton Group.
Our Washington schedule had been tight and beside I needed time for my body to adjust to the US time zone.
However, the journey took us to a couple of states and cities one of which was San Francisco. We had again lodged at another Hilton – the Hilton San Francisco Financial District. Located within a walking distance to the San Francisco Bay. You could behold the city’s scenic skylines populated by a forest of competing high-rises. From its vaulting height guests awoke each morning to the refreshing view of the sun peeling the morning fog off the Golden Gate Bridge.
As I settled in my room, there again was the book – a handy 288-paged wine-coloured paperback autobiography of the author, emblazoned with a portrait of Conrad Hilton himself. Since our stay was going to last a week, I made up my mind to read it up before the end of our stay. It turned out a very interesting read. It was Conrad Hilton’s way of revealing how, through God, business men can lay the foundation for a successful and sustainable business brand.
Mr. Hilton was a son of an astute business man and a faithful Christian mother. Upbringing for him was a tug between his mother’s insistence on constant prayers and his father’s assertion on hard work. He grew up imbued with both values. However, one day, while trying to pass the same values unto his sons Nick and Barron, Barron disputed both prerequisites, insisting that there must be a third factor. Said he, “I know plenty of fellows who work so hard and pray faithfully. And nothing happens. There must be some other ingredient that goes in but I cannot put my finger on it.”
That phrase hit Conrad like a bolt out of the blues, “…there must be some other ingredient” and Conrad Hilton set out to find out what it was.
Eureka! There it was – “A Dream!” “To accomplish big things” he stated, “I am convinced you must first dream big dreams.” Thus with these three ingredients – dream, hard work and the power of prayers, he set out to build one of the greatest hospitality brands in the world today – the Hilton Group. This included the acquisition of Waldorf Astoria the flagship of the global hotels business.
According to Hilton, the type of dreaming is not one that had anything to do with a reverie – an idle daydream. Not wishful thinking, nor is it the type of revelation reserved for great ones and rightly called vision. “What I speak of is a brand of imaginative thinking backed by enthusiasm, vitality and expectation to which all men may aspire” he stated.
In 1931 at the peak of the Great Depression, while other business men were committing suicide, Conrad Hilton was dreaming to own, Waldorf Astoria, an edifice he described as the greatest of them all. Even when it was a presumptuous and an outrageous time to dream dreams, he still dreamt. But in the fullness of time, after investment in prayers, hard work and faith, he saw his dream materialize. In 1949, 15 years after he had beheld the hotel, wrote it down and stuck it into his drawer, he saw it come to fruition. According to him, “It had taken a lot of prayers. In the final crucial days of the negotiations, I had attended church at six-thirty, each morning. No matter how late I worked into the night, I started the day on my knee.”
He recalled an incident at the peak of the Great Depression when his mother, hearing how business men were committing suicide went to visit her son. Upon entering her son’s office, she saw him bowed and forlorn. She counselled, “Some men jump out windows, some quit, some go to church. Pray Cornie, pray harder. And don’t you dare quit.”
Not long after, his attorney began to mute to him the idea of declaring bankruptcy. Business had gone so bad that even the gas station attendant had been directed to stop serving him fuel. The boy noted that he had received the instruction for over two weeks but had continued to serve him because of the the esteem to which he held Conrad.
He recalled, “My Attorney began talking bankruptcy. You are behind on the Moodys. You’re behind on the Thornton. You owe Mathias on the land lease in El Paso. Loudermilk here in Dallas, he said. “Cornie you’re over half a million in debt. You won’t get out in a thousand years. Wipe it off boy.”To this Mr. Hilton replied that credit is a business man’s life’s blood. “I can’t go bankrupt.” He noted that there was a stigma about it, an admission of defeat. It was quitting and I was not about to quit. “That would be having no faith… running out of hope. If I run out of those I’m dead and I know it. Every morning when I left church I was always full of both.”
Not long after, God began to intervene. He began to get some miraculous settlements which restored his credit-worthiness. Some other hoteliers began handing over their hotels to him for management, sometimes with reasonable cash advances. Soon his business grew and spread both within and outside the United States.
Hilton and his friends laid the foundation for the US Congressional Prayer meeting. He became an evangelist of sorts and in his public speeches promoted faith in God as the foundation of the United States of America. In one of his public speeches he had declared “Man possesses human dignity because he is made in the image and likeness of God.
“… Peace is more than the absence of war. It is tranquillity of order, it is security liberty – religious, political and economic freedom. It is life with honour, life with dignity of the children of God.”
“…In the struggle for freedom, at home and abroad our greatest weapon both a sword and a shield, will be our love of, and faith in, God.
Conrad Hilton went on to craft a national prayer which was circulated into hundreds of thousand copies and became known as the Hilton Prayer.
“Our Father in Heaven
We pray that You save us from ourselves. The world that You have made for us to live in peace we have made into an armed camp. We live in fear of war to come. We are afraid “of the terror that flies by night and the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence that walks in darkness and the destruction that wastes in noon day.”
We have turned from you to go our selfish way. We have broken your commandments and denied your truth. We have left your altars to serve the false God of money, pleasure and power. Forgive us and help us.
Now darkness gathers around us and we are confused in all our counsels. Losing faith in You, we lose faith in ourselves. Inspire us with wisdom, all of us, of every colour, race and creed, to use our wealth, our strength to help our brother instead of destroying him.
Help us to do Your will as it is done in heaven and to be worthy of the promise of Your peace on earth.
Fill us with Your faith, new strength and new courage that we may win the battle for peace.
Be swift to save us, dear God before the darkness falls.”
The import of this prayer has not ceased. It was relevant then and even more relevant now. Hilton recently celebrated its 100 years of existence and still strong. So the next time you see Hilton, you see a testimony of a business whose foundation was laid in faith, hard work and a dream. We hope as professionals and business men, we emulate the Hilton legacy.
Have a great Sunday.
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