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Hilton’s Anu Saxena: “Being a humble and genuine leader goes a long way”

In a way, women leaders are naturally equipped to lead large teams. We are generally managing multiple stakeholders in life with family, friends, parents, siblings etc. At work, the key is to have strong senior leaders that make people a priority. Being a humble and genuine leader goes a long way. I consider myself part […]


In a way, women leaders are naturally equipped to lead large teams. We are generally managing multiple stakeholders in life with family, friends, parents, siblings etc. At work, the key is to have strong senior leaders that make people a priority. Being a humble and genuine leader goes a long way. I consider myself part of the team more than the leader of the team. Great leadership begins with how you lead yourself, so setting the right example is important.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anu Saxena, Global Head of Hilton Supply Management. Six billion worth of goods and services flow through Anu Saxena. As head of Hilton Supply Management, she oversees the global hospitality company’s relationships with more than 8,000 properties, 2,000 global suppliers across 90 countries. Prior to her current role, Saxena was Vice President of Product Management for Hilton Global Brand Services & Innovation. In that role, she established the Product Advisory Council with top ownership, management, and real estate companies, and led the design, development, and commercialization of products for all Hilton brands globally. A native of India, Saxena came to the U.S. to pursue her undergraduate degree, earning her bachelor’s from The Ohio State University.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Anu! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s been a ‘zig-zag’ journey for me with a few surprise turns along the way. I had a job making copies of training manuals at The Ohio State University’s information technology department, which gave me my first introduction to enterprise wide-projects. I knew I wanted to be in consulting, and I was recruited to Cap Gemini Ernst & Young’s management consulting division right from university. I was on the road four days a week, worked in many industries and ultimately had an opportunity to consult for the United Nations both in NYC and Copenhagen. I worked on a large supply chain visibility project and learned to love the world of supply and demand, as a key operational driver of business strategy and sustainability.

When Hilton moved its headquarters to Mclean, Virginia, I got a call to join Hilton’s supply management function and quickly moved into the global brand organization driving our products and programs across all brands and regions. Today I lead Hilton Supply Management, which is the world’s largest procurement organization tied to a hotel brand. I often go back to my consulting roots even today as we tackle more and more complexity in our supply chain.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company/organization?

In October 2017, a series of natural disasters hit many regions where we have hotels: fires in California, floods in Houston, and devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico. One day at home, while my team and I were working around the clock to get a plan mobilized to ensure our hotels had supplies, I heard my 6-year old daughter, talking to someone upstairs. “Alexa, can you order me a new lacrosse stick?” My daughter had her first game coming up and had been asking me to replace her old, second-hand half-broken stick for the last three days. One click and a brand new STX youth lacrosse stick was on its way from a warehouse to our front door.

When I got to work the next day, it hit me like a lacrosse stick to the back of my head: Why can’t global procurement and supply chain management be easier? That sparked my current mission to make global procurement seamless and simplified for our brands and owners, and I’m proud to say that we at Hilton are leading the way.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This one is a bit more recent, because I’ve found that it pays to never stop learning. During my first few months in my current role, we launched a transformation of the business to make us more customer-centric and competitive. We called this initiative, HSM 2.0 and spent several weeks putting together our plan and strategic priorities. I remember spending long hours and days on the project plan, deliverables and metrics to measure our progress. During this time, I ran into someone from the team at a local coffee shop and we got to talking about the changes at HSM. He asked me in the middle of our conversation, “So what is HSM 2.0?” It occurred to me, here I was spending all my time working on a plan that was not fully understood by the broader global organization. I immediately activated an internal communications plan, including 1 on 1s, town halls and personal outreaches to the team to tell our story. In hindsight, it was the single largest factor of our success. By the end of our journey, everyone was on board and we are coming off a record year for our organization.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Since Hilton was founded in 1919, we have been pioneers in the hospitality industry. We were the first to include in-room air conditioning and minibars. We introduced the brownie and the piña colada. But we also were innovators in the procurement space; we were the first hotel company that began leveraging our spend across hotels to create a better value proposition for our owners. We are currently celebrating Hilton’s 100th year, and it’s proving to be our most dynamic year yet as we continue pioneering the next century of hospitality. We launched three new brands this year (Signia Hilton, Motto by Hilton and LXR) through a focus on growing organically and working closely with our partners to identify white space in the market. At Hilton Supply Management, we have been helping bring these new brands to life and spotting new trends. As we grow, we also have a renewed focus on sustainability and continuing to make a positive impact in the communities where we live, work and travel.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’ve been on an incredibly innovative journey at HSM. As part of this transformational journey we call HSM 2.0, we’ve invested heavily in our talent and our technology with a laser focus on making procurement more efficient for our properties, our owners and our management companies. We’ve been hard at work on digital applications that will be a competitive differentiator for us in markets around the world. We’re soon launching a new, proprietary, mobile-friendly, cloud-based platform that will give our owners an end-to-end view of all aspects of spend and procurement. It also allows for analysis of data in real time, from a group of properties down to an individual product. We want our owners to know the value we bring, and the advantage our extensive industry partnerships offer in terms of growth and scalability.

But what I’m particularly proud of is our unwavering commitment to responsible sourcing and sustainability. Through our Travel with Purpose program and Hilton’s 2030 goals, we’re doubling our sourcing from local and small- to medium-sized enterprises and minority-owned suppliers. In fact, we’ve been recognized as one of the highest achievers in supply diversity in hospitality by organizations such as DiversityInc. This is an important commitment that helps fuel the economies in the communities in which we operate.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Make room and time for yourself. I know it’s cliché but it requires mindful planning and needs to be a priority. I have found that reading and Pilates help my mind and body recharge. I also have a pretty disciplined weekly routine to help me stay organized and healthy.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

In a way, women leaders are naturally equipped to lead large teams. We are generally managing multiple stakeholders in life with family, friends, parents, siblings etc. At work, the key is to have strong senior leaders that make people a priority. Being a humble and genuine leader goes a long way. I consider myself part of the team more than the leader of the team. Great leadership begins with how you lead yourself, so setting the right example is important.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have been extremely fortunate to have a community of mentors and advisors at work and home that have been and continue to be a part of my journey. My biggest champions through life have been my parents. My dad saw my potential and supported my move to the United States at a young age, when it was unusual to send your daughters off to a foreign county. It’s been a long journey since, but he is someone I still fall back on as I navigate through my professional journey.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In a small way, I feel like I have. I serve on the Board of Directors for D.C. Safe, a nonprofit organization that assists survivors of domestic violence in the Washington, D.C. area. At Hilton, I am the leadership advocate for Hilton’s Asian & Pacific Islander Team Member Resource Group, an affinity network that fosters an inclusive corporate culture and promotes professional growth and development. Lastly, for the hospitality industry I am on the board of AHLEF American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation (AHLEF), which funds scholarships, workforce development programs and school-to-career outreach that launch careers and provide the hospitality industry with the talent they need to succeed over the long term.

Last year we hosted our very first Global Supplier summit that brought suppliers together from all over the world who help bring the most innovative products to our hotels. And I am extremely proud to share that during the charity gala that was part of that event we raised 500,000 USD for Make a Wish Foundation!

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why.

  1. People matter more than numbers
  2. Being a leader starts with learning to lead yourself
  3. Failures should be celebrated more than successes
  4. Learning never ends, especially when you become a leader
  5. Be great at what you do and the rest will follow

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Having grown up in India, I have seen firsthand the basic need for literacy and the impact it has on poverty and children. I wish we would all use our influence to ensure that every child has a right to literacy and a healthy life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

‘Make Good Choices’ — It’s something my dad used to tell me every day growing up and I still live by it.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

@Priyanka Chopra, it’s great to see another Indian native who is a great ambassador for women and who has found success beyond her country of origin.

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