Cornell University’s Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration has an alumni network that is second to none. Our alumni are accomplished and generous with their time, providing invaluable industry expertise to current students.

At this year’s 97th Annual Hotel Ezra Cornell (HEC), many dedicated alumni returned to provide valuable advice and discuss the current state of the hospitality industry. Dean Kate Walsh moderated a panel featuring extraordinarily accomplished Nolan Hotel School alumni: Keith Barr ’92, CEO of IHG; Tony Capuano ’87, CEO of Marriott International; and Kevin Jacobs ’94, CFO and president of global development for Hilton Worldwide. These top industry leaders discussed current industry trends, identified innovations for the future, and shared how the school has influenced their careers.

As we look to the future, more and more attention is being paid to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) initiatives. These initiatives are important for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most crucial is that they are simply the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint.

These three game-changing alumni discuss how they are leading the way for the hotel industry and the planet.

Four people sit in armchairs on a stage in front of a projector screen.

At HEC 97’s Hospitality Executive Panel “Titans of the Industry,” Dean Kate Walsh moderates a panel featuring alumni Keith Barr ’92, CEO of IHG; Tony Capuano ’87, CEO of Marriott International; and Kevin Jacobs ’94, CFO and president of global development for Hilton Worldwide. 

At HEC 97’s Hospitality Executive Panel “Titans of the Industry,” Dean Kate Walsh moderates a panel featuring alumni Keith Barr ’92, CEO of IHG; Tony Capuano ’87, CEO of Marriott International; and Kevin Jacobs ’94, CFO and president of global development for Hilton Worldwide. 

Over the past two decades, increasing numbers of corporations have come to recognize the wisdom of shared prosperity, launching environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) initiatives to better their communities and make their operations more sustainable. Those efforts took a huge leap forward in 2019, when the Business Roundtable released an updated Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation that moved away from shareholder primacy to embrace corporate responsibility and a commitment to all stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.

“Now every one of those groups is keenly focused not just on our words, but on our actions and our measurable progress in every area of ESG,” said Anthony Capuano ’87, CEO of Marriott International. The research bears that out: In a global study commissioned by IHG Hotels and Resorts, over 80 percent of respondents affirmed the importance of choosing a hotel brand that operates responsibly, and 60 percent said they wanted to be more environmentally and socially conscious in their travels. A Hilton survey found that one-third of guests—and 44 percent of those under age 25—research a hotel’s environmental and social practices before booking.

“While ESG is a hot topic today, it is deeply embedded in our DNA,” Capuano said. “Taking care of communities where we do business has been a long-standing component of our company’s core values.” Marriott International’s strategy to advance sustainability and drive social impact, launched in 2017, is Serve 360: Doing Good in Every Direction. It aims to “nurture our world, sustain responsible operations, empower through opportunity, and welcome all and advance human rights.”

Also at the forefront of ESG efforts for their respective companies are Keith Barr ’92, CEO of IHG Hotels and Resorts, and Kevin Jacobs ’94, CFO and president, global development, at Hilton.

Barr views ESG as a journey. “It’s having a commitment, understanding the milestones, and saying we constantly need to move forward in these spaces. You have to set stretch goals even if you don’t necessarily know how to get there because if your goals are based on what you know you can do, you’ll probably never get where you need to be,” he said during a Hotel Ezra Cornell keynote panel discussion with Jacobs and Capuano in April 2022. In 2021, IHG launched Journey to Tomorrow, a series of commitments to help shape the future of responsible travel by “caring for our people, communities, and planet.”

For Jacobs, “giving back—doing the right thing by the environment and from a social perspective—goes hand in hand with service and hospitality.” Hilton’s strategy to drive responsible travel and tourism globally is Travel with Purpose, which “harkens back to Conrad Hilton’s belief that by bringing people together through travel, you could promote peace and understanding.” Launched in 2018, Travel with Purpose aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent in its managed hotels and 56 percent in franchised hotels and double its social impact investment by 2030.

“Giving back—doing the right thing by the environment and from a social perspective—goes hand in hand with service and hospitality.”
—Kevin Jacobs ’94

“ESG is important to our customers, our team members, and the investors who own our companies,” Jacobs said. “The winners and losers in business—and particularly public companies—will be determined by how they address these issues.”

Environmental Actions and Goals

In addressing these complex issues, major hotel companies have found great benefits in collaboration. While each has its own ESG framework, they have worked with competitors and partners on joint initiatives. The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, for example, launched the Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality for the Planet, and the World Travel and Tourism Council has established ways to calculate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and waste. Marriott International has shared its human trafficking awareness training and guide for responsible sourcing with the industry.

IHG, Hilton, and Marriott International have all joined the Science-Based Targets initiative, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, and some have set more ambitious targets since signing on. All have plans that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. All are working toward a net-zero future. Marriott International has committed to net-zero carbon impact by 2050. Hilton, the first major hotel company to set science-based carbon targets aligned with the Paris Agreement, rolled out LightStay, its proprietary system for tracking hotels’ environmental performance, in 2009; since then, it has halved carbon emissions intensity for its managed hotels and reduced carbon emissions intensity by 43 percent for all hotels. IHG’s Green Engage system allows owners to track water, waste, and energy and gives them tools to reduce energy consumption. Marriott International tracks and manages its hotel portfolio’s data on carbon, water, waste, and environmental practices in an internal environmental reporting platform called MESH—Marriott Environmental Sustainability Hub.

In 2019, IHG was the first hotel company to commit to eliminating single-use toiletries across all brands. In 2021, it committed to eliminating single-use items or moving to reusable or recyclable alternatives across the guest stay by 2030. Marriott International was on track to eliminate single-use bath amenities by the end of 2022. Hilton is transitioning to bulk amenities in its hotels and reducing plastic waste from key cards by encouraging the use of digital keys.

Food waste is another area of intense focus. IHG is using artificial intelligence to reduce waste from buffets in its hotels in the Middle East, Africa, and India. Hilton has established a global program to reduce food waste 50 percent by 2030. Marriott International, which has committed to halving its food waste by 2025, has launched an internal educational campaign and piloted digital tracking of food waste in 38 of its hotels. And local efforts abound. “In the Washington, D.C., area, a group of our chefs collaborate with grocery chains,” Capuano said. “Every day, they pick up food that otherwise would be thrown away, prepare meals at one of our hotel kitchens, and deliver the meals to food shelters.”

A central part of Marriott International’s sustainability strategy is protecting and rejuvenating forests, oceans, and other ecosystems. It is a founding member of the Evergreen Alliance and partners with the Arbor Day Foundation in reforestation efforts; it also partners with the Ocean Foundation on ecosystem restoration. IHG completed six projects in China and Australia in partnership with the Alliance for Water Stewardship. Hilton has committed to reducing water use intensity by 50 percent by 2030 and implementing 20 water stewardship pilots in areas of top water risk. It also has mapped all of its hotels against climate risks.

Among other recognitions, Marriott International received a 2022 U.S. Green Building Council Leadership Award for its built-environment work; Hilton has been named a global sustainability leader on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for five consecutive years and is the only hotel company to earn Gold Class distinction in the S&P Global Sustainability Yearbook; IHG is included in the yearbook as well.

Social Commitments

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are imperatives for all three companies. Jacobs noted, “If you want to be a great place to work, you have to be a place where everybody feels welcome and included. You can’t have an award-winning culture without being really good at DEI.”

When Barr took over as CEO of IHG, he created DEI boards at the group and regional levels. IHG’s mentoring initiative, Rise, provides support for women aspiring to become general managers; 34 percent of the company’s leaders are women. During one of the company’s Courageous Conversations in 2020, Black colleagues told Barr that although they saw his commitment to DEI, the Black community felt left behind. Since then, IHG has made public agreements to double representation from underrepresented groups across its leadership; launched a program called Ascend to develop Black leadership talent and build strong relationships with organizations dedicated to supporting Black employees; and partnered with historically Black colleges and universities to offer internships and recruit for permanent employment.

Four of Capuano’s seven direct reports are women. Globally, 45 percent of Marriott International’s senior leadership is female. “We had a goal of gender parity by 2025 and have accelerated that to 2023,” Capuano said. “Similarly, I thought our 20 percent goal for people of color in the United States wasn’t aggressive enough, so we’ve increased that to 25 percent by 2025.” Following the death of president and CEO Arne Sorenson in 2021, the company and the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation established the Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership at Howard University and created the Arne M. Sorenson Hospitality Fund to help build diverse leadership in the industry. To support its goal of having 3,000 minority- and woman-owned hotels by 2025, Marriott International recently launched Marriott’s Bridging the Gap, a $50 million development program that addresses barriers to entry faced by historically underrepresented groups.

Kevin Jacobs ’94 sit in a chair in a button up shirt and suit jacket.

Kevin Jacobs ’94, CFO and president of global development for Hilton Worldwide, at HEC 97.

Kevin Jacobs ’94, CFO and president of global development for Hilton Worldwide, at HEC 97.

Tony Capuano ’87 sitting in a chair in a suit and tie.

Tony Capuano ’87, CEO of Marriott International, discusses the state of the industry at HEC 97. 

Tony Capuano ’87, CEO of Marriott International, discusses the state of the industry at HEC 97. 

Advancing DEI, Jacobs said, “comes down to slates and support. You need diverse candidates on your slates to get them in, and then you have to support and develop them so that they grow and become leaders of the company.” Thirty-nine percent of Hilton’s corporate leadership roles globally are filled by women, and nationally, 19 percent of such roles are filled by ethnically diverse individuals. In partnership with the International Youth Foundation, Hilton provides free soft-skills training to young people interested in careers in travel and tourism. In 2021, it sourced from over 2,500 businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans, disabled persons, and LGBTQ individuals.

Marriott International earned the top spot for diversity and inclusion across industries on the 2020 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list and was inducted into the DiversityInc Hall of Fame in 2021; Hilton was ranked first on the 2021 list and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2022.

All three companies are committed to improving people’s lives in the communities they serve.

IHG’s efforts focus on driving economic and social change through skills-based training and education, providing support in the aftermath of natural disasters, and addressing food poverty. In 2021, IHG responded to 17 natural disasters, and more than 40,000 colleagues volunteered to help over 350,000 people during its Giving for Good month in September. Since 2022, IHG has worked with hotel owners in countries neighboring Ukraine to offer refugees temporary accommodation and has made significant donations to CARE International and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to support refugee groups around the world.

When Hilton opens a hotel in an emerging part of the world, “we work with the community to give people there not just a job, but an opportunity to have a career and change the trajectory of their lives,” Jacobs said. Hilton gives back to its team members, owners, and communities through the Hilton Global Foundation. Since its establishment in 2019, the foundation has awarded over $5 million in grants to more than 50 nongovernmental and community based organizations. The foundation partners with Clean the World to provide mobile shower units, soap, and hygiene kits to individuals experiencing homelessness and economic hardship, and it has signature partnerships with the International Youth Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund. To support Ukrainian refugees and humanitarian relief efforts across Europe, Hilton is donating up to one million room nights in partnership with American Express and its community of owners. The company also recently pledged to hire an additional 1,500 refugees at its U.S. properties over the next three years. The foundation has contributed $50,000 to World Central Kitchen and Project Hope.

Capuano refers to the 100 or so Marriott Business Councils, which help drive the Serve 360 agenda, as “the corporate version of firefighters. In the midst of the pandemic, they didn’t pause their efforts; they ramped them up,” he said. Hotels supported their communities by donating food to shelters; personal protective equipment and other items to hospitals, frontline workers, and communities; and event space to nonprofits. In 2020, Marriott International was one of the top corporate sponsors of blood drives for the American Red Cross. On the corporate level, along with American Express and JPMorgan Chase, Marriott International committed to providing $10 million in free hotel stays to frontline healthcare workers.

In response to the war in Ukraine, Marriott International has helped associates in Ukraine and Russia and across the region secure employment with the company elsewhere and has deployed $1 million in internal disaster relief funds for resettlement of associates and their families. Over 85 hotels in neighboring countries now provide Ukrainian refugees with lodging, and Marriott has hired over 250 Ukrainian refugees. Marriott Bonvoy members can donate points to support World Central Kitchen and UNICEF; Marriott was on target to match up to 100 million points donated in 2022.

All three companies have been active in the fight against human trafficking. At Hilton, 54 percent of team members have completed anti-human trafficking training. Marriott International developed an online platform in 2016 that had trained 990,000 associates by October 2022 to recognize trafficking. In 2020, the company donated the training to the anti-trafficking policy organization ECPAT-USA with support from the American Hotel and Lodging Association Foundation. By October 2022, more than 780,000 hotel workers outside of Marriott International had completed it. In 2022, Fast Company named the company’s Enhanced Human Trafficking Awareness Training a World- Changing Ideas honoree. The Code, a multi-stakeholder initiative, has recognized both Marriott International and IHG as Top Members for their work to combat human trafficking.

Corporate Governance

“Governance is the table stakes. If you’re a public company, you have to have great governance,” Jacobs said.

“In this day and age,” said Barr, “the governance piece is foundational. Strong board governance is an incredibly important part of what we do week in, week out, quarter in, quarter out.”

“In this day and age, the governance piece is foundational. Strong board governance is an incredibly important part of what we do week in, week out, quarter in, quarter out.”
—Keith Barr ’92

Forty-six percent of IHG’s board members are women, as is its new chair—one of the few chairwomen of Financial Times Stock Exchange-listed companies in the United Kingdom. At the start of the search process, Barr said, they rewrote the job description when he realized that by requiring previous chair experience, they were excluding women and diverse candidates. IHG’s board has a Group Responsible Business Committee, which tracks progress toward key ESG goals. The company also has an internal Responsible Business Governance Committee. “IHG was the only big hotel group to produce a profit in 2020, and in 2021, we were the most successful in terms of cash generation,” Barr said. “That’s because we have really strong financial governance, fiscal policies, and controls in place.”

At Marriott International, 67 percent of board members are women and/or people of color, and seven of its nine independent directors bring diversity to the group. By the end of 2021, about 26,000 managers had completed global anti-corruption training, and about 8,500 associates had completed global trade sanctions training. Thousands of other leaders attended trainings on related topics. The board’s Inclusion and Social Impact committee has operated for 20 years.

In its approach to policies and reporting, Hilton “aims to be best in class,” Jacobs said. Twenty-five percent of Hilton’s board members are ethnically diverse; 50 percent are women. The company has led advocacy efforts on behalf of its team members and owners to support COVID-19-related relief and recovery and has advocated for legislation to address human trafficking, immigration reform, climate action, plastic elimination, skills training and apprenticeship programs, and DEI. It was named a trendsetter in political disclosure and accountability on the Center for Political Accountability-Zicklin Index.

“This generation is so passionate about so many of the components of ESG, I would love to see the Nolan Hotel School nurture and develop that interest by offering more courses, more guest speakers, and potentially even a concentration to start building subject matter expertise.”
-Tony Capuano ’87
Keith Barr ’92 in a dress shirt and a jacket.

Keith Barr ’92, CEO of IHG, at HEC 97.

Keith Barr ’92, CEO of IHG, at HEC 97.

Keith Barr ’92, Tony Capuano ’87, and Kevin Jacobs ’94 in business attire smile and chat.

Keith Barr ’92, CEO of IHG; Tony Capuano ’87, CEO of Marriott International; and Kevin Jacobs ’94, CFO and president of global development for Hilton Worldwide, at HEC '97.

Keith Barr ’92, CEO of IHG; Tony Capuano ’87, CEO of Marriott International; and Kevin Jacobs ’94, CFO and president of global development for Hilton Worldwide, at HEC '97.

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