CEO perspective: Establishing teamwork, fostering associate growth comes from the top

As stewards of the hospitality industry, we craft indelible memories. Yet, we risk losing sight of this if we succumb to excessive mechanization and a full-on, process-oriented mindset.

Our associates are the heart and soul of the travel experience and have the power to craft and deliver a memorable guest encounter over an ordinary one. The question emerges: How can we sustain the delivery of unmatched guest experiences in the face of the industry-wide challenge of hiring and retaining talent? It’s a challenge that persists even post-pandemic.

A profound disconnect arises when associates don’t feel that they and their work are valued by their employers and when managers fail to sense dedication and commitment from their staff. This misalignment in priorities inevitably fosters a sense of expendability among associates, reinforcing an overarching sense of dissatisfaction within the workforce.

At Highgate, we firmly believe that the solution to this dynamic is teamwork. We have thoughtfully established a comprehensive suite of programs that provide unwavering support to our people throughout their journey—from their initial entry and throughout their growth. This holistic strategy has translated into positive retention rates. For instance, within our Legacy portfolio, the average associate tenure extends to an impressive eight years.

The process of team building commences during recruitment, where the search extends beyond the most accomplished candidates. We seek those whose values and strategic outlook are aligned with the company’s mission. Clearly articulating these company values internally becomes paramount, serving as the bedrock for hiring criteria across all levels.

Furthermore, understanding the personalities and passions of prospective team members beyond their credentials is pivotal. Ensuring compatibility between personalities and company culture is indispensable, as well as identifying the ways in which the company can actively facilitate team members’ personal and professional development.

Effective team building hinges on a mutual understanding between management and staff and that each is invested in the other. People need to know they have a future in your organization. They need to believe you can provide them with a path to success and a path to the future. Highgate’s initiation of Highgate Academy, for instance, upon my arrival underscores our dedication to robust professional development and certification programs and establishes learning as a core pillar of the organization. Additionally, an upcoming mentorship program is poised to further reinforce our commitment to nurturing talent at every level.

Arash Azarbarzin, principal and CEO of Highgate.

Making professional education and mentorship available demonstrates to team members that their talents and potential are recognized and valued and that they are part of a company that believes and invests in them. It instills confidence, which results in higher quality performance underpinned by a greater sense of dedication to the job and company. It also allows the company to develop talent and promote more from within. Consider 2022: Highgate made 56 operational promotions, from assistant manager to manager and area director of operations to vice president of operations.


While the tangible demonstration of associate value is achieved through equitable compensation, which serves as a pivotal factor in attracting top-tier talent, we understand that competitive salaries alone don’t suffice for ensuring consistent associate motivation. To address this, Highgate focuses on establishing environments that enable associates to be their authentic selves by fostering creativity and creating a sense of enjoyment.

While comprehensive health coverage remains undeniably important, we firmly believe that the foundation of true team building lies in the creation of meaningful connections and relationships between associates and the company. To this end, our holistic wellness programs not only bolster emotional and mental wellbeing, but also cultivate an environment of mutual trust and respect.

In a strategic move, the diversification of a hospitality company’s portfolio serves not only as a smart business approach but also as a potent means to attract a diverse, high-quality talent pool. Highgate’s array of hotels up and down the chain scales allows for a harmonious gathering of diverse backgrounds and perspectives, enriching the overall vision. This diversity-driven leadership approach, spanning across various hotel types and cultures, ensures a well-rounded team adept at creative problem-solving and collaborative innovation.

Pride in one’s workplace isn’t just cultivated by how the company treats its associates, but also through how it interfaces with the world. In line with this belief, a well-defined ESG program, encompassing ecological sustainability and social equity, effectively aligns team members with the company’s core values, creating a shared sense of purpose and impact.

It is a known fact that persistent labor shortages in the hospitality industry will continue unless we challenge the status quo. Highgate remains resolutely committed to revolutionizing and enhancing the management-staff relationship, thereby fortifying the foundation for sustained and robust industry growth.

As I reflect upon my own journey and the profound influence of mentors who have shaped my trajectory, I am intensely compelled to reciprocate that very commitment to the Highgate team. My mission and the mission of each senior leader on our team is to foster and elevate the next generation of hospitality leaders, thereby leaving an enduring legacy of excellence and innovation in the industry.

Column contributed by Arash Azarbarzin, CEO of Highgate. Arash is part of HOTELS’ editorial advisory board.