- Emily Goldfischer
Male Ally of the Month: Dr. Jeffrey O
New this year, “Male Ally of the Month,” a column that focuses on the men going out of their way to support women in the hospitality industry. While we all know they don’t have to help, these guys want to help, and this new column will take the time to find out how and why they are determined to help us reach gender equality.
Jeffrey Obomeghie, who you likely know as Dr. Jeffrey O, is an American educator, motivational speaker, author, and renowned hotelier. He currently serves as the CEO at St. Justine, the ultra-luxury travel brand. In addition, he serves as president of the International Hospitality Institute (IHI) where he oversees IHI's global operations. Like many in the biz, Dr. Jeffrey O fell into hospitality as a way to earn money during a break from school and fell in love with the industry. He worked his way up from front desk clerk to CEO, along the way becoming a sensitive and inspiring leader. Originally from Nigeria, Dr. Jeffrey moved to the US for university, facing challenges as both an immigrant and a Black man, in his rise to the top. Empathetic to his core, and truly in this business to help and guide others, is why we've named Dr. Jeffrey O our Mr. February!
Tell us a little about your background, how did you end up running the International Hospitality Institute?
Thank you for the opportunity to chat with hertelier! Congratulations on the success of the platform. Your work is having a positive impact.
My journey into hospitality has been enriching. I had taken a break from school and was looking for an opportunity to make money and I thought that hospitality would be a good place to do so. I took a job as a front desk agent at a Marriott property in Baltimore, Maryland, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Much like Roy Hobbs, the fictional character in Bernard Malamud’s book, The Natural, I found myself doing something that I was good at, and loved to do. After working at the front desk for a while, I was promoted to a management role. Years later, I became a general manager, and then took corporate roles including Vice President, COO, and CEO. I transitioned from running hotels to the International Hospitality Institute (IHI) because I wanted to work in education and advocacy. School was an unfinished project for me. I returned to university years after starting my hospitality career and earned a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies.
How interesting, tell us more about the International Hospitality Institute (IHI) and your role.
IHI allows me to contribute to the global hospitality industry in ways that I find meaningful. IHI offers professional development courses to hospitality professionals and conducts advocacy, and recognition programs. IHI’s awards celebrate thought leaders, changemakers, and torchbearers, for their contributions to the hospitality industry. Members of the IHI global community come from all over the world. IHI’s LinkedIn group is one of the largest hospitality groups on LinkedIn, and the place where hospitality professionals around the world gather for industry updates, news, and announcements.
For people that haven't gotten involved yet in IHI, what do you think is the main reason to do so?
There are many reasons why hospitality professionals everywhere should get involved with IHI. IHI is the leading global advocacy, training, and standards organization for the hospitality industry. At IHI, our raison d'être is to promote and support the global hospitality industry. IHI has developed industry-leading certification programs and professional development courses which help hospitality professionals, skill, upskill, and reskill themselves. These programs include the Certified Hospitality Expert (CHEx), the Certified Hotel General Manager (CHGM), Certified Food and Beverage Manager (CFBM), Certified Hospitality Educator (CHED), the Certified Executive Chef (CCHE), and several others. Companies all over the world are using IHI’s courses to train their teams.
IHI is the creator of the Hospitality Code of Ethics™, often referred to as the HCode, a code of ethical conduct for the global hospitality industry. The HCode is available on IHI’s website for companies all over the world to use, at no cost. IHI is the organizer of the Global Hospitality Summit and the sponsor of the International Hospitality Hall of Fame®. Inaugural honorees into the International Hospitality Hall of Fame® will be inducted in 2023. Nominations will open in February 2023. We are quite excited about the International Hospitality Hall of Fame® and the opportunity to celebrate the legends of hospitality. The International Hospitality Hall of Fame® will be hosted digitally at IHHFM.org.
IHI is the organizer of the Global Hospitality Awards™, which some have referred to as the Oscars of the hospitality industry. 2023’s Global Hospitality Awards feature 39 categories. IHI is also the organizer of the Hospitality Power Index® which recognizes the 100 Most Influential Leaders in Travel and Hospitality in the world, and the 100 Most Influential Leaders in Travel and Hospitality in North America, Europe, Middle East/Asia, Australia, and Africa. Nominations are currently open for the Global Hospitality Awards™ and the Hospitality Power Index®. All award winners will be featured in the Global Hospitality Magazine, which is the most widely read global hospitality magazine.
IHI also organizes the Julian Star® awards which recognize hospitality professionals for their work in delivering service excellence. This year, IHI is launching two exciting projects that will help ease the staffing shortages in the hospitality industry. We will announce the projects by April of this year. The IHI global community is vast and continues to grow. We encourage hospitality professionals worldwide who are not already IHI members to join us. IHI also offers corporate and allied membership programs. For more information, visit www.InternationalHospitalityInstitute.com.
Finally, before we get into allyship, you recently started a new hotel company, St. Justine luxury hotel brand, which I was impressed you began with a board of directors that is 50 percent female. How is the launch going?
The launch has been great. St. Justine is redefining luxury travel. We are focused on developing, acquiring, and branding luxury properties in top global destinations. Our flagship St. Justine property will open in 2024. We are pursuing some exciting projects in the Middle East and the Caribbean. We are developing SJ Lux™, a travel booking platform offering one-stop access to the full spectrum of luxury travel including luxury hotels, luxury homes, private jets, yachts, private islands, private cruises, and curated travel experiences. The platform will be live by May of this year.
February is Black History Month, and according to the Castell Project's 2022 report, Black executives represented 2.0 percent of hospitality industry executives at the director through CEO level....even less than women. So, you are a bit of a unicorn, being that you are in that elite group! What challenges did you have to overcome to be in your position and how did you do it?
I have faced the same challenges that many ethnic minorities and women face when trying to advance in corporate America. My experience is hardly unique. But I have been fortunate to have had great mentors along the way who have helped make my journey easier. Overcoming those challenges required persistence, positivity, and passion. No matter how many doors closed in my face or how many opportunities slipped by, I never lost sight of my goals. I have been inspired by mentors like Sonny Sra and Dan Hatch, who were both former bosses of mine, and Horst Schulze, my colleague at St. Justine, among many others. To reference Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
No matter how many doors closed in my face or how many opportunities slipped by, I never lost sight of my goals.
Having gone through some of those challenges, is that what now makes you so passionate about helping women and other underrepresented groups?
Yes, I get what it feels like. One of the original quotes that I shared in one of my nonfiction books, The World According to Jeffrey O, states that “When you have made your way out of the dark, leave a light on for those coming behind you.” We are all obligated to help each other, to be kind to each other, to support each other. Life is a gift. We are all born with a debt. Helping others is how we pay off that debt.
How do you think women can best advocate for themselves?
Women can best advocate for themselves by refusing to be silenced, by calling out inequity, and by holding companies accountable when they refuse to give women seats at the table. We need more women in decision-making roles in both the public and private sectors as well as the government. Companies need more women in decision-making roles, not just to check the box, but to help companies think out of the box!
Where have you seen women miss the mark…or have they?
I cannot speak for women in every industry but in the hospitality industry, women are making themselves heard. Leaders like Aradhana Khowala, Frances Kiradjian, Leticia Proctor, Andrea Belfanti, Peggy Berg, Gilda Alvarado-Perez, and you, Emily, are all vibrant voices for the hospitality industry. Our industry is better off because of all of you. I have been enriched by my conversations with these intellectual powerhouses.
How can other men be more supportive of women?
Sadly, the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion may be threatening to some men. According to Clay Shirky, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” But this zero-sum game approach is wrongheaded. As a society, we need to embrace the idea of gender equality. Companies need to embrace gender parity when it comes to role expectations, career mobility, and wages.
According to Clay Shirky, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” But this zero-sum game approach is wrongheaded. As a society, we need to embrace the idea of gender equality.
Men can be more supportive of women by speaking out when they observe injustice being done to women. Men should take bold actions that reflect their convictions and ethical values. It is not enough to know what is right; it is more important to do what is right. It is not enough to do what is right because you might gain something; it is more important to do what is right even when you might lose something. Instead of merely focusing on gender fault lines, we need to take a positive, reformative, approach that unifies rather than divides.
If you had to predict, what comes first gender equality or racial equality?
Gender equality and racial equality are both important. Given that race and gender are both social constructs, discrimination, prejudice, and intolerance, are the toxicities that arise when there is gender inequality and racial inequality. When we are convinced that we are smarter, better, and deserve more than other people because of our gender or race, it becomes difficult to see, hear, or learn from people of a different gender or race.
Thank you, Dr. Jeffrey O. We appreciate your support!