The year was 1919 and a newly minted U.S. Army veteran was returning from the fields of France, having been deployed for two years of service with the Quartermaster Corps in the final years of World War I.  Upon return, he set his sights on purchasing a bank near Wichita, Texas, but at the last moment the price was raised and he backed away from the deal. Instead, Conrad Hilton bought a small 40-room hotel in Cisco, Texas, called the “Mobley Hotel.”  He founded his newly birthed enterprise on two principles that were highly influenced by his military service: “digging for gold” – which meant prudent use of resources and a dedication to continual improvement; and “esprit de corps” which sought to build a world-class team motivated around delivering superior customer service.

Two years ago, the Military Friendly® team began to look beyond the important investments many companies make in recruiting, employing and retaining military service members upon their return to civilian life. With thousands if not tens of thousands of companies joining the ranks over the past decade to provide meaningful investment to add military veterans to their teams, we wanted to discover what additional effects these efforts might have on the company as a whole.  Our question was simple: Since companies have found veteran employment programs to be a good investment, would this spur additional investment in the development of holistic military and veteran initiatives beyond employment to include supplier selection, customer service, charitable investment, mission, vision and ultimately company culture?

The result of our inquiry, research and development was launched in its inaugural form a year ago as the Military Friendly® Company survey, an admittedly audacious and comprehensive survey nearly 37 pages and 258 detailed questions in length.  Survey participants invested on average nearly 15 hours to complete the survey, which covers not only the traditional questions included in the Military Friendly® Employer and Military Spouse Friendly Employer surveys, but incorporated questions from our Military Friendly® Supplier Diversity programs survey while introducing an entirely new section titled Military Friendly® Brands. Our goal is to investigate and surface the organizations whose commitment to serving the military and veteran community is comprehensive in scope and meaningful in terms of actual outcomes and impact.

It is with tremendous pride that we announce our number one overall Military Friendly® Company for 2017: Hilton Worldwide, a company founded by a veteran, and whose commitment to military service stretches from end to end across the organization.

Hilton’s commitment to serving the military community is comprehensive in scope and impressive in result. I recently had the privilege of visiting their headquarters in McLean, Va., to interview Melissa Sterling, director, Military Programs, and Lauren Bacon, senior manager, Military Programs, and hope to share what I found to be not only an inspiring story, but a template of organizational commitment to the military and veteran community.




Hilton Worldwide President and CEO Christopher J. Nassetta is quoted in a recently published interview as identifying Hilton’s core values utilizing the letters in the Hilton name: HILTON — H for hospitality, I for integrity, L for leadership, T for teamwork, O for ownership and N for now.  Fellow veterans and current service members and military spouses will undoubtedly see the correlation between these values and the military service culture. What is of even greater interest is the way in which these values play out practically.

Not having visited the Hilton headquarters before, I had in my mind a palatial building with ornate fixtures on a sprawling lawn; it is, afterall, a hotel and hospitality company. What I found instead was a perfect reflection of the utility, purpose and customer focus of their founder. As Bacon graciously offered a tour of the floors and spaces, I was impressed with the service-focused function and design. One floor featured a state-of-the-art commuter space like you might expect from a tech startup, another floor was a series of design experiments and refinements for perhaps the next hotel, replete with in-progress technological innovations like a wraparound global mapping display. Executive spaces were an accessible reflection of function and purpose rather than ego. Indeed, from nearly the start of the interview Sterling and Bacon highlighted the importance of teamwork and collaboration.  I was witnessing the very same “digging for gold” and “esprit-de-corps” culture that was instilled in the company by Conrad Hilton nearly 100 years prior.

The Military Friendly® Companies survey is about identifying organizations that are not only committed to the military and veteran communities (beginning with their own employees), but also about finding corporate cultures that align well with the military experience. Bacon expanded on this concept. “I think my favorite thing that I hear veterans tell us when they come in is how working here addresses one of the biggest things they miss: the camaraderie that they had in the military… at Hilton they felt like they got a piece of that back.”




With the advent of military transition services dating back to the return of soldiers from service in World War II, it was surprising to learn that Hilton’s veteran employment initiative was only formally launched in 2013. In conversation and in reviewing the data, it was clear that Hilton had a long history of supporting the military community and hiring veterans and military spouses. The difference was that they didn’t see a point to launching a program without a specific goal, in this case a goal to hire 10,000 veterans by 2018, a goal they exceeded in 2016 and which has since been reset to 20,000 by 2020.

It’s important, I believe, to understand the power of Hilton’s approach and in doing so to understand the purpose of the Military Friendly Companies program. They didn’t start serving veterans and the military community in 2013; they have a long history of commitment to the military community. Rather, they only announced a military hiring initiative when they felt they had a goal that was meaningful and one they were ready to achieve. In the decade following combat operations sparked by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, tens of thousands of organizations have launched veteran and military service programs, some with lofty goals, some with none at all. The lesson to take from Hilton is that a corporate military community program should be approached with the same care and detail as every other business investment, not as a PR ploy, but a real investment in processes that makes sense for the company culture and that fit the company’s mission and needs as a business.

Melissa Stirling led the small founding team, which began as a “clearinghouse” for military and veteran initiatives, and was able to provide insight into their thought process:

“When we first started we tried to explain to a service member what a career in hospitality might look like and what we realized is that a hotel is like a Navy ship or an Army base … it’s a city under one roof.” Her approach didn’t stop there, as she noted, “We do change management on the flip side, too, like our HR team might have a question about what the skill set of a soldier might be …we explain to them that it’s the largest organization in the world and there’s all kinds of departments and skills that someone might do … We needed a paradigm shift on both sides.”

Interestingly, like Conrad Hilton who initially set out to buy a bank only to decide on the wiser choice of purchasing a hotel, their instincts and insights indicated that if they were going to make a business decision to invest in a formal military program, the program shouldn’t be limited to employment, but should be, as Lauren explained, “holistic and company-wide.”

The result is indeed a comprehensive program with an efficient self-described central command or “clearinghouse” that coordinates efforts from repurposing hotel furniture for veterans and military families to organizing a global month of service, building partnerships with state and federal programs, development of work-from-home opportunities for military spouses with career growth potential to veteran-owned business supplier sourcing initiatives.  

What Hilton has created is not a separate cost center for military programs that would be vulnerable to budget decisions, but a lean, functional, leadership team with executive support that leverages the power of the people across their entire global footprint. Their goals are clear, their mission aligns with the direction of the company and as such, they have achieved in a very short period of time what the majority of companies of even similar size may never achieve.




The Military Friendly® Companies program is predicated on the values and ideas upon which the Military Friendly® program was founded more than a decade ago: that veterans are better off for having served, and that they and the entire military community are worthy of meaningful business investment.

In prior years, this survey was delivered in separate installments, reviewing corporate practices related to veteran and spouse employment as well as programs developed to support veteran-owned businesses as part of their supplier network.  The Military Friendly® Companies survey provides a single interface for organizations to provide inputs that are evaluated both in separate designations, such as the Military Friendly® Employers designation, along with a complete rollup score for top-performing Military Friendly® Companies that interact and support the military community across employment, retention, community service, historical investment and even consumer initiatives and supports.

Developing comprehensive military and veteran programs, as opposed to seasonal initiatives, requires a level of coordination that is only possible through executive sponsorship. Additionally, the Military Friendly
® Companies survey is designed to identify organizations that not only consistently go beyond compliance requirements, but do so year over year. Since the Military Friendly® program benchmarks surveys based on the leading institutions, organizations are incented to continue to extend their efforts year over year. The result is an exclusive group of companies that are thinking not merely about their own companies, but their entire industry, and how they can leverage their stature and influence to improve support for the military community across their vast supplier and customer networks.

My discussion with Hilton illustrated the larger vision we hypothesized would exist among our leading organizations, that they are building integrated efforts that are built to last for decades, and that extend across their entire sphere of influence. Hilton’s customer-focused culture and historical footing provided fertile ground for this type of long-term systems thinking, and is reflected across our 2017 list of Military Friendly® Companies.

“People don’t realize the wide variety of opportunities we have in the hospitality industry and the growth potential. We are a 24-7 business with non-traditional schedules. Very similar to the military’s on-the-job training culture and we don’t require degrees for our operations positions, so we don’t have the same kinds of barriers that other industries have,” Bacon said.

The results speak for themselves: veteran and military spouse employees who  stay with Hilton, and sometimes the same hotel, for 10, 15, 20, even 50 years. In 2017 we introduced veteran employee surveys, which suggest that even more than employment, a company’s total military and veteran community commitment drive veteran employee satisfaction. As Sterling explained, “We become a second family. You have the ability to transfer around if you want, but a lot of people stay with the same hotel . . . You could have a whole career going from property to property within a city or around the world … You can write your own story. No path is the same.  We know that not every veteran is going to stay for ever and that’s OK, too.”  With programs that span from military discount programs to the delivery of surplus furniture to veterans and military families, and a military spouse work-from-home program in 29 states, the Hilton scope of opportunity is extensive – delivering growth opportunities, flexibility and career opportunity, along with sustained and meaningful investment.

If you are currently serving on active duty, in the National Guard or Reserve, if you are a military veteran, or a military spouse, you and your families are better off for having served. If you are seeking your next mission in a career you will love with people who will help you succeed, or making simple purchasing or investment decisions, you would do well to start your search with this year’s Military Friendly® Companies, all of whom, like Hilton, are constantly improving their programs and resources to ensure your success, not only with their companies, but throughout your transition to civilian life.


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Conrad Hilton started the Hilton Hotel chain with a single hotel bought in Cisco. Hilton came to Cisco to buy a bank, but the bank cost too much; so he purchased the Mobley Hotel in 1919. The hotel is now a local museum and community center.[4]

“Military veterans and their families have made incredible sacrifices for our country, and we are strongly committed to ensuring they have great jobs when they return home from service… We’ve always felt strongly about this issue since our founder Conrad Hilton himself was a military veteran, and we are very proud of our veteran Team Members who have contributed so much to our company.” – Christopher J. Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton

Conrad Hilton served in the US Army during WWI and deployed with US Forces to France.

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” – Conrad Hilton

When in 1917, the United States of America joined the First World War, Conrad sold off his bank to join the war.

For two years Conrad served in the Quartermaster Corps in France and on being discharged in 1919, he went back to San Antonio. His father had died by that time and he had to take charge of his father’s businesses, which was not really doing well. Moreover, having seen the world, Conrad was not interested in living in a small town like San Antonio. Therefore, he started looking for some alternative. An old friend advised him to go to Texas, where the oil boom had already started.

In 1919, Conrad Hilton set out for Wichita, where he tried to buy a bank and backed out when the seller raised the price at the last moment. Instead, he bought ‘Mobley Hotel’ in Cisco, Texas. It had 40 rooms and in spite of that he had to build additional rooms to cope with the demand.

From the beginning he believed in two principles. The first was ‘digging for gold’, which meant prudent use of space. For example, he noticed that the guests preferred to dine out and the hotel made very little money on food. Therefore, he converted the restaurant into additional guest rooms, which were in short supply.

His second principle was ‘esprit de corps’. It involved motivating the staff to provide excellent service and this he did by giving them credit when the guests were pleased with their stay at the hotel.