- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

William H. Edwards Jr. isn't one for patting himself on the back.

In fact, the general manager of Hilton Washington & Towers is even a bit embarrassed when talking about being named the Greater Washington Board of Trade's 2001 Leader of the Years an honor given to a local individual who has contributed to businesses and to the community over the years.

Mr. Edwards, who's been with the Hilton Hotel Corp. in some capacity since 1971, has run the grandiose hotel on Connecticut Avenue since 1984 and last year was named vice president at the Beverly Hills-based hotel chain.

His responsibilities of overseeing a handful of Hiltons in the Washington area, could include another Hilton hotel as the corporation is planning to open another property by the convention center.

While juggling his work responsibilities, Mr. Edwards, 54, has become a part of industry groups and civic organizations to round out his contributions to the city. He says it's a must for any business person.

"If you're an executive running a business in a major city, you had better put as much effort into improving that city and those in need as you do in improving your own business," says Mr. Edwards in an interview with The Washington Times from his office, which is tucked away in a corner of the lobby level away from the hustle and bustle of hotel guests and conventioneers.

An oversized American flag stands in his office, just feet behind his desk a symbol of his military background a three-year stint in the Army that taught him how to empathize and listen to other people.

A blue index card with a typewritten daily schedule sits on a corner of his desk. He doesn't leave the office without popping it in his pocket so he doesn't forget where he has to be next.

And with a schedule like his that blue index card is a prized possession.

Mr. Edwards has spread himself among nearly a dozen business, charitable and civic groups including the American Hotel & Motel Association, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Federal City Council, the Washington, DC Convention and Visitors Association, the American Association of the Knights of Malta and the Society of Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, just to name a few.

Mr. Edwards was instrumental in helping to unite the Convention and Visitors Association with the DC Committee to Promote Washington, which officially became the Washington, DC Convention & Tourism Corp. on Tuesday, says board member Sheila Stampfli, president of Courtesy Associates Inc., a meeting and special events management firm in the District.

"I think Bill is the type of leader who shuns attention," says John Tydings, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. "He would prefer to see others recognized and see others take the glory."

A hotel childhood

Mr. Edwards, 54, grew up in the hotel industry. In fact, he lived in hotels nearly all his life until he bought his first home in Bethesda about 10 years ago.

He says between himself, his brother Bradley, who is the general manager of the Marriott's Renaissance Washington D.C. Hotel and his late father, who was a Hilton president, they have put more than 136 years into the Hilton corporation.

Hilton Hotels, based in Beverly Hills, Calif., has about 1,900 properties worldwide under the names Hilton, Hampton Inn Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, Conrad International and Red Lion Hotels and Inns.

There are 22 Hilton branded hotels in the Washington area, including the newest Homewood Suites by Hilton, which officially celebrates its grand opening on Thursday, at 1475 Massachusetts Ave. in Northwest.

Mr. Edwards points out that Hilton's different-priced properties makes it easier for the company to blanket the area attracting clientele looking for different price points.

Mr. Edwards says the District does need more hotels, especially with the new convention center scheduled for completion in March 2003.

"That's why its good [that Hilton] has different brands to satisfy the rate demand," he says.

Hilton is planning to break ground this summer on a new 400-room hotel about a block from the new convention center, Mr. Edwards says. The brand of the hotel has not yet been decided.

Mr. Edwards started his hotel career as a trainee at the Conrad Hilton in Chicago for three months before he became an officer in the Army for three years. In 1971, Mr. Edwards started at the Hilton Washington as a dishwasher.

Since then, he's worked in almost every capacity of the hotel business from catering to housekeeping to sales and convention business and has worked at three other Hilton Hotels before settling as general manager of Hilton Washington in 1984.

Along with his day-to-day duties as general manager, Mr. Edwards also oversees a handful of Hilton hotels from Pittsburgh to Washington.

About 80 percent of his time is spent running the 1,119-room mini city on Connecticut Avenue, which has hosted everything from the White House Correspondents Dinner and Inaugural balls to the National Prayer Breakfast and the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner. The hotel also was the site of the infamous assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981.

Despite its location blocks from the heart of the city Hilton Washington still manages to draw an above-average number of guests each year reporting occupancy rates of between 74 percent and 76 percent over the last several years. The industry standard has hovered just above 63 percent for the last decade, according to Smith Travel Research, a Tennessee-based research firm.

Mr. Edwards attributes part of the hotel's success to its meeting space, which totals 110,000 square feet including a 39,000-square-foot ballroom that draws hundreds of self-contained conventions.

Mr. Edwards says the location actually helps them because when a large convention is in town using the convention center, other groups go to his hotel because it is large enough.

Despite a weakening economy, Mr. Edwards says the hotel industry is doing "very well."

"Certain cities are doing better than others," he says. "But Washington is holding its own."

Delegating duties

Mr. Edwards concedes that it is the team of managers and employees that keeps things running smoothly at Hilton Washington.

"As long as you have competent people below you and around you, it'll keep working," Mr. Edwards said. "Probably the biggest challenge is finding competent people who are self-starters and self-motivated."

His hotel has about 700 to 800 employees a diverse group speaking as many as 38 languages among them.

Every month, a committee of as many as 23 persons one employee from each of the hotel's departments meet with Mr. Edwards to discuss any problems or concerns in their divisions.

"The internal human dynamics in a building as diverse as this one you can't mandate or dictate," he says. "We want you to work as a team."

Mr. Edwards says Hilton Washington hasn't changed much over the last 15 years.

"You can redo the wall paper, redecorate the ball room. We put $1.9 million to put new lights and decorations in and if that's what people want to call new then that's great," he says. "But I think what's really new here and why people come back is that the same team members that serve the people are still here."

More than 63 percent of Hilton Washington's employees have been there for more than 20 years. Nearly 40 percent of the hotel's guests have been coming back for as many as 35 years.

He doesn't expect any new changes to the hotel any time soon.

"We plan to maintain our standards which is new today because when the economy cools the first thing every company does is start cutting their service levels and standards," Mr. Edwards says.

Despite his years of experience, he still finds the job challenging because he knows his decisions can affect hundreds of people.

"In the service business every element of your product is a human being," he says. "You really mull over the decisions you're making. You're wrestling with the pluses and minuses of managing people."

Honoring one of its own

The Board of Trade, where Mr. Edwards is a member, honors one person annually with its "Leader of the Years" award.

The honor was established in 1947 to recognize the top "new member" recruiter for the Board of Trade but in the 1950s was changed to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the Greater Washington region. Some past recipients include Catherine Meloy, of Clear Channel Communications, Clifford M. Kendall, former chairman and chief executive of Computer Data Systems Inc., and former D.C. Mayor Walter Washington.

Mr. Edwards, reserved and polished, concedes he was a bit surprised to be the latest recipient. He could think of "10,000 other people who deserve this instead."

He is a strong advocate for getting involved inside and outside the business community. He thinks it's vital that top executives do their part to better the city and region.

By getting involved in the organizations related to his industry such as the Convention and Visitors Bureau or the Hotel Association helps "keep your industry alive and healthy to refocus the city for the benefit of the company you work for."

Mr. Edwards says his non-business related activities are just as important working with the Metropolitan Police Boys & Girls Club and co-founding Fore Others, a charity golf tournaments benefiting Martha's Table and Lombardi Cancer Center.

"In this business it's 24/7. Every night you've got someone checking in and it doesn't end," he says, "So outside activities be it the Boys and Girls Club or Martha's Table you can step back and get immediate satisfaction for what you just did. In the business world, it just goes forever."

Self-portrait

Name: William H. Edwards Jr.

Title: General Manager Hilton Washington & Towers; Vice President Hilton Hotels Corp.

Age: 54

Residence: Bethesda

Education: Bachelor's of Science in Business Administration for John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Resume: Began working at Hilton Washington in 1971 as dishwasher, advancing to assistant convention service manager and then assistant sales manager. In 1973,became director of sales at Omaha Hilton in Nebraska and then executive assistant manager of Hilton Washington in 1974. Moved to Capital Hilton as a resident manager in 1976. From 1978 to 1984, general manager of the San Diego Hilton Beach & Tennis Resort. In March 1984, became general manager of Hilton Washington. Became Mid-Atlantic director for Hilton in May 1995 and was named a vice president of the hotel chain in January 2000.

Family: wife Patty, daughter Kelly, 21; two sons William H. III, 20 and Brian, 15.

Favorite vacation spot: New Jersey Shore

Favorite hotel amenity: Quality soap

The most important feature at a hotel: Cleanliness

Other favorite Hilton Hotels: Waldorf Astoria in New York City

Single item I can't live without when traveling: CNN and financial news networks

One thing I can't live without during a normal work day: A good night's rest

My average work day lasts: 11 to 14 hours

Room with the best view at Hilton Washington: Poolside, overlooking the city

Best place for a power lunch in the District: Sam & Harry's

In my spare time I: Play golf

The last movie I saw: Gladiator

Best advice: Don't take yourself seriously. Be positive.

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