New AAHOA President and CEO Cecil Staton shares how his life experiences drew him to the association and how he plans to serve its membership.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Among his first responsibilities as the new president and CEO of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, Cecil Staton is getting to know the more than 19,000 members he now represents.
Meeting with board members, Staton said he was inspired to hear their stories and learn about the progress AAHOA has made over the years to become the largest hotel owners association.
“I was so impressed how this association represents 19,000 entrepreneurs, 19,000 small business people, 19,000 individuals—men and women who are living the American dream—and they are creating jobs; they are establishing businesses that have an enormous impact on the American economy,” he said.
Staton said his short-term goals are getting to know more of the members and learning their stories. To better understand how he can help, he said he wants to hear from owners about what impedes their ability to do more with their companies and properties, and the other challenges they face.
Over the long term, he said he wants to better understand the innovation that’s going to be required within the hotel industry in the face of disruption due to technology and changes in the economy.
“I want to make sure AAHOA is prepared to support our members during this time of rapid change, and innovation is going to be required,” he said. “I think we’re up to that. We have a great team here at AAHOA, I’m proud to be part of that team now. We’re going to make sure we’re positioning the association to be successful and to support our members.”
AAHOA announced Staton as the new president and CEO 11 November. Staton was most recently the chancellor emeritus at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, where among other accomplishments he launched initiatives to elevate the university’s profile, increased enrollment in the medical school and created a $500 million capital campaign. Prior to this, he served as the interim president of Valdosta State University and as vice chancellor for extended education at the University System of Georgia.
Outside of academia, Staton served five terms as a senator in Georgia’s state legislature. He and his wife founded two publishing companies and Georgia Eagle Media, a holding company with interests in multiple broadcast and print outlets.
As an outsider to the hotel industry, Staton said he has a lot to learn about the industry, AAHOA’s membership and the companies who do business with its members. However, he said his own life experiences have a great deal to do with why he wanted to work with AAHOA.
He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. Neither of his parents were able to attend college, and his father didn’t graduate high school, he said. His father worked in a shoe shop on Main Street in Greenville, and his mother grew up in a town where her father and brothers worked in the textile mill, he said. She eventually helped start a mortgage banking company in Greenville, South Carolina.
“My parents did not have a lot of opportunity when they were young, but they live the American dream,” he said. “They worked very, very hard to make sure that I had the opportunity to become a first-generation college student. From there, I went all the way to the halls of Oxford University where I earned a doctoral degree, and I can tell you it's a long way from a shoe shop on Main Street to Oxford.”
Staton said he got into state politics after getting frustrated as a business owner with regulations and other government issues that got in the way of creating businesses and jobs.