PHOENIX—Minaz Abji was only 16 when his father asked him he what he wanted to do with his life. When he admitted that, like most teenagers, he had no idea, his father was not pleased. Upset with himself for disappointing his father, Abji knew he needed to find his passion. It was while waiting for a friend in a hotel lobby in his native Uganda a short time later that he did just that.
“One morning, I was meeting my friend at a hotel and I noticed a well-dressed gentleman who looked very impressive,” he said. Upon learning that this man was the manager of the hotel, Abji said he had a revelation. “I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I went home and said, ‘Dad, I want to be a hotel manager.’” His father was pleased and told him he would send him to hotel school.
After attending school in both Great Britain and Toronto, Abji began his career at Westin Hotels, where he remained for 23 years. From there, he went to Canadian Hotel Income Properties REIT. “I was COO and after four years, became president,” said Abji. “After five years, I had to the option to join Host and I have been here for 13 years.”
EVP, Asset Management at Host Hotels & Resorts, Inc., Abji has now been in the hospitality industry for more than four decades. His passion for it has never wavered, and since joining Host and coming to the U.S., he has been tirelessly giving back to the next generation of hoteliers through his work with the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Foundation (AH&LEF). It is for this that he is being honored here at the 22nd annual The Lodging Conference with the 2016 Above and Beyond Humanitarian Award, which will be presented to Abji on Sept. 28.
“We congratulate Minaz on this well-deserved recognition,” said W. Edward Walter, president and CEO at Host. “His leadership extends beyond Host through his dedication to serving the industry and community he has been a part of for over 40 years.”
The prestigious award is presented annually to a hospitality professional who is highly regarded for having given back to the industry or his/her community. “I couldn’t imagine a person more appropriate to receive the Above and Beyond Humanitarian Award than Minaz. Simply put, his dedication to fostering the next generation of talent for this great industry is unparalleled,” said Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA). “Whether it’s through his years of service as Chair of AH&LEF or his own generous financial commitment to our scholarship program, what stands out is his passion in ensuring the young people in this industry get the training and resources they need to get ahead and form a lasting career in hospitality.”
“This industry has been very good to me and giving back is important to me,” Abji said, noting that helping young students in the industry is a cause very close to his heart. “I will never forget when I was going to hotel school in Canada. I didn’t have any money. I took out loans; I worked weekends. But I received a $500 scholarship from a company and I never forgot that. I realized how important scholarships were for students who needed funds.”
Abji has been a member of the Board of Trustees to the AH&LEF since 2006 and has been elected Chairman each year since 2007. He has helped guide the foundation in its fundraising, research and scholarship efforts and recently gave a generous gift of $100,000 to the AH&LEF’s Opening Doors to Opportunity campaign. “I have a passion to pay it forward. I think it’s so important that we attract students to this industry,” he said. “This organization gives scholarships and supports research and education. I have a passion for this, to make sure the next generation of hoteliers get an education and has the ability to thrive.” Throughout his career, Abji has also volunteered and served on dozens of AH&LA committees.
“He’s never forgotten how much he benefited from receiving scholarships, and that is what guides him each and every day,” added Lugar. “His commitment, engagement and energy for this industry is second to none, and I am thrilled and excited to see him receive this important honor.”
Widely admired for his professionalism and altruistic efforts, Abji’s colleagues have nothing but praise for him. “Minaz not only is an exceptional hotelier but a very thoughtful, caring and warm person,” said Eric Danziger, CEO, Trump Hotels. “Those characteristics—smart, knowledgeable, thoughtful, caring and warm—all go together to make an exceptional leader. He is just that.” Added Pete Sears, America’s president, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, ““I can’t imagine a better business partner than Minaz. He is inspirational, infectiously positive and always looking down the road—and around the corner. All of us at Hyatt cherish the collaborate environment Minaz creates between our two teams.”
“What makes exceptional leaders successful is not just their leadership skills, expertise, visions and thoughtfulness but how humble, approachable, considerate and open they are,” said Rajiv Trivedi, EVP & chief development officer, LaQuinta Inns & Suites. “Minaz is all that and more. His contribution to our industry and community has truly been remarkable. This reward is well-deserved.”