Do not confuse internet, work experience

This story is part of Behind the table series where CNBC does it personally connects with successful businesspeople to learn everything from how they got to their destination, to what gets them up in the morning, to their daily routine

Chris Nassetta didn’t start his hospitality career by ferrying caviar to celebrities. He started falling down hotel toilets at the age of 16.

The job taught Nassetta, the 60-year-old CEO of Hilton Worldwide — a multinational hospitality company with a market cap of $38.86 billion as of Tuesday morning — more than just how hotels work, he says.

It also showed him the value of work experience, which he notes is often lacking in young people through no fault of their own. Watching a TikTok, reading an article, or watching HBO’s “The White Lotus” may show you a day in the life in a luxury hotel — but it may not prepare you to solve problems in a fast-paced environment.

“All [today] are soundbites, snippets, headlines, Twitter,” Nassetta told CNBC Make It. “Young people have so much access and information to knowledge, but don’t confuse that with experience.”

In his case, the job flushing the toilet led to years of work in the industry, which Nassetta said was necessary to prepare him to take on the top position at Hilton in 2007. In contrast, some of his friends spent their 20s and 30s climbing through the career ranks to positions of power — and quickly inflamed, he says.

Now, Nassetta wants to help people in their 20s and 30s gain experience so they can excel in a job like his, rather than take on the challenge unprepared, he says. Here he talks about the challenges of being career-focused, how to turn to the unexpected for help, and the advice he gives to his own six daughters.

Prioritizing work and family: “I could not have made this sacrifice without my wife”

I’m passionate about what I do for a living because I feel like what we do matters. We serve 200 million people a year [at Hilton]and if we do a good job, we create some joy in their lives.

But it would be dishonest to say that what I do for a living doesn’t require sacrifice.

On the professional side, I could literally fill every single night with a philanthropic or networking event. I have traveled extensively privately for decades. My kids are now in their 20s and 30s. When they were zero to 10, I wasn’t there as much as I would have liked.

Christopher J. Nassetta, President and Chief Executive Officer of Hilton, speaks onstage during the grand opening of Resorts World Las Vegas on June 24, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Denise Trucello | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

I could not have made this sacrifice without my wife.

We were kids sweethearts, we started dating when we were 17. When we first started talking about having kids, she said, “I really want to dedicate this part of my life to being a really good mother.” It was a sacrifice she chose to make.

And I worked really hard to come home religiously at the weekend, no matter how much it hurt my body. I’m Dad these weekends. I’m going to have pizza night with my kids on Fridays and be a soccer dad all weekend in my flip flops, my shorts and a t-shirt, just like everyone else.

On the advice he gives his own daughters: “Slow down, take a deep breath, lift your head”

If I had to give my daughters one piece of career advice, it would be: slow down, take a deep breath, lift your head and look at the battlefield.

At 29, I was Chief Development Officer for a real estate company, well past what I should have been at that age. I was approached by a colleague to start a private equity shop. At the time it sounded like a great idea, I really wanted to do it.

But I had just got married. My wife and I were about to have a baby. I had just bought my first house on a mortgage, and although I was making a lot of money, I hadn’t accumulated any.

I’ve had friends who were rising fast in their careers. Many of the decisions they made didn’t work because they fell in love with ideas without thinking them through. So I had to force myself to slow down and ask my colleague for a couple of weeks to process it, even though we kind of had that “rah, rah, let’s do it” moment.

I finally did. It was just right and it worked very well. But I had to force myself to have a moment of discipline to think through the different permutations and possible outcomes.

On Seeking Help in Unexpected Places: “To this day…you just don’t know what you don’t know”

I like to think that I’m hard working, well educated and reasonably smart. But even to this day, and certainly when I was in my 20s and 30s trying to figure things out, you just don’t know what you don’t know.

It’s difficult to have the humility to recognize that you need help, and great mentors – ultimately, my father was the most important mentor I’ve ever had – have been critical to the success I’ve had in my career. And my private life, by the way, because they are inextricably linked.

(LR) Nicky Hilton Rothschild, Paris Hilton, President and CEO of Hilton Christopher J. Nassetta, Kathy Hilton and Richard Hilton attend the grand opening of Resorts World Las Vegas on June 24, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Bryan Steffy | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

I also learned a lot from my colleagues. And at this stage of my career and life, my mentors are also younger people: my kids, their friends, all the incredible young people who work in this company. I mean, gosh, I raised a bunch of them, but who am I to decide what Gen Zers and Millennials want?

Being able to triangulate and evaluate things from different perspectives was very helpful. Diversity is so powerful because the diversity of thinking produces a better result.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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