By James Wilkinson
Tributes have continued to flow in for Ashley Spencer, one of the most inspirational and well-liked hoteliers Australasia has ever seen, who sadly lost his courageous battle with cancer last Friday (April 10).
Most recently Hilton Worldwide’s Vice President for Operations for Australasia until his retirement in January this year, Spencer was one of the region’s most popular hoteliers and his passing has left the industry in a state of shock.
From far and wide and far reaching corners of the earth, people have paid tribute to a legendary man who was a colleague, a mentor and a friend to hundreds across the world and he not only took Hilton to new heights in each of his roles during his 27-year career with the company, he inspired so many to go on and become leaders themselves.
Spencer started his career with Hilton Worldwide in 1987 and over the subsequent years, he had success in every corner of the globe, said Hilton Worldwide’s President of Asia Pacific, Martin Rinck.
“Having held senior leadership positions in the UK, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia and Australia, Ashley had been an integral part of the Senior Leadership Team in Asia Pacific and has made significant contributions to the company and industry,” he said.
“In 2005, Ashley was the Vice President for Asia, based in Singapore. During which, he spearheaded Hilton’s growth across new territories with the development of new hotels and brands.
“In 2007, Ashley re-located to Sydney, Australia as the Vice President for Operations, Australasia.
“Under his leadership Hilton Hotels and Resorts was named the number one hotel brand in Australia for the past ten years, and the portfolio doubled in size [including, under Spencer’s guidance, the successful launch of DoubleTree by Hilton in Australia and New Zealand].
“Ashley set the bar high both personally and professionally and in doing so compelled those around him to succeed.
“Most importantly he was a trusted advisor and a true gentleman whose determination and strength and passion for our industry were indisputable.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Spencer family during this difficult time,” he said.
Paul Hutton, who took over from Spencer as the VP of Operations in Australasia and who worked alongside him in various roles including as General Manager of Hilton Sydney, said the entire Hilton family was saddened by the news.
“Ashley was an outstanding leader and an amazing human being, and all of us at Hilton are in a state of shock at the news,” he said.
Speaking to HM over the weekend, Martin Rinck paid further tribute to a legend who wasn’t just a colleague, but also a great friend.
“The industry has lost an icon and Hilton Worldwide has lost a great leader, mentor and coach,” he said.
“Ashley was the penultimate professional and a wonderful and inspirational human being.
“Ashley was a true hotelier and insisted that quality and the customer must always come first. He challenged us to uphold standards and empowered his teams to make sure every customer becomes a loyal Hilton advocate.
“Life without Ashley won’t be the same… Rest in Peace, Ashley,” he said.
Over the weekend, tributes also came flowing to HM from former industry colleagues, both within the Hilton family and from other chains.
Accor Pacific’s Chief Operating Officer, Simon McGrath, said Spencer was a man so many looked up to.
“Ashley Spencer always approached every situation with the utmost respect and care,” he said. “He was thoughtful and considerate, which resulted in quality outcomes.
“He diligently worked within the Australian hotel network and whilst representing Hilton, he always put the overall industry first.
“He was one of the few ‘go to’ people for me in the industry when I needed advice and or a colleague to work with.
“What a loss to everyone that knew him. Ashley taught us all to focus on the positive and that you can be kind and successful,” McGrath said.
Long-time Hilton colleague [and now General Manager of QT Sydney], Michael Bourne, also paid tribute to a “thoroughly decent man”.
“He was astute and wise, approachable and humble; a hotelier of the highest standard and a quietly inspiring leader.
“I benefitted from his council over six years and like everyone else that came in contact with him I enjoyed his company whether it was in a boardroom or in the bar.
“He is sadly missed,” he said.
Restaurateur Luke Mangan, who has restaurants at Hilton Sydney and Hilton Surfers Paradise amongst other ventures, said the industry has lost one of the greats.
“Ashley was not only a friend but an inspiration; a gentleman, a man of his word, a detailed professional and someone who just got it,” he said.
“He was so passionate and motivated, and without his influence, support and friendship, many things would be different.
“Hilton has lost all of the above, and the hotel world has lost a visionary that can’t be replaced. However, Ashley, thank god, had the amazing quality to pass on what so many can’t… and that is class and skill and the hotel world is a better place because of Ashley Spencer and thankfully, so am I and I thank him for that.
“There’s more I could say, but only Ashley knows our last conversation which I will cherish,” Mangan said.
Accommodation Association of Australia CEO, Richard Munro, said Spencer was a great supporter of the industry across the board.
“Ashley was a stoic supporter of our industry having worked in hotels for the majority of his career,” he said. “I always enjoyed his frequent counsel on the many issues we faced based on his experience and commercial acumen.
“His legacy will be one of true professionalism in hotels and one of the true gentlemen of our industry,” Munro said.
Leading hotel asset manager Howard Kemball said Ashley was “a decent man” and his passing came as a shock.
“He was a highly respected hotelier in Australia and well liked and regarded at Hilton,” he said.
“I met Ashley at various industry events throughout the years and it was evident that he continued the growth of Hilton in Australia under his stewardship.
“Hotel industry friends I know from Hilton have praised his empathetic, quiet and self-effacing nature whilst also helping them through tough situations and helping them grow their careers,” Kemball said.
Mantra Group CEO, Bob East, paid tribute to a man respected by so many.
“Ashley was well respected within the Hilton group and just as importantly across the industry generally,” he said. “He was a gentleman.
“Ashley had that rare ability to be totally engaging and generous with his business dealings as well as personal dealings. In this regard he was seen as a leader that was influential without being aggressive.
“On the many occasions I had dealing with Ashley I was always impressed with his style, intellect and engagement. He will be missed, but he will be remembered,” East said.
Tourism Accommodation Australia’s Acting CEO, Carol Giuseppi, said Spencer, who was a long-serving TAA Board Member, had made a significant contribution to Hilton’s success and growth in the eight years that he was at the helm of the Australasian operation, and he was also a tireless and enthusiastic supporter of the overall industry.
“Hilton has a very special place in the Australian hotel industry because they were the first 5-star international brand to establish in this country, and Ashley ensured they continued to excel and innovate,” she said.
“He was a true gentleman, always prepared to contribute to the wider industry and advocate on its behalf.
“We were privileged to have him on the TAA Board for a number of years, and speaking on behalf of the TAA organisation, his insight and good humour will be greatly missed. The Australian hotel industry has lost a genuine statesman.
“Our thoughts and condolences go out to the Spencer family during this difficult time,” she said.
Former Australian Hotels Association (AHA) Accommodation Division Chairman Patrick Griffin, now in retirement in Thailand’s Hua Hin, said Spencer was a legend of the industry.
“So saddened to to learn of the death of a true hotelier, a colleague and a friend for whom I had the greatest respect and admiration in our work together in Sydney and within the AHA,” he said.
“He will be missed by many and a loss to the industry to which he dedicated his life.”
Ashley is survived by his wife Wendy and children Georgia, Nick and William.
FUNERAL SERVICE DETAILS
The funeral service will be held on Saturday April 18th at 10am at St. Swithuns Anglican Church Pymble, 2a Telegraph Road, Pymble, Sydney.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to www.vinnies.org.au/ashleyspencer