In the dynamic landscape of hospitality finance and technology where innovation and expertise converge, Asif Ehsan, CHAE emerges as a beacon of leadership and vision. Coming from a tenured career culminating in his current role as financial controller of St. Francis Yacht Club, he brings a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective that promises to invigorate the association’s mission. Now, poised to steer the direction of HFTP as one of the newest additions to the esteemed Global Board of Directors, he stands as a catalyst for continued growth, setting the stage for a future defined by innovation, collaboration and excellence.
When did you first know you wanted to be in the hospitality industry and what is your favorite part?
I spent the first decade of my career managing operations for various companies including retail, automobile rental and cash management. However, I wanted to build my career in either finance or accounting, so I decided to go back to school in 1996. After graduating with a degree in finance three years later and interviewing with a few companies, I realized I didn’t want to be involved in investments that may jeopardize people’s life savings and the guilt associated with it.
I decided instead to join the hospitality industry and was hired as a controller with IHG in 2000 in Houston. I enjoyed the accounting and hospitality industry so much that I never looked back. The expansive nature of the hospitality industry and ample opportunities to network with peers and mentors is my favorite part.
What do you find valuable about your membership with HFTP?
I joined HFTP in March 2003 and since then, I have had the best experiences in meeting with people, expanding my network of professionals, creating life-long friendships, visiting several cities around North America when attending HITEC and Annual Conventions, and, best of all, receiving the CHAE designation.
The most recent membership benefit that I am proud of and one of the most important highlights of my professional career in the hospitality industry is the opportunity to serve on the HFTP Global Board of Directors through 2026.
Why did you want to join the HFTP Global Board?
I’ve been involved with local chapters for the past 20 years and served in various capacities including leading the Houston chapter as its president for two terms. Serving on the Global Board provides me with the opportunity to give back part of what I have gained from my membership and share with the world the knowledge and experience I accumulated in hospitality accounting.
What HFTP initiatives are you interested in contributing to during your time on the board?
I would like to promote CHAE and CHTP certifications both locally and especially internationally, strengthen the bond between HFTP Global and its member chapters with the possibility of opening new chapters and encourage finance professionals from controllers to CFOs to involve second-tier accounting personnel in local HFTP meetings and encourage them to earn professional designations.
What are some newer benefits and features of the association that you appreciate/have taken advantage of?
For me, a major part of my continued interest in the association lies in its myriad educational opportunities, including the webinars, USALI certificates and series focused on leadership skill identification and development.
How will your previous experience help HFTP?
Being involved and serving the Houston chapter provides me with the knowledge and experience of leading and working with board members to promote the vision and agenda of HFTP worldwide. I was also a key member of the Texas regional conference reactivation team after decades of inactivity, proving my commitment to promoting continuing education opportunities and networking among HFTP members and the hospitality industry at large.
Beyond serving HFTP, I have also served in leadership positions for other nonprofit organizations including the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce USA and the Patient Benefit Foundation, which helps patients with elective surgeries free of cost. That has helped me understand both the business and community service aspects of these types of organizations.
What are some of the top challenges you face today in the workplace? How are you resolving them?
We are facing labor shortages (especially in the food and beverage department) just like others in the hospitality industry. We are currently reviewing our payroll and membership dues structure for each level and most likely will make changes in both areas. I am also looking at areas where we can improve efficiency and labor management, like decreasing hours of operation in outlets based on member utilization rates.
Finally, my club is reviewing our human resources practices on hiring and retaining employees, company policies, including employee rewards, benefits, education and certifications assistance and management training.
Describe a professional experience or anecdote that you will always remember.
As previously mentioned, my first hospitality role was as a controller for IHG where the main clientele were people who visited Houston Medical Center for their treatment both domestically and internationally.
I worked significantly more hours compared to my normal schedule to understand the different fields of hotel accounting since I didn’t have a background built up in the field yet. I was making great progress when the September 11 terrorist attacks happened just over a year into my tenure. Forty-plus percent of our customers were international patients, notably from the Middle East, and when the incident happened a majority of our guests left within a couple of days resulting in extremely low occupancy. The new patient inflow from other countries was limited due to the updated visa processing restrictions.
IHG, just like any other responsible organization would have done, implemented an austerity plan throughout the organization. One of the steps to reduce expenses was laying off employees, which involved combining the accounting department with other IHG properties. This resulted in me becoming a multi-property controller fairly soon in my hospitality finance career. Regardless of whether it was due to compensation rates or higher-ups acknowledging my work ethic, I was proud of myself for being given this opportunity and rising to the challenge in a time of market fluctuation.