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Incoming Standard International CEO Amber Asher is taking over a company rapidly expanding. But this is more than a growth story: Her rise to the top job is a major step forward for advancing female leadership in hospitality.

There’s finally a woman in the top job at a major hotel company. 

Standard International selected Amber Asher, who has worked as the company’s president and general counsel, as its next CEO. Asher replaces Amar Lalvani, who was CEO for eight years and will now serve as executive chairman at the company behind brands like Standard Hotels and Bunkhouse. 

Asher’s ascent to the top leadership position at Standard comes at a time when the company is throttling forward with global growth plans while also navigating the continued challenges and uncertainty of the pandemic recovery. 

“What we’ve been working on for the last probably five years is our global growth, but I think we really solidified a lot of that, especially even in the last 18 months,” Asher said in an interview with Skift ahead of the announcement. “We’ve signed multiple deals in different places, so what we’ve been really focusing on — besides just growing generally Bunkhouse, Standard, and our new brand Peri — is really bringing these amazing projects to life and what those are going to be.”

Discussions began this summer regarding Asher taking over for Lalvani, she said. Asher is slated to officially become CEO on Oct. 25.

She joined The Standard ten years ago as an executive vice president and general counsel and has been involved in some of its most high-profile deals, including the 2013 majority stake sale of the company. Hotelier Andre Balazs spun out The Standard from his property company, creating Standard International in the process. 

Asher was also involved in the company’s purchase of the majority stake of Texas-based Bunkhouse Group, the formation of Standard’s One Night booking app, and the investment deal with Bangkok-based real estate group Sansiri, which is now the company’s largest shareholder. She also negotiated all the company’s contracts for new hotel developments. 

Brand Buildup

The legal and development background will certainly come in handy for the growing company: There are roughly 20 hotels across Standard’s three brands, and Asher thinks that number could easily get to 50. 

“We have a real push with our team that’s been with us a long time to say, ‘Let’s go to more places, or let’s even do more Standards in places where we already are,’” she added. 

The Standard team recently announced plans for two new properties in Thailand, including a Bangkok hotel that will be the company’s Asia flagship, as well as a hotel in Ibiza, Spain. The international growth is the launch of a 10-hotel expansion that will see the brand expand to markets like Singapore, Melbourne, Lisbon, Dublin, Brussels, and Las Vegas

Standard has been a rare success story for a smaller hotel company remaining independent at a time when companies like Marriott and Hyatt keep pushing the bigger-is-better agenda with brand takeovers. While not ruling out a takeover at some point, Asher appears committed to continuing the company’s independent growth trajectory. 

“What’s going to happen between now or in five years, I think that’s still open to us,” she said. “We have an amazing shareholder base with Sansiri that supports our growth and is in no rush to say, ‘Oh, we need to be bought by a big brand.’”

Making History

Asher’s new job is a major step forward for the hotel industry and having more women in the C-suite. Organizations like the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Castell Project reported in the past how bleak representation was for females in the industry’s executive levels.

The odds of a woman reaching the executive leadership level were one women to 5.9 men in 2019, according to a Castell Project report. That rate barely changed a year later. 

Women were reported to be finalists in recent CEO searches at Marriott International and BWH Hotel Group, but neither company chose a woman for the top job. The significance of Asher’s new role isn’t lost on her. 

“I’m proud and excited to be in this position. Hopefully, it will help to mentor and bring other women into senior roles,” she said. “I’m humbled by it, but I’m excited, and I’m energized. I feel like the future is bright.”

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Tags: coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, standard international

Photo credit: Incoming Standard International CEO Amber Asher Standard International

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