After months of searching, AAHOA has selected noted educator Cecil Staton, the former chancellor of East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., to head its 18,500-member organization.
Staton will succeed Rachel Humphrey, who has been serving as interim president/CEO since the departure from the post last year of longtime AAHOA leader William "Chip" Rogers, who made a lateral move to the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA). Humphrey will return to her former role as the association's chief operating officer when Staton takes the AAHOA reins on Monday, Nov. 18.
Staton brings a variety of career experience spanning the fields of business, government and academia to AAHOA. Most recently, he served as the eleventh chancellor at ECU, beginning in April 2016. Before stepping down from the post this past June—a decision he made earlier in March—he had launched several initiatives aimed at elevating the university’s national and international profile, increased enrollment in ECU's Brody School of Medicine and created a $500 million capital campaign. His leadership saw—among other projects—$70 million in dormitory renovations, $122 million for a main campus student union and a $60 million stadium renovation. Additionally, Staton initiated a swath of programs, including initiatives that, over five years, sought to increase research activity by 50 percent and expand student participation in study abroad.
He served previously as interim president of Valdosta State University and as vice chancellor for extended education with the University System of Georgia. Staton currently sits on the boards for NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the University of Georgia Board of Visitors. Following his decision to resign, ECU's board of trustees this past April elected Staton "chancellor emeritus."
Staton's career journey also included launching several media companies that included radio and television stations as well as an online community newspaper. He also served as a five-term member of the Georgia State Senate from 2005 to 2014, where he ascended to the position of Majority Whip.
A New Path
“I am excited at this opportunity to work with nearly 19,000 small-business owners. The achievements that AAHOA’s members continue to realize in the hospitality industry make them a living testament to the American Dream. Their hard work, unwavering entrepreneurial spirit, and determination to create their own success are truly inspiring,” said Staton. “The great energy and excitement from AAHOA’s 30th anniversary celebrations earlier this year still resonate to this day. Rachel and her team did a brilliant job maintaining that momentum and capitalizing on it with increased member and industry engagement. I am looking forward to working with the AAHOA board of directors, our industry partners and the great teams in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., as we continue the exceptional work AAHOA does on behalf of America’s hoteliers.”
Industry speculation over who would ultimately be slotted into the position has been a months-long guessing game and Staton’s hiring concludes a nationwide search. An AAHOA executive search committee, composed of AAHOA executives, officers and executives from key industry partners, worked with consulting firm Korn Ferry to identify candidates and conduct interviews. According to AAHOA, the committee unanimously recommended Staton to its board.
Commenting on the appointment, AAHOA Chairwoman Jagruti Panwala said, “AAHOA is at its strongest point in our 30-year history. Membership is at an all-time high, our educational and advocacy initiatives are thriving, and our members are more engaged than ever before. Throughout the comprehensive search process, we looked for someone who would excel in building upon the foundation of AAHOA’s success, welcome opportunities to develop relationships with our key stakeholders and bring a vision to the association that will enhance AAHOA’s profile in the industry. We are confident that we found such an exemplary leader in Cecil Staton.”
“We are excited that Cecil is joining AAHOA,” said Humphrey. “He brings a wealth of experience from fields that mirror the association’s priorities, specifically, advocacy and education. As an accomplished legislator in the Georgia Senate, as a leader and administrator at East Carolina University and Valdosta State University, and as a small-business owner, Cecil understands what drives the association and its members and will position AAHOA for continued success.”