Finding passion in leading and growing a company that makes a profound difference in the lives of employees, guests, owners, industry partners, and the community, Alex Cabanas ’98 exemplifies what it means to be a Mays Transformational Leader.
Cabanas graduated from Texas A&M University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance, and went on to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School. He currently serves as the CEO of global hospitality company Benchmark. To Cabanas, speaking to business honors students at Mays Business School was “a huge privilege.”
Cabanas kicked his session off by emphasizing the main theme he was discussing, that “it all starts with culture.” Cabanas said that “everything we do is about culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast; culture is a lot of things to a lot of people.” Culture drives how his company behaves and what motivates them.
Benchmark is a company that manages hotels and resorts across the country. During his time in this industry, Cabanas has learned how to invoke servant leadership. He stated that you “have to be the difference by creating memorable experiences in the lives of all we serve.” Business Honors student Philip Schwartz ’20 biggest takeaway was “the perspective that every day he goes to his job he is going on a mission trip. In our jobs, we should be serving people and making their days and lives better.” Cabana’s companies principles are also his own:
- Entrepreneurial spirit
- Servant leadership
- Dare to be different
- Respect for the individual
Cabanas also advised students to “think an act like an owner, outperform and persevere, and to learn from today and craft your tomorrow.” He added that the students should “coach, teach, and encourage each other, take personal responsibility, be a risk taker, and be proactive with a sense of urgency.”
Driving home the message, Cabanas said “it all comes down to people,” and that “culture lives the most in day-to-day behavior.” Business Honors student Mason Walker ’21 said “to him, business is all about creating a story for the customer because people remember stories.” Cabanas cautioned that, with our lives as full of distractions as they are, we tend to forget about the good stories and only think of the bad. Cabanas posed the question: How does one become superhuman? “It’s about filling your emotional bank account and making an impact on someone’s life,” Cabanas said. “You have to adapt every single day because we are human and every human interaction is different.”
It also falls on the shoulders of employers, he said, as most companies are training on instruction, not inspiration. These days, most employers are failing at making their employees feel good and that they are making personal connections with their bosses. Cabanas said that it is incumbent on the employees to “eliminate the term ‘work-life balance.’ Don’t refer to work as a choice away from the things that are important to you.”
Cabanas concluded: “Be hard on yourself in finding that balance, but also let yourself off of the hook.”