Laura Fuentes, Creating Networks and Relationships at Hilton
By Gloria Romano-Barrera
Laura Fuentes originally set out to build buildings, starting her career sporting steel-toed boots and a hard hat as a structural engineer. But soon into that journey, she began to feel a calling to a different form of building: Building teams of people.
Today, Fuentes is the executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Hilton. But that journey has been one that’s full of twists and turns.
After completing her structural engineering post-graduate studies, she realized that she wanted to enhance her knowledge and experience, so she decided to attend business school. Armed with her MBA, she joined McKinsey & Company, where she served clients in the financial services and nonprofit sectors in their Madrid, New York, and Washington, D.C. offices.
Upon leaving McKinsey, Fuentes joined Capital One Financial, the place where she officially started her HR career. In her six years with the financial company, she held a variety of corporate and HR positions, including managing the company’s workforce analytics, hiring, and compensation processes. Fusing her love of strategy and analytics, Fuentes found that HR is a wonderful marriage of engineering and strategy.
“HR takes care of everything from recruiting to onboarding, to development of careers, making sure people move about and are successful,” she says.
In 2013, Fuentes started at Hilton, and has since managed teams in a wide variety of HR departments, including recruiting, diversity & inclusion, learning & leadership development, total rewards, people analytics & strategy, and HR consulting. After serving as the company’s chief talent officer, in 2020 she was promoted to her current role as executive vice president and chief human resources officer.
Fuentes believes her work is aligned with her background and areas of interest. She is proud to work for a company with a strong corporate culture and strives to create a workplace where everyone feels included, accepted, and part of a positive atmosphere where they can develop and feel connected to a larger purpose.
Hilton’s overall diversity, equity, and inclusion framework is based on three pillars: culture, talent, and marketplace. These pillars are used to hire the best talent to join Hilton, recruit diverse suppliers, establish mobility programs, and launch internal programs such as Courageous Conversations, a virtual learning series with thought leaders to help drive greater awareness and understanding.
“We’re in the business of helping people all around the world reach their full human potential and to make work one of the best parts of their lives,” she shares, “because it is a place where they feel included, where they can be a part of a healthy organization, where they can grow, learn and develop to move up in the organization, and where they feel connected to something larger than themselves. I don’t view it as a singular accomplishment because this takes our full HR team, our leaders and our general managers, but we have put in place the programs and support mechanisms so that we listen to our team members. That fills me with pride. I’m incredibly fortunate to be a part of an amazing HR team. I’m proud of the team that we’ve built and the leaders that we have around the world.”
By 2027, Hilton hopes to achieve gender parity and 25 percent ethnic participation in the U.S. in top leadership positions. To build the most inclusive workplace, Hilton is committed not only to diversity in age, race, and gender, but also to recruiting team members diverse in their backgrounds, experiences, industries, nationalities, and languages.
From day one, Fuentes knew Hilton felt like the right choice for a host of reasons. “Working for a company like Hilton, whose product I love, the global nature of the work feels so aligned with my background and interests, and our leadership, our culture is amazing,” Fuentes says. A highlight of that is Hilton’s focus on growth and expansion throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. “I would just say that the first hotel that our founder chose to open outside of the U.S. in 1949 was the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico. The importance of the region and its language is so, so relevant to who we are as a company. And as we are back in business and hiring for thousands of roles, I would just put in a shameless plug that there are so many opportunities for Latinas and Latinos at Hilton.”
A native of Spain, Fuentes holds a B.S. from the University of Virginia, an M.S. in Structural Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, and an M.B.A. from Columbia University. She represents Hilton on the advisory board of the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and also serves on the boards of directors of Make-a-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Arlington Free Clinic.