If you insist, you'd have to ask Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt -- those are the only hotel chains on the Fortune 500. (Actually there are four, but Starwood has been bought out by Marriott.) Accor didn't make it. Somehow, IHG, the owner of Holiday Inns, didn't, either. (Of course, I could learn more about Fortune’s methodology, but I don’t bother because I don’t pay that much attention to the Fortune 500.) Companies like Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts made it, but they're in the casino business, not the hotel business.
A better question would be, what would you do as CEO of one of those companies if you had the job? It’s a question that every applicant for any accountability in my company, especially that of a hotel manager, gets asked and I’d better like their answer — what would you do with this job if I gave it to you? What would you do with this hotel if I put you in as g.m.?
Because once you've settled on a good answer to the question, what would you do as CEO of one of those companies if you had the job? (and of course, will they like your answer? — don’t forget that part), two things happen.
One, your chances of getting it go up slightly (kind of like buying the second, third and fourth through fiftieth Powerball ticket when the jackpot goes over a billion), because you're aware of the requirements. You have a contribution to make, a legacy to leave behind, the company will be a better company because you were at the helm for several years; and it's not all about just "me, me, me", and you getting to be the big boss.
Then it becomes a simple matter of going to work at one of those companies at whatever level they'll take you; taking care at the beginning, and at each step along the way over the next ten to thirty years, to aim for jobs where the contribution you have to make will show itself as the ultimate thing for that company to have. Of course, some competition will be there -- a lot of men and women working there will be possessed of similar ambition and arrogance -- but it may be possible to align yourselves with other ambitious psychopaths whose self-serving agenda is in alignment, or at least isn't in conflict, with your own. For now. Until you can find a way to dispose of them and keep their own ambition from turning into something that will interfere with yours when they feel that their time has come.
And at every step of the way, even if you have the ultimate contribution to make, even if you really could take the helm of Hyatt and put it ahead of Hilton and Marriott and change the world, you'll still be doing the "pick me, pick me!" thing -- because there are lots of competitors at each step that are just as sincerely convinced that theirs is the ultimate contribution to make (even if that contribution consists of nothing more than just being them), and because you'll be making your "pick me, pick me!" case to people who don't have it in them to get it that you offer the ultimate contribution, or that it even is the ultimate contribution (or even worth having), or that someone else’s isn’t the one to go with instead (even if it isn’t). There are too many people like that at every level, of every company, in this business, and I've never been able to come up with a way to get rid of them all and get them off the planet, so we're stuck with it, people like that are always going to be there.
The other thing that happens as you become clear on what you would do as CEO if you had the job is, you don't need the job as CEO nearly as much anymore. Whatever you have to offer, do it in the accountability that you already have. Find ways to make things within your area of accountability work better. Even if you're just a hotel manager of a small, older backwater hotel that they promoted you into because no one else wanted it, running one good hotel that works well is more respectable than running a 'chain' of them that doesn't always work well as a chain; and if you can't run one successfully, you can't run a hundred more like it successfully.
Or form your own company and get your own hotels. If being the big boss and having the big title is all that's important to you, then okay, you'll start out in that company as CEO. If you're really that good, you'll be on a path to catch Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt, set your company on a growth path that'll reach their size in thirty to fifty years, create one or more properties that people will prefer to a Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt property; and you might just find doing just that more fulfilling and rewarding. And if you're not that good, you'll never make it any further at Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt.
Unlike climbing the corporate ladder at a Fortune 500 company, by the way, this game is actually winnable. How do you think companies like Joie de Vivre, Kimpton, Red Lion (the jury’s still out, but they’re worth watching), and Thompson Hotels got there?
If you have a contribution to make and can make a positive difference, you can make it at any level with any company. (Bear in mind, of course, that there are some people, and companies, that not even God can make a difference for -- they're so set in their ways and oblivious to possibility that anything you try to do for them will not be appreciated and is simply wasted on them.)
And if you don't have a contribution to make or can make a positive difference (and often, even if you do), then you're not going to make it but just so far with Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt because they've gotten where they are by doing just what they do, and as far as they're concerned it works fine, and nothing you have to offer is worth bothering with, and they don't want you coming in there trying to change it and possibly screwing it up.
So, there you have it. Find yourself a healthier ambition.
(And by the way, it’s going to take more than ten years.)
Originally appeared on Quora