“This Girl Is On Fire” is the theme song that rang out recently at the RPM Italian

Washington, D.C. as RLJ Lodging Trust toasted its newest CEO, Leslie D. Hale. Hale is the first African American woman to be named CEO of a publicly traded real estate investment trust in the United States.

A native of Compton, and a product of Los Angeles public schools, Hale attended Howard University, where she serves on the board of trustees, and Harvard Business School. She also serves on the board of Macy’s department store

Last month, Hale became the chief executive of RLJ Lodging Trust, a Bethesda, Md. hotel company with nearly 30,000 rooms at 153 properties across the United States. It has a market cap of $3.8 billion.

Hale, who had served as RLJ’s chief financial officer for 11 years, is now commanding a multibillion-dollar real estate investment trust that must grow revenue and guard the healthy dividend, which is north of 6 percent. Dividends are reportedly the altar at which REIT shareholders “worship.”

Bob Johnson, executive chairman and co-founder of RLJ Lodging, sees Hale’s main mission as “making sure the hotels generate the revenue so we meet our obligations as a REIT, both in terms of dividends and growth.”

Hale’s responsibilities are two-pronged. She must oversee the managers who run the day-to-day operations of RLJ’s fleet of hotels, while also keeping a close eye on the company’s balance sheet. RLJ’s hotels are managed by Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt, and are mostly in large cities that service business travelers.

Hale has often been asked: “How do you get from the streets of Los Angeles to the executive suite?” The takeaways, she said, are friends, family and mentors.

“I have been very thoughtful throughout my career, to be in a position to be very successful,” said Hale, the mother of four children, who lives in Potomac, Maryland, with her husband of 20 years, Rev. Odis Braxton, Jr. “RLJ looked past race and gender and focused on talent and contribution.”

Family has been a huge part of her life. Hale had entrepreneurial, committed parents as role models, Jerry and Geraldine Hale of Los Angeles. It created a backstop for taking risks. “Every accomplishment I have ever had in my life has been a family affair,” she said. “I have

shared every moment of my success with my parents,” she said. “I knew I could take risks, because if I failed, I could go home.”

After the last toast was given, the 150 plus who attended left knowing that CEO Leslie Hale was ready to take the reigns and lead into a very profitable future.