HB EXCLUSIVE: Penn State to Celebrate Past, Educate Future at Gala Reception

STATE COLLEGE, PA—Designed to capture the intersection of the past and the future, a gala reception at the historic Nittany Lion Inn is slated for next week. The event, hosted by the Penn State University School of Hospitality Management’s alumni group, will coincide with the university’s Blue-White Weekend and football game. In addition to an executive roundtable with industry leaders, the society will honor two industry legends.

“This is our 80th anniversary, and we think it’s fitting to continue to look forward as we celebrate our past,” said Donna Quadri-Felitti, Marvin Ashner director of the School of Hospitality Management at Penn State University. “That’s really the origin of the event.”

As the hotel school’s alumni group, the Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society (PSHRS) aims to enhance the university’s hotel school’s reputation in the industry through a variety of initiatives. Through events like the one being held next week, the PSHRS brings together alumni and industry leaders to discuss industry topics.

Moderated by Quadri-Felitti, an executive roundtable conversation, consisting of nearly a dozen members, will be held. Its focus: investing in innovation and education. “I believe that having these kinds of conversations, where the intersection of education, innovation and industry meet, are critical to the work and the service that we do at the university,” she explained. The objectives for the discussion are as follows: understanding how the right kinds of partnerships are formed, coming to an agreement on expectations (in terms of investments) and figuring out the best ways to calculate and analyze results.

Panel members expected to attend include Leland Pillsbury, an industry veteran who is currently serving in a range of roles; Debra Stock Wolman, senior director of sales at Duetto; Mark Lomanno, partner and senior advisor at Kalibri Labs; Hugh Roth, SVP of chief customer and business development officer at PepsiCo Global Food Service; Jeff Fortin, associate VP for research and director of research and industrial partnerships at Penn State; Javid Baig, global SVP of strategy schools worldwide at Sodexo; and Robert DeSalvio, SVP of development at Wynn Resorts Development.

The recognition of a couple of industry legends

The inaugural event will also celebrate the careers of a couple of honorees. Both Leland Pillsbury and Ray Schultz will be honored at the event; the society will award the former with its Hospitality Industry Executive of the Year Award and the latter with the PSHRS’ Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Co-founder and co-chairman of Thayer Lodging Group—a Brookfield Company—where he spent more than 20 years, Pillsbury is the founder of the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at the Cornell School of Hospitality Administration and the chairman of the board of Interstate Hotels & Resorts. He recently joined Thayer Ventures in a managing director role. He is also now a senior advisor to Brookfield Global Lodging. He funded the Mary M. and Leland C. Pillsbury Trustee Scholarship to provide financial aid to students in an effort to help them achieve success at Penn State. He began his career with a 19-year tenure at Marriott Hotels, where he rose to the position of EVP.

As an experienced leader in the hospitality industry, he understood the importance of being aggressive with personal growth and development—never slowing down. “I’ve learned that my most important asset is my network, and a commitment to people in my network to help and support them whenever I have the opportunity,” he explained to Hotel Business. “Add value to the people who give you their time and attention.”

Schultz, who began his career in the industry after graduating from Penn State with a degree in labor management, acquired his leadership training during his years in college, with the Air Force and at IBM, where he received systems training. “Personal success is enjoying what you do and working hard to do it well,” he said.

Since 1999, Schultz has been the chairman and president of REST Investments LLC. He also served as CEO of Promus Hotel Corporation; CEO and president of the hotel division of Promus Companies Incorporated; and CEO and president of the Hampton Inn/Homewood Suites Hotel Division. He held various leadership positions at Holiday Inn. He’s also known for being the founder of the Hampton Inn brand. Currently, he participates in the industry through Schultz Hospitality LP, a hotel investment firm.

What really matters, and advice to the up-and-coming

While the industry has evolved over the years, the fundamentals have remained the same—service delivery is key. The attention has always been on guest satisfaction and customer service. “This is still an industry where our customers value personalized, courteous, anticipatory service, delivered professionally and consistently,” Pillsbury said. What will change are the ways in which the industry will deliver service, market to new generations and manage businesses to achieve both guest satisfaction and profitability.

“The cost of customer acquisition in our industry is rising at twice the rate of revenues, and that is directly tied to the rise of disruptive technology and hoteliers’ ability or inability to harness it for our advantage,” he explained. “This is the great question of our era in the hotel business, and where the most important battles are being waged.”

Both industry veterans encourage hotel management students and alumni to invest time in ongoing education—understanding how and why the industry is shifting toward a particular direction will increase the chances of triumph. “I would encourage students to take as many different hospitality business courses as possible and intern in areas they think they might enter after graduation,” Schultz said. “Interview [with]as many potential employers as possible, concentrating on those offering the best training in the area of interests. Choose a good one, and work hard.”

“Be a disruptor and an innovator,” Pillsbury said, emphasizing the use of one’s intuition. “Whether you work in real estate, hotel operations, F&B, technology or any other area, embrace change and don’t be afraid to take chances. Now is the time to do it.”