Treadwell International Award Winner Reports on Her Experience

Kimberly Kuh ’19 was a winner of the Jay ’61 & Peggy Treadwell International Travel Award which provides Hotelies with international travel and learning opportunities.  The COVID pandemic forced Kimberly to adjust her plans to study Japan’s language and culture.  Like a good Hotelie, Kimberly has adjusted and made the most of her remote learning experience from her home in Taiwan.  Below is a letter she recently sent to CHS Director-At-Large, Rick Adie ’75.

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CHS Foundation Treadwell International Experience Award Kimberly Kuh’19

December, 20th, 2021

Japan

Dear Mrs.Treadwell and the Treadwell Selection Committee,

I hope you are doing well and I want to take a moment to update you on my immersion experience thus far. Graduated in December 2019, I originally planned to enroll in the Japanese Language Program offered by Waseda University, one of the top universities in Japan, after my brief reunion with my family in Taiwan; however, the pandemic began shortly after my return to Taiwan so I had to quickly make adjustments to my plans. At the time, I began reaching out to Waseda University and other Japanese language schools to consider alternative options.

Although there were many uncertainties, I decided to start taking Japanese lessons at a local academy while working a part-time job in the hospitality industry here.

In the past two years since I graduated, I have been closely monitoring the pandemic in Japan and constantly updating Mr.Adie and Ms.Boyle about my plans. This summer, Waseda University announced that they would start offering in-person classes if the border reopened. I decided to enroll in the Fall Semester program for September. At first, I was worried that remote classes would make our interactions and learning difficult; however, the professors are very thoughtful in making our classes fun and meaningful. For example, one of my professors taught us how to make origami, the Japanese art of paper-folding. I learned how to fold paper cranes, hearts, and stars while learning the relevant vocabulary. In another class, I practiced my oral skills and vocabulary through a “Show & Tell” presentation. I shared photos of my hike trips and introduced Taiwan in Japanese to my classmates. It was a wonderful experience of cultural exchanges and I appreciate the energy and passion everyone had to learn about each other. I even made some friends and we have managed to keep in touch to meet in Japan in the future! When I ask my classmates their reason for learning Japanese, I can always sense their excitement through their eyes. Whether it is for the food, culture, or music, there is just something so magical and fascinating about this country that connects us all together. This language immersion opportunity has shown me how people from all over the world can bond together through passion and love for Japanese language and culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the past few months, it’s also amazing to see how my knowledge in Japanese has grown significantly from not knowing a single word to being able to have a basic conversation in Japanese. To practice my listening skills, I took my friends’ advice and watched some Japanese shows, such as Alice in Borderland, Attack on Titan, and Terrace House, without subtitles.

Although it was really difficult to understand anything at first, it certainly helps to hear common phrases and words they use in daily conversations! I also reconnected with some friends who have moved to Japan through text and video calls. From my friends, I learned that the country has been on a slow yet steady path of recovery. “Hanami,” or flower-watching, is a traditional and popular tradition in Japan. Every spring, locals and tourists alike picnic under the cherry blossoms to enjoy their transient beauty. I showed my painting of the cherry blossoms to my friends and promised them we will “hanami”together when we meet in Japan!

 

 

 

 

 

Aside from taking Waseda University’s classes to learn about Japan, I also reached out to the chefs from“ Nihonryori RyuGin” (Taiwan store) to convey my passion to learn Japanese culture through the context of the hospitality industry. Originating from Tokyo, “Nihonryori RyuGin” is one of the most renowned Michelin 3-Star restaurants in the world. Through my visit, the Executive Chef, Seiji Yamamoto, and his team kindly gave me an introduction to their well-established history, iconic concept, and elegant decor. One of the most memorable takeaways from my visit was “Nishijin-ori,” which highlights Japan’s most traditional and sophisticated textiles.“ Nihonryori RyuGin” incorporates special types of textiles into their decor to highlight Japan’s attention-to-detail and refined sense of beauty. My special visit to the restaurant taught me the fascinating immersion of Japanese culture, food, and hospitality spirits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My immersion experience has certainly been a unique one due to the pandemic and I am beyond grateful for this opportunity. I hope to visit Tokyo soon to apply my learnings and language skills from navigating the city, eating authentic Japanese food, and connecting with the locals there.

Reflecting on my experience in the past few months, gratitude stands out as one of the strongest feelings I feel. Your support has given me the motivation to grow and thrive during this special time. With that said, thank you all for your generosity and faith in me through this remarkable journey and for making this happen! I wish you all the best and please take care.

Sincerely, Kimberly Kuh

 

 

  • Citation

Yasuka. (2020). The Japanese Hanami Tradition. photograph.

西陣織: 花嫁和装: 最高峰の色打掛・白無垢を全国へレンタル. 西陣織 | 花嫁和装 | 最高峰の色打掛・白無垢を全国へレンタル. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2021, from http://hanayomewasou.jp/%E8%A5%BF%E9%99%A3%E7%B9%94/

“Conversations with Alumni” – Justin Gould ’10

Special Collegiate Chapter Video Series

 

Currently a Director of Construction at Founders Table Restaurant Group, Justin Gould has had extended experience with the restaurant space. Watch the videos to hear more about his experiences in the food and beverage industry.

 

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“Conversations with Alumni” – Stacy Delapenha ’14

Special Collegiate Chapter Video Series

Currently a MBA Candidate at The Wharton School, Stacy Delapenha has had extended experience with sales in the hotel space. Watch the videos to hear more about her experiences in the hotel industry.

 

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“Conversations with Alumni” – Christine Heggie ’10

Special Collegiate Chapter Video Series

With experience in venture capital, technology, analytics, and travel and tourism, Christina has creatively fused different industries with her hospitality background.  Watch the videos to hear more about her experiences in the hospitality space.

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“Conversations with Alumni” – Joyce Ke ’10

Special Collegiate Chapter Video Series

Currently an Area Manager at WeWork, Joyce Ke has had extended experience with in real estate private equity, asset management, and acquisitions. Watch the videos to hear her more about her experiences in the industry.

 

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“Conversations with Alumni” – Jess Pettit ’05

Special Collegiate Chapter Video Series

Currently a Senior Vice President, Commercial Strategy, Insights & Analytics at Hilton, Jess Pettit has had extended experience with data analytics in the hotel industry. Watch the videos to hear him speak more about his experiences in the industry.

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“Conversations with Alumni” – Leo Krusius ’05

Matthew Stern ’20 had the chance to interview Leo Krusius ’05, Principal – The Carlyle Group.

Leo Krusius '05

Would you mind telling me more about your career path?

I got my start in the business working some summer jobs in high school at local hotels where I grew up. I found those to be pretty fascinating even though they weren’t in overly exciting functions like housekeeping to working at a restaurant to conference services. I just enjoyed the inner workings of hotels but really there was no goal to get in that space before I found those jobs. I always knew I wanted to get into something business related, so combining my experience and interest in what I had been doing in the summers seemed like a good fit for me. That’s how I honed in on the Hotel School.

When I was there, I enjoyed having the opportunity to be educated in a wide variety of topics. I knew I didn’t want to do marketing or human resources, but I really enjoyed the coursework and learning about those. I didn’t discover an interest in real estate until taking the Principles of Real Estate course on a whim once I got into my junior year and had more time to take electives. That coursework opened up my eyes to the possibility of a career in real estate, which I pursued by doing an internship at Prudential Real Estate Investors. I worked on various deals in a couple of different funds that they had, all with different business plans and risk-return profiles. This exposed me to the real estate investing process, how creative it is, and how much analysis is involved.

Upon coming back to school, I didn’t really find a lot of opportunities in that area. And a common refrain that I kept hearing was investment banking is really where you’ll learn hard skills that you can utilize to better tap into the real estate investment business. My focus was on something more private equity related since I wanted to do deals in the hotel space, and Prudential and other core buyers usually don’t allocate much capital there. So, I went the banking route and worked in that area for about a year and a half focusing on real estate company transactions. This was back in 2005 and 2006 when we were in the REIT privatization boom, meaning I did a lot of valuation work. That experience positioned me to obtain a principal investing role with Carlyle in early 2007. I have been there ever since and enjoy every day at Carlyle, where I’m afforded new opportunities to learn and grow.

 Were there any major decisions that you made while at Cornell that have really impacted your career path?

As I mentioned before, it was deciding to take the Principles of Real Estate course that really set me on my current path. I didn’t have a particular inkling to get into real estate before taking that course. But again, I think that speaks to the opportunity that Cornell and particularly the Hotel School provides — that you can pursue education in any number of areas. And if you are willing to do that, and you take initiative to better yourself and develop a well-rounded knowledge base and skillset, you don’t know what you’ll find.

What does your day to day look like at Carlyle?

When I’m in the office, I spend the early part of the morning reading newsletters, daily articles, and e-blasts related to my areas of interest.  After that, I catch up on emails and voicemails from the morning or day before. Then, the collaborative part of my day starts with meetings with the teams I’m working with on new deals or portfolio deals, or meetings with peers to strategically think about how and where we should be investing. Those meetings and calls typically last through the end of the day before I try to wrap up on what I may have missed earlier in the day from those meetings.

I’m also on the road quite a bit seeing properties and meeting with key people in my targeted investment areas. Real estate is a local business, and you have to be out in your markets and talking to your contacts to make sure you’ve got your finger on the pulse.

What is your favorite part of your job?

At Carlyle, we have a really flexible mandate in terms of how we invest into real estate and what types of real estate that we invest in. We spend a lot of time thinking creatively to identify themes that we can orient our investment strategies around. That’s a process that I really enjoy and it’s produced successful areas of investment for us. For example, earlier this cycle we believed that the global financial crisis resulted in an under production of quality apartment housing units. When we looked at population growth, household formations in the younger age cohort, and maturation of the older US population, we found a major imbalance in supply and demand. We then invested into a lot of new apartment buildings where we saw good demand and rent growth, as well as value appreciation that we were able to turn into good returns.

More recently, we’ve been investing in properties that benefit from the growth in e-commerce. We think this space continues to grow and make up a larger share of overall retail sales. As a result, we’ve been investing in warehouse distribution facilities in major markets and more niche properties that facilitate the flow of goods through the e-commerce supply chain. That’s an area where I’m currently spending a lot of my time, and it’s a consequence of the creative process and research-driven approach that we have at Carlyle.

What is your take on the current state of the real estate market?

We’re late in the cycle. Supply and demand fundamentals are under pressure and a lot of sectors and geographies are seeing slowing rent growth at the same time that expenses are rising from inflationary pressures. Additionally, cap rates are low and thus valuations are high. The combination of lower NOI growth and lower cap rates makes for a lower total return environment when really the risks are elevated. It’s tough to find good properties to invest in and feel good about, but there certainly are attractive opportunities to invest in, provided that you’ve done your homework and you’re buying into good locations at reasonable prices.

Is Carlyle looking to reduce exposure to certain asset types or markets based on what you’ve mentioned?

We’re under-allocated to properties in the office and the retail sectors. That’s not to say that there are no attractive deals there; we just find that there are better fundamentals in some of the other sectors like apartments, senior living, industrial, and self-storage. You can feel better about the yields in those sectors because you’ve got more certain NOI growth that also may be less tied to the overall economy than office and retail.

What are some highlights of your Cornell (or Hotelie) experience?

A big highlight for me was the experience of the Hotel School, where you you’re learning, growing, and collaborating with a very tight knit community, as part of the broader Cornell, where you’re able to supplement your education with courses from a wide variety of studies. That made for a wonderful and enriching educational journey. With so many different areas of study, Cornell also has a really unique and diverse student base.  I met a lot of lifelong friends there, including my wife, who I feel blessed to have had as part of my Cornell experience and to have in my life today.

If you could go back in time and pursue a different career path, what would you be doing instead?

It would probably be something technology related. I can’t say in exactly what capacity, but my dad was a professor of electrical engineering. I always enjoyed tinkering with the new devices he would bring home for us to experiment on to see how they worked. These were cell phones, video game consoles, PDAs, you name it. Nowadays, technology, whether it’s hardware or software, is pervasive in our lives. Since those tinkering days with my dad, there have been immeasurable exciting innovations that have come about and disrupted established industries and made our lives easier. Being a part of something truly innovative and creative would have been really exciting. But I’m happy where I am and actually, I think a lot about technological trends. Specifically, how they impact the types of real estate I invest in and how it can create opportunities.

What is some advice that you would share with Hotel School students like myself looking to work in and add value to the real estate investment industry?

First, take initiative. Nothing will fall in your lap. Pursue your career interests academically. Support those studies with coursework that rounds out your skillsets and broadens your perspective. We spoke about it a bit earlier, but don’t just be a numbers guy. Learn how to think critically, and practice communicating and being persuasive.

Second, talk to your professors about what else you can be doing to position yourself for a career in their field of study. They are definitely resources to leverage and establish connections with.

Third, reach out to alumni in your area of interest and set up informal calls and meetings with them to pick their brain. I find Cornell alumni to be very engaged with the broader Cornell community and eager to help out.

Lastly, don’t be complacent once you’re in the business. Stay informed on what’s going on in the market and maintain the connections you’ve developed with your classmates, professors, and people that you work with. It’s a small world out there, you never know when you’re going to run into somebody again.

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The Cornell Hotel Society Executive Board thanks the Cornell Hotel Society – Collegiate Chapter for initiating and conducting the “Conversations with Alumni” project.

“Conversations with Alumni” – Mark Canlis ’97

Daniela Bursztyn ‘19 had the chance to interview Mark Canlis ‘97, Co-Owner of Canlis restaurant in Seattle.

What is your story?

I grew up in Seattle. My restaurant is almost 70 years old. From a young age, I was part of the operation. I never thought I was going to go into the business since we were actually encouraged to do the opposite. I was told to explore the rest of the world.

After Cornell, I went into the military for the next four years. Then, I moved to New York City for a couple of years and worked for Danny Meyer. In 2003, I went back home to take over Canlis, and then my bother joined me in 2005. We have been running Canlis ever since.

What advice would you give to anyone who is an aspiring restaurateur?

I would remind them that this job is mostly about leadership. It is not about food, beverage, service, ambience, or any of those things. It is principally about leading people. In order to lead people, you have to be able to lead yourself. Ultimately, when I see restaurants fail, it’s because I see leaders fail, and leaders fail because they fail personally. They could cook their hearts out or have created an awesome concept, but if their personal life is a wreck and they go down with it, so does their company.

People who are just leaving Cornell tend to focus on what it takes to build a restaurant or what it takes to become a great chef. Those are all foundational, but the next level would be gaining leadership experience and try to understand what kind of leader you are. What are you hopes and dreams? Who do you want to become? What do you want people saying at your funeral? Hopefully, they are saying something more significant than “wow she opened an awesome restaurant.” Hopefully, they are talking about your character. This is a game of leadership, in which you must inspire people and become the kind of leader worth following.

How was the transition of taking over the business from your parents? Why do you think your restaurant has been so successful?

No matter how close you are as a family, transition is very hard. Our transition was definitely tricky. What made it successful was that we agreed on the values of the company. When you are taking over a business, there is only one person “steering the ship”, and that person has to be part of the next generation. At the same time, you need the blessing, support, encouragement, and accountability of the former generation. One of the reasons that we succeeded was because we figured that stuff out early on. The rest is just details, hard work, creativity, and commitment that you will figure out challenges as you go. I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m better at it now than I was fifteen years ago. You have to get used to that feeling.  

What was your favorite part about The Hotel School?

The people. I think the relationships that you develop during your time at The Hotel School are so important. In my opinion, the relationships you make are more important than the academics. What is the quality and caliber of those people? Who are they and how are they pushing you? College is an incredible opportunity to meet a few special folks. Those relationships might go with you your entire life. I had a lot of friends, but I have only stayed in touch with about three or four in a meaningful way. They have shaped who I am as a person and how I run my company.

What was the most valuable class you took during your time at Cornell?

The most valuable class I took was Professor Snow ‘s communications course that was all about writing and public speaking. I use the skills I gained from that course basically every day.

What would be your recommended path after graduation?

It doesn’t matter what job you get. It doesn’t matter what you do or how much money you make. What matters is who you work for. Who is your boss? What kind of person is he or she? Why did you choose to work for them?

If you get a job at an amazing company and your boss is a jerk, you are wasting your time. All you are learning is how to be a jerk. You want to work for someone who is inspiring, who you love as a person, who is a leader in their community. You need to find that person and go work for them. It doesn’t matter if it’s for free. You have to learn how to lead. You are not going to get that from some fancy company. You are going to get that from a person inside in a fancy company. Learn from someone who is inspiring to you. That is what is going to fire you up.

Who do you admire, and why?

I admire Randy Garutti, who is a Cornell alumnus on the Board of Directors of Canlis. In fact, he was my roommate at Cornell, worked for Danny Meyer, and later became the CEO of Shake Shack. Randy has a sweet, delicate combination of being “all heart”, but also fierce, which is hard to find.

Randy has taken Shake Shack from one burger store to 150-200 stores. Most people could never do that. All the way along, he has honored his wife and has raised three incredible kids. He’s maintained important relationships and is also active in his community. Everyone likes him as a human being and a leader. There is only a handful of these types of people on the entire planet.

What has been the hardest challenge of balancing restaurant life and family life?

The biggest challenge has been knowing what to ignore because you can’t do it all and you have to say “no” sometimes. At some point, you are going to be ignoring your spouse, your children, or your family life. Sometimes, you are going to be ignoring your staff, your company, and business opportunities. It’s like being at a giant buffet, where you can only put seven or eight food items on your plate. So, enjoy those seven or eight items. You are going to be full all the time, so you need to know what to say “no” to.

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The Cornell Hotel Society Executive Board thanks the Cornell Hotel Society – Collegiate Chapter for initiating and conducting the “Conversations with Alumni” project.

“Conversations with Alumni” – Keith Kefgen ‘84

Jaein Kim ’21 had the chance to interview Keith Kefgen ‘84, Managing Director & CEO of Aethos Consulting Group. 

Keith Kefgen ‘‘84, Managing Director & CEO of Aethos Consulting Group

 

How did you discover your interest in hospitality executive research?

It was relatively happen-stance. I was in operations at The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in NYC and Hilton wanted me to relocate. I did not want to leave NYC, so I decided to look at career options outside of Hilton.

One of my bosses at The Waldorf suggested that I talk to a friend of his in the executive search business. I met with this executive search practitioner and he offered me a job. Getting in to consulting did several things for me. One, I could set my own hours and spend more time with my young family. Two, I thought consulting would offer more financial upside and finally, it would give me the opportunity to open my own business someday.

You began your career in operations at the Waldorf Astoria. How has this background set you up for success in your subsequent roles?

Coming out of The Hotel School, I thought I was ready to be a hotel executive. What I found out that is that I didn’t know as much about the industry as I thought I did. My family was in a restaurant business in Detroit, but I had little exposure to hotels. So, those years gave me a true understanding of what it’s like to work in a large and famous hotel that has a huge reputation to uphold, history, and so forth. I learned the business of hotels from the ground up. I wouldn’t have the same appreciation for the industry if I hadn’t done that for at least a few years. I don’t think it was ever a goal of mine to become a GM, but I think it was a great foundation to set me up for success.

Tell us about how HVS Executive Search came to be? What led to its creation and what impact did it create? 

My Cornell classmate Mike Cahill called me about conducting a search. Mike was at HVS and on the board of Microtel, a company that was going public at the time. He told me that they were looking for a head of franchise development and that they wanted me to come pitch for the business. After the assignment, Mike approached me privately and told me that he and Steve Rushmore, the founder of HVS had been thinking about expanding beyond their appraisal roots as a consultancy. He asked if I would be interested in starting an executive search division at HVS. We talked for a few months and put a business plan together. I founded HVS Executive Search in 1992 with Mike and Steve as my partners. A lot of people wondered whether it made sense, but we built a business plan that became the model for how HVS added other divisions.

You were with HVS for quite some time, nearly 20 years. When did you know it was time to make the career move and join AETHOS? 

It was the fact that Steve was closing in on retirement and several of my executive search partners wanted to strike out on their own. Steve was really the glue that kept me at HVS, so I decided to join my former colleagues at AETHOS.

You’re a member of the Forbes HR Leadership Council. I understand that the council is composed of executives spanning a diverse range of industries. How have insights from these leaders assisted you?

What I like about the diversity of the group is that I get different perspectives. Rather than talking to hotel, restaurant, and casino people all the time, it gives me the opportunity to hear other people’s thoughts on a particular matter that spans beyond our industry.

What do you wish you knew as a student? Whether it’s opportunities or resources that you wish you would’ve known earlier or general life/career advice. 

I encourage students to read my book, The Loneliness of Leadership, which is organized around various life lessons that I’ve learned. In addition, our movie, The Power of Advice, shows some of the findings and thoughts that I and my partners have had over the years.

One thing that comes to mind is the concept of “asking for help”. It is important for people to recognize what you do know and what you don’t. Most people are afraid to ask for help because they think it is a sign of weakness. The truth is, it takes a mature, self-aware person to ask for help.

Secondly, I think students need to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability. Most people think there’s only one way to do something right, but I don’t see it that way. I think lessons about understanding how to become more adaptable and thoughtful are very helpful.

Third, there is the issue of empathy and servant leadership. I think servant leadership is the most effective leadership style. Autocratic leadership may work for a period, but it never seems to last. It seems like the people with more lasting leadership capabilities have this servant leadership style and empathy towards the people they are leading.

Lastly, I tell all young people to never give up your dreams. It may be a tough road and you may have to ask for help and adapt, but if you have a passion for something and want it badly enough, see it through. I see too many people who have regrets about their life choices. I don’t think about it much and don’t feel as though I’ve missed out on much because I’ve been so passionate about the direction, I’ve chosen.

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The Cornell Hotel Society Executive Board thanks the Cornell Hotel Society – Collegiate Chapter for initiating and conducting the “Conversations with Alumni” project.

“Conversations with Alumni” – Warren Fields ’85

Jesse Pohl ’20 had a chance to interview Warren Fields ’85, Principal and Chief Investment Officer, Pyramid Hotel Group

Warren Fields ’85

 

What does a “typical” day in the office look like for you?

I run the new business group of my shop, and what that means is we focus on growth. As a partner, I have some administrative duties, but the majority of my time I spend figuring out how to grow the company, dealing with existing owners we have and existing assets, and there’s always some internal “people” issue you have to deal with. We run numbers, I’m on the phone a lot. Monday’s are a long day (it’s our meeting day), we get the entire organization together and meet, mostly by phone because people are all over the place. I wouldn’t say there’s really a “typical” day because we have so many assets – you’re refinancing something, you’re buying something, you’re trying to get something sold, you have a management contract you’re dealing with – you know, for someone with “Adult ADHD” it’s perfect (ha-ha).

Are you working on any exciting new projects or initiatives that you can talk about?

Well, I have a big hole in the ground in Berkley, CA, we’re building a hotel. It’s a 330-room Residence Inn at the entrance to UC Berkley – first hotel to be built there in 42 years, and maybe the last high-rise to be built there, so that’s a good project.

We’re building one of the few full-service Marriott hotels in the country in Chandler, AZ – it’s a 300-room Marriott hotel. The reason we’re there is because Intel has a billion-dollar plant there, Yoya Financial is adding over a thousand jobs to the area – so, you’d ask ‘why are you building a full-service hotel?’ but there are good demand reasons why we’re doing it there.

Our portfolio, we go from Maine to the Caribbean, we go as far west as Hawaii, we have stuff in Ireland and England, we’re trying to grow in Europe, so… we’re trying to buy other companies, we have all kinds of crazy stuff going on! Who knows if any of them are going to hit, but just put as many balls in the air as you can, and some hit some don’t.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

Oh, without a doubt, it’s the people that we have in our organization. First, we only succeed based upon how well the hotels that we currently operate do. We’re primarily a management company, so my role pales in comparison to what the people in the hotels do every day, because without them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

So, what I do, I have a team that scours the globe looking for opportunities, as long as we have the right people in those positions, it makes my job easy. So, it’s really more fun to have them have success – you know, we have this team concept where if the team wins, I win, and it’s just more fun when everyone’s engaged. If everybody’s engaged, and everybody’s contributing, and everybody feels like they’re adding value, it’s a fun environment.

How do you view the future of Pyramid Hotel Group?

Well, ’99 we started, so twenty years later I think we punch a little bit above our weight in our space: We have 100 hotels, and we’re ranked somewhere in the top five or six by revenue or number of keys, even though the number one spot is somewhere around 800 hotels. So, the variance is far from a number of hotels perspective but from a revenue perspective it’s actually pretty close, because we have bigger hotels.

I never wake up in the morning and worry about what I’m going to do next, because there’s 55,000 hotels in the U.S., we have 100, so in my lifetime the numbers will always be in my favor – the opportunities are infinite as long as we do our job. Capital is readily available from an equity perspective, right now debt’s easy to get and it’s relatively cheap, so I’m optimistic. You know, if I could get rid of some of my competitors it would make my job easier, but… (ha-ha).

What is your perspective on where we are in the cycle [February 2019], and how does your current investment strategy reflect that?

There’s no doubt that we’re long in the tooth on the current cycle. I would say because the economy is fairly stable it’s actually a little boring – because, when there is upheaval and there is displacement, a little bit of a recession creates a raft of opportunities, and it’s actually more fun when there’s a little displacement. It works both ways, though. We’re going to have some hotels that might have a problem, so we’ll be trying to rustle those to the ground as well, but it also creates a huge amount of opportunities: people are either over-levered, or they don’t want to ride the cycle out again, or they haven’t spent the money they needed to spend to keep up, so there’s a whole host of opportunities.

I have yet to hear anyone, in the past 24 months, tell me why they think the current cycle’s going to end, other than that it’s been going so well for so long. So, I’m not going to chase ghosts and say that the cycle’s going to end… there’s usually some signs, or something happens, and there’s just nothing out there right now. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. I wouldn’t mind, even though I don’t like development, having one or two more things in the ground, because there’s nothing wrong with building through a recession, and we’ve done that in the past, but you know you can never time it. But in our world, if we have a few things in the ground, or in permitting, we have a bunch of acquisitions, we’re always chasing management contracts, so whether the cycle’s good or bad we have enough balls in the air where we’ll survive.

You’ve done a lot of impressive things throughout your career with Beacon [Hotel Corporation], Doubletree, Promus, and Pyramid. What are one or two of your proudest accomplishments?

I think the thing that I’m most proud of is: we have this analyst pool, where we take five or six kids and they run numbers – probably similar to what you guys do in your RE classes, they run pro-formas, they become experts on the specific deals they’re working on. It’s really like a two-to-three-year gig, because once you’ve run your hundredth model your eyes start to glaze over, and you just don’t want to do it anymore, and quite frankly I don’t want anybody who wants to do that for their career. So, it creates some challenges because we always have to find people, and sometimes some kids don’t work out, etc. But what’s really rewarding is that there’s been a lot of them who’ve come through now and gone on to do some really interesting and unique things, and I’m happy for them.

And the other stuff, I’ve been doing for so long… You know, the problem with my job is that there is no instant gratification, and so I sort of know, like this thing in Berkley, it’s going to get built, it’s going to open, it’ll be great, but that deal’s over as far as I’m concerned and I’m already working on the next thing… so that’s why the people side of the business is really fun.

In today’s climate, I think this next question is an important one, and it comes from a place of great respect and admiration: As a black man in the business world, and who’s gone so far in the business world, what has your experience been with racial bias?

I would tell you a couple things: One, there’s always some bias in people, there just is. I remember distinctly, when I was graduating from [the Hotel School], Intercontinental had this analyst job, and you know they were this big British firm, and I remember the guy telling me distinctly in the interview, “very few people wind up being ‘deal’ people, and you probably won’t end up being one.” I didn’t get mad or anything, I said “OK, fine,” we continued the interview, I was asking him a bunch of questions, how he got to where he was, what makes a good “deal person,” etc. he answered all the questions, and I left there and I said I’ll never work for that guy, even if they gave me the job I’d never work for them.

Fortunately for me, in the organizations that I have worked in, it’s never been a problem, at least with the individuals who made all the big decisions. You know, I had some bosses who were a pain in the ass, but I figured out how to deal with them. There was one boss I had, and I didn’t want to be on his team. I didn’t complain about it, I just figured out how to get off his team. I realized early on that I was not going to succeed with the guy, so I did my job and I did it well, and then I applied for something else, and because I had done everything I needed to do I got moved. As they say, why be a victim? Just change the situation.

But I believe, even though there are all these negative things in the country today, I still believe we’ve come a long way, and I think there are probably more like-minded people like you and I than not. I mean, you’re always going to find those other people, even at this university for example. And it won’t necessarily have to do with being black or white, it could be against Jews, or Asians, or Women, you know there’s a whole host of things it could be. I mean, there’s even people that feel white males are being discriminated against now, and that’s a hard case to argue, but people claim that. So, there’s all these biases today that I think, well, some are well-founded, and some aren’t.

I think it’s a hard question to answer, but there’s no doubt that in my lifetime I’ve experienced it. But I’ve never let it jade who I am, only because, “OK, fine, you don’t like me? Move on.” For example, that Intercontinental interview, I laugh about it, but obviously I had a little chip on my shoulder, but it doesn’t define you.

The single biggest reason for my success is that I’ve been able to actualize and create an environment where I can be successful. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a billionaire, but I really like what I do, I have fun with it, and I do lots of interesting things, and that defines success for me versus having a gazillion dollars. You know when I was a student I didn’t have two nickels to rub together – but that’s part of the experience isn’t it?

What would you say is the most important professional or organizational skill for a major business leader such as yourself to possess to be successful?

The first thing you have to do is communication. You have to be able to do 360 degrees. I have people that I have to report to (we have a board), I have owners, but I also have people at my level and people below, and you have to be able to communicate effectively with all of them, and you have to make sure that you treat all of them with dignity and respect. You have to make sure that your direction or communication is clear, so the message you’re delivering is on target and clear. I’d even say that over-communication is probably more important today, because of all the information out there, and the world is going so fast that- ‘how do you get your message across without all the other noise interfering?’

I think communication is one, I think some of the basic things – yes, please, and thank you – go so far. I would tell you that performance dictates a lot. I would also tell you that when you have bad news, SHOUT IT, immediately, regardless of what it is; trying to hide it is the kiss of death. I can’t tell you how many times one of the hotels, every so often, has a bad month and I tell the teams ‘guys, have you told the owner? Pick up the phone and call the owner, don’t let him read the statement, tell him now, it just diffuses everything.’ And when you tell the owner you’ve had a bad month you’ve got to tell him how you’re going to fix it, too. Don’t just call and tell somebody bad news, offer them a solution, too, or at least ‘I’m working on the solution’ if you don’t have everything figured out yet.

So that communication, honesty, thoroughness, doing your homework, making sure you have good people around you, are important. Business isn’t that complicated – a lot of it is common sense. One of my faults is that, while I get into detail, I like to focus on 50,000 feet to see the big picture, that’s how I can move the organization forward, but there’s times you must drill down and get into the minutiae.

I would also tell you that being successful also has to do a lot with longevity; I don’t think you can be in a position and change jobs all the time – I mean I think that’s changing with the younger generation – but having a little bit of longevity means you’ve learned your craft and you understand what you’re doing, and you’ve had some success, which allows you to have longevity.

Going back to your Hotel School experience, which was the most useful class you took at SHA?

I don’t know if there was one specific class that sort of jumped out for me, but I will tell you that the thing the Hotel School does is that there’s a lot of critical thinking that goes on. And because of that, it allows you to take in and analyze a lot of information and dissect what’s important and what’s not. That’s one of the good things about the Hotel School, is that they give you a lot of stuff to do, and you must parse through it, and you find that, ‘alright, I got all this stuff, but the teacher’s really going to focus on [X].’ So, it’s the same kind of thing in the business world: you’ve got all this data, all this information, and you must figure out what’s important and what’s not. And that’s what I think – the critical thinking aspect of the Hotel School – is a vital skill, whether you’re in the hotel business or not. And look, in today’s environment, if you’re not computer literate as well you’re never going to make it, so that clearly today must be part of the program.

Also, no matter what business you’re in, you must be able to understand the numbers. You don’t have to be a CPA, but you have to understand the numbers, to know ‘are we making money?’ or find where the problem is.

What advice do you have for Hotelies getting ready to start their careers?

The number one thing is that the first job you take is not your last. Whether it’s the ideal job or not, it’s not going to be your last job, so I wouldn’t get frustrated or worry about where you are in the pecking order. Get out there, do something, and if you don’t like it then figure out how to change it. Of course, though, don’t leave until you’ve done the job. I interview lots of people for positions, and I always say to all of them, ‘look, if the job doesn’t work out for you, or if it’s not what you thought it was and you don’t want to be here, tell us so we can in an orderly way help you find something else, and so that we’re not leaving the organization in a lurch.’ I get it that not every time we hire somebody it works out, but let’s, as professionals, talk about it and either figure out how to make it better or how to help you exit, and that way you don’t leave here with a year under you belt and we can’t really give you a good reference – that’s just silly.

It’s very few and far between that you rule the world immediately when you come out of school – I mean it does happen, but when it doesn’t, I wouldn’t get frustrated about it – and again this comes back to communication. There’s a term: “you have to be able to manage up as well as manage down.” And managing up means that if you’re in a situation that you’re not crazy about, you have to deal with it and you have to communicate with the people that you’re dealing with and you have to try to deal with it in an effective manner, i.e., if you have a job and there’s something that you don’t particularly like about that job, you can’t just go to your superior and say ‘I don’t like this,’ I’d go to them and I’d say ‘I have an idea on how things might be able to work a little bit better.’ And hopefully you’re in an environment where people are open to suggestions, and if you’re not then that’s not a good situation and you’ve got to figure out how to get out of it, but communication is a big part of that. And the great thing about coming out of the Hotel School now is that there’s so many different things you can do, so I wouldn’t worry about finding a job, but finding a job that you’re interested in. Because that’s where you can be excited and perform really well, but it doesn’t always happen that first job.

Outside of the office, what are your favorite hobbies or activities?

I will tell you, the most funnest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life was raise my kids. Without a doubt the funnest thing. Between the highs and the lows, figuratively “beating them up,” supporting them, yelling at them, all that stuff – I just love being a parent, it’s really a lot of fun. I should have had more kids… my wife was right; she wanted to have three, we have two, we should have had, probably five (ha-ha). So, one’s a freshman [at the Hotel School!], and I have a junior in high school.

I like to travel, I play a lot of golf, I have a good group of friends, I go to the gym a fair amount – I stay busy. And, you know, I’m tickled pink to come back here and go to lax games, and meet a whole bunch of new parents, so all that stuff is good.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share with current students?

The Hotel School is very well thought of within the hotel industry as well as outside of it. I think Cornell students sometimes get a bad rep in that people think that some Cornell students believe they know more than they do when they first get out, but our network is so strong and so deep, we as Hotelies need to continue that, and so I would encourage all of them to figure out how to give back to the program, because you will find over time that the network is very beneficial, and it works.

When I first became an analyst, this was a few years after I got out of school, I had the Cornell Directory, and I’d go travel somewhere and I’d call people out of the directory and say, “hey, I’m doing XYZ project, who should I talk to? Where should I go? Who should I meet?” I don’t recall anyone – I mean they may not have had a suggestion for me – but no one ever said ‘I can’t help you.’

The [Hotelie] network is more powerful than you guys realize.

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The Cornell Hotel Society Executive Board thanks the Cornell Hotel Society – Collegiate Chapter for initiating and conducting the “Conversations with Alumni” project.