Benjamin Nelson ‘22 – Philippus Miller III ‘83 Hotelie for Life® Prize Winner

“Make people happy!” – This is the life lesson Ben Nelson ’22 learned from neighbor and comedian Esther Goodhart while growing up in New Jersey. This mantra has guided and inspired Ben throughout his academic and professional life and influenced his desire to establish a career developing technologies that enhance the guest experience in the hospitality industry. His passion for “making people happy” led him to the Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration where he earned the 2022 Philippus Miller III ‘83 Hotelie for Life® Prize.

In 2020, the Cornell Hotel Society (CHS) Hotelie for Life® Senior Prize was named in honor of Philippus Miller ’83, longtime director of alumni affairs at The Hotel School and founder of the executive search firm Philippus Miller III and Associates. Phil was famously known for facilitating relationships among Hotel School students, faculty, and alumni. He was the consummate Hotelie – a people-person dedicated to serving others.

Ben’s first exposure to hospitality was a high school summer job at the Alpine Country Club in Demarest, New Jersey. Despite being hired as a busser, his first assignment was making pancakes at the breakfast buffet. He loved meeting and interacting with the members and convinced his boss to promote him to a wait staff position. As a server, Ben flourished and thoroughly enjoyed providing great service.

Impressed with Ben’s performance, his manager suggested that Ben should study hospitality management. Upon investigation, Ben quickly learned that Cornell was the place to go. However, in a similar college admissions story to that of Phil Miller’s, Ben was initially rejected from Cornell University. He enrolled in the hospitality program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and despite enjoying his freshman year at UMass, Ben reapplied to Cornell and enrolled as a second-year transfer. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to continue his hospitality education at The Hotel School.

At Cornell, Ben embraced his operations-oriented courses. A class on the cruise industry exposed him to a segment of hospitality that he did not know anything about, and it quickly became one of his favorite courses in The Hotel School. Ben also excelled in the Introduction to Hotel Operations class, and eventually became a teaching assistant for the hotel practicum portion of the course. Being a teaching assistant (TA) for an operations course during COVID presented a challenge since the class had to be taught online. Ben assisted the professor by reworking the previous in-class experience to be ‘Zoom-friendly’, including clips and interviews from his time working at the Conrad New York Downtown in Manhattan during the summer before entering Cornell. Outside of The Hotel School, Ben also took an introduction to American Sign Language course, proving to be one of his most challenging yet favorite courses.

When the Statler Hotel re-opened to the public after COVID, Ben was able to TA the Introduction to Operations course in person. It was during that time that Ben befriended a newly-hired deaf housekeeper from The Statler Hotel. When assigning students to pair with The Statler Hotel, Ben asked if anyone in the class knew American Sign Language. Sure enough, one first-year Hotelie had experience with ASL, which then enabled the deaf housekeeper to participate in the class and mentor a student for the first time.

In addition to his first summer college internship at Conrad New York Downtown, Ben’s other summer jobs complimented the operations courses he enjoyed and incorporated his desire to meld guest experience and technology. After his sophomore year, Ben worked remotely for the digital marketing department of Six Senses Hotels and Resorts. His assignment was to transform existing videos to highlight the brand’s key pillars and showcase the luxurious guest experience in a post-COVID era. During the summer following his junior year, Ben worked as a Digital Product Management Intern for Hilton, where he helped develop a guest facing messaging application that is planned to be rolled out at over 6,800 properties.

Phil Miller truly embraced the special relationships that have always existed between Hotel School students and alumni. During the fall of 2021, Ben filled in for one of the Dean’s Assistants to host Ryan McNamara ‘10 and Kristen McNamara ’10 as the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series speaker. At the time Ryan was Managing Director of The Plasencia Group and Kristen was an Executive Director at J.P. Morgan. Since that weekend, Ryan and Kristen have remained mentors to Ben, and as a true Hotelies have always responded to Ben’s inquiries. Ben has also benefited from attending CHS road trips to alumni events in New York City, as well as a CHS DC/Baltimore chapter event during his 2021 summer internship with Hilton.

Ben will begin his professional career with Accenture in the fall of 2022. He will be working in the New York office and hopes to explore the travel and tourism practice once on board. He would like to continue to pursue his passion of using technology to enhance guest experiences and make people happy.

Historically, one of the rewards for winning the Phil Miller prize was the opportunity to address the Nolan School of Hotel Administration graduating class during graduation. Unfortunately, that was not able to take place this year. When asked about the message he would have given to his classmates, Ben cited the following themes:

  • “Do the little things. Go the extra mile.”
  • “Small acts have the potential to change and enhance someone’s life.”
  • “Continue to live by the ‘Life is Service’ motto. That is how Phil did it. And that is what makes us true Hotelies.”

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The Cornell Hotel Society and Cornell Hotel Foundation congratulate Ben, and wish him the best of success on his journey as a Hotelie for Life®. This interview was conducted by Robert Mandelbaum ’81.

Stefan Diederichs ’92

Stefan Diederichs ’92, Managing Director of his company Othello Hotel Projects, shares with us what it means to be a Hotelie for Life.

“During my time at Cornell and during the first 10 years after graduation I was strongly involved with CHS. I held a number of national and regional positions in Europe and together with the team in the Benelux we organized a good sequence of cool events. But then with 3 kids and professional obligations I scaled down my involvement.

I have followed the Society from a distance and only stayed in touch with my closest contacts. But sometimes I reach out to a fellow-member whom I met 20 years ago or even members that I don’t know at all, usually for professional reasons or for travel advice. The response is always as if we had been friends forever. Nice to be part of this family.”

Stacy Koenig ’88

Stacy Koenig ’88, Case Investigator at Public Consulting Group, shares with us what is means to be a Hotelie for Life®.

For me, being a “Hotelie for Life” took an unusual turn when the world stopped due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A stay-at-home mom for 20 years, I was trying to go back to work in the hospitality industry. A hard enough hurdle after 20 years, but even harder when the industry was turned upside down due to the pandemic. What could I do from my house that could help? I took a remote job as a Contact Tracer for the New York State Contact Tracing initiative, quickly shifting to become a Case Investigator.

In a nutshell, I talk to sick people to try to stop the spread of Covid-19. As a Case Investigator, I get to talk to people from all walks of life. My Hotelie skills come into play every day as I treat each person as I would a guest in a hotel, offering empathy, kindness and compassion as I walk them through what to do to properly isolate and protect their families. I also need them to tell me truthfully where they have been and who they have seen. As you can imagine, some people do not wish to tell a stranger their recent whereabouts over the phone.

I truly believe my hospitality skills have helped me get people to open up to me. I can happily report that the amount of people who have refused to talk to me is very low. Hopefully, my efforts will help the hospitality industry get back on its feet and I can get back to the industry I love.”

Bhavnesh Vivek ‘11

Bhavnesh Vivek ‘11, Vice President of Hotel Acquisitions at The RADCO Companies and CHS Lifetime Member, shares with us what it means to be a Hotelie for Life®.

 “Growing up in a family that has owned, operated, and developed hotels since migrating to the United States, I have always been very passionate about the hotel industry. I knew at a young age that I wanted to attend CornellSHA due to the uniqueness of their curriculum, students, and alumni. The bonds that I have made with other Hotelies during my time in Ithaca and afterward is what I truly appreciate about being a part of the Hotelie network. Since settling in Atlanta, I have become involved in our local chapter, which has allowed me to connect with other alumni locally and continue to connect with other Hotelies and be a ‘Hotelie for Life’.”

JT Baker ‘21 – Philippus Miller III ‘83 Hotelie for Life® Prize Winner

In 2020, the Cornell Hotel Society (CHS) Hotelie for Life® Senior Prize was named in honor of Philippus Miller ’83, longtime director of alumni affairs at the Hotel School and founder of the executive search firm Philippus Miller III and Associates.  Phil was famously known for facilitating relationships among Hotel School students, faculty, and alumni.  He was the consummate Hotelie – a people-person dedicated to serving others.

JT Baker ’21, the winner of the 2021 Philippus Miller III ’83 Cornell Hotel Society (CHS) Hotelie for Life® Senior Prize, is also a people-person.  It all started at the Sunnyside Café, his family’s restaurant in Minneapolis.  “Growing up with two parents in the restaurant business, you would think I am a foodie.  The truth is I can’t cook, but I did fall in love the hospitality ethos and providing service to our customers,” said JT.

At age 13, JT and his family took a trip to Las Vegas.  Driving down The Strip, JT was wowed by the grandeur of the casino hotels.  “Who owns these hotels?”, he wondered.  “One day I want to own a hotel.”

JT was a star football player in high school and recruited by several colleges across country.  During his recruiting trip to Cornell, one of the coaches innocently asked the question, “What do you want to do in life?”.  JT responded, “I want to own a hotel.”  The coach immediately stopped the interview and proceeded to walk with JT from Schoellkopf Hall to Statler Hall.  JT did not know that Cornell was home to the world’s best university hospitality program.  From that point on, JT was committed to attend Cornell regardless of making the football team.

To say that JT made the most of his time at Cornell is an understatement.  Under the guidance of the Entrepreneur in Residence Phil Miller, JT used his great interpersonal skills to form relationships with his fellow students and members of the faculty.

Two of JT’s early faculty mentors were Professors Andrew Quagliata and Jan DeRoos.  JT first met Professor Quagliata the summer before his freshman year while attending the Hotel Operations Program on campus.  Professor Quagliata teaches Management Communication and likes to challenge his students.  He took JT aside and told him, “if you work hard, I’ll help you get the most out of your experience at Cornell.”

If JT wanted to own a hotel, then he knew he needed to succeed in Professor DeRoos’ real estate class.  Accordingly, JT, along with football teammate Eric Gallman ’21, took the time to meet as frequently as possible with Professor DeRoos.  Professor DeRoos acknowledged the disadvantages JT and Eric had as young African Americans that had attended high schools with limited excel training resources.  However, he assured them they could be at the “top of hotel real estate game.”  JT was inspired not only by Professor DeRoos’ message, but by the personal time commitment he spent with himself and Eric.  This changed JT’s perspective on how beneficial his Cornell experience could be if he took advantage of all the resources available.

From his freshman year on JT began to expand his relationships with university administrators, alumni, and industry executives.  While attending a high school event JT received a business card from Kevin Warren with the Minnesota Vikings.  At that time, Mr. Warren was the highest ranking African American executive with an NFL team.  On his own initiative, JT reached out to Mr. Warren and was able to land summer jobs summer jobs with the Vikings after his freshman and sophomore years at Cornell.  Under the tutelage of Mr. Warren, JT not only learned about the business of sports management, but also worked directly on a big mixed-use real estate project developed by the Wilf family (owners of the Vikings) next to the team’s new training facility in Eagan, MN.  The project included a 310-room luxury hotel.

On campus, JT added to his classroom and football commitments by winning a campus-wide election to serve as a student representative on the University Board of Trustees.  While serving on the Board of Trustees, JT was able to form relationships with prominent Hotel School alumni like Richard Baker ’88, Lee Pillsbury ’69, and Andrew Tisch ’71.  He also was able to establish personal connections with Cornell President Martha Pollack and Marriott CEO Tony Capuano ’87.

During the summer of 2020, COVID prevented JT from holding any in-person internships.  However, he took advantage of the opportunity to work remotely and tackled three opportunities.  One was with Kevin Warren, who moved on from the Vikings to become Commissioner of the Big 10.  JT’s association with Trustee Richard Baker ’88, Executive Chairman and CEO of Hudson Bay Company, gave him some exposure to the real estate side of the retail industry.  Finally, JT landed a remote internship with JP Morgan.

Prior to his summer experience with JP Morgan, the thought of working on Wall Street after graduation was not on his mind.  However, during his brief time with JP Morgan, JT was exposed to the finance side of the real estate industry and liked it.  Fortunately, his strong performance led to an offer for permanent employment after graduation.  JT will be joining JP Morgan in Manhattan during the latter part of the summer of 2021.

Since graduating, JT achieved another great accomplishment.  In June of 2021 he was admitted to the Harvard Business School.  Harvard has given him a two to six year window to work in industry, and then enroll in graduate school when he is ready.  “I initially did not think about attending graduate school, but the offer to attend HBS was just too good an opportunity to pass on,” noted JT.

As a graduate of the Hotel School, JT wants to live the life of a Hotelie as demonstrated by Phil Miller.  “I’m constantly amazed at how busy Hotel School alumni professionals take the time to help others.  Hotelies develop into selfless leaders that make the experiences of others better, both professionally and personally,” said JT.

Upon arriving in Ithaca, JT quickly noticed that he was one of very few African American students in the Hotel School.  Based on his positive experience at Cornell, it is JT’s goal as an alumnus to become successful in the real estate industry, and then use his resources to open the door for more black students to study hospitality and real estate.

“I’ve told President Pollack that Cornell changed my life.  The University is at its best educating students, especially those who come to campus with limited resources and are in need of extra assistance.  Ultimately, if we can educate a diverse student body, that will reduce the incidences of racism going forward,” JT concluded.

Like Phil Miller, there is no doubt that JT will use his strong personal skills to establish relationships that he can leverage to serve others and make their lives better.  This is the essence of being a Hotelie for Life®.

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The Cornell Hotel Society and Cornell Hotel Foundation congratulate JT, and wish him the best of success on his journey as a Hotelie for Life®.  This interview was conducted by Robert Mandelbaum ’81.

 

 

Stacey Nadolny ‘05

Stacey Nadolny ‘05, MAI, Managing Director at HVS shares with us what it means to her to be a Hotelie for Life®:

 

“When I entered Cornell almost two decades ago, I was completely unprepared for what was ahead of me in the Hotel School, and honestly a little unsure of it. But it was not long before I was working at the Statler Hotel, volunteering for HEC, taking every meal at Macs, and fully immersed in the school’s culture, not to mention my classmates and our phenomenal faculty and staff. I have been fortunate enough to work in hospitality since I graduated, for which I credit SHA in opening the doors for me, to make a career in this industry.

This network does not end when you leave SHA, it only grows. To me, it is most literal to be a Hotelie For Life. I have been so lucky to meet some of my closest friends and business contacts through the alumni network. The Cornell Hotel Society has connected me with some of the most committed alums, and I am so grateful for those the volunteers and staff that run this network like a machine. The countless hours that go into planning events, education, and fundraising are why we can continue to be Hotelies For Life!”

Photo 1: Volunteering in Chicago for Pelotonia

Photo 2: Biking in Idaho

Photo 3: With some of my HVS Besties

Hollis Silverman ‘00

Hollis Silverman ‘00, Founder of Eastern Point Collective, Owner/Operator of The Duck & The Peach DC, La Collina DC, and The Wells DC in Washington, DC shares with us what it means to her to be a Hotelie for Life®:

“Discovering, adapting, listening, innovating…all of these things are part of being a #HotelieForLife. For me, hospitality is a way of life, bringing people together over food is always the winning formula to create conversations and connections. I’ve learned so many lessons in my career, but what guides me as a Hotelie is to be both people- and purpose-driven and to anticipate the moments of conflict and of celebration. This amazing industry is all about passion, human energy, and taking care of one another. Our teams and our guests. And when in doubt, add roast chicken! Everything is made better with a roast chicken.”

 

Lee Pillsbury ‘69

Lee Pillsbury ‘69, Chairman – TenX Healthcare Systems, Chairman – TLG Investment Partners, Managing Director – Thayer Ventures, shares with us what it means to him to be a Hotelie for Life®.

“I’m a Hotelie For Life. I’m fortunate to be part of the best network in the country. It has empowered my success, strengthened my family, and supported me when I struggled. It is at the core of how my life works: Network-Connect-Collaborate.”

 

Bill Minnock ’79

Bill Minnock ’79, Managing Director Asia Pacific, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, shares with us what it means to be Hotelie for Life®.

“Being a Hotelie for Life is like being part of a family: anyone affiliated with Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration is family to me. When anyone contacts me or wants help – whether alumni, a current student, or a new student – I always answer and try to help. Why? Because all of my Hotelie colleagues, old and new, have a special place in my heart. Fellow alumni have done this for me over the years and this is my commitment to the Hotelie community.”

Bill Quain ’74

Bill Quain ’74, Stockton University Professor, worldwide Author/Speaker, shares with us what it means to him to be a Hotelie For Life®.

 “When I received that acceptance letter, back in March 1970, I had no idea that my life had changed forever. On my first day at Statler, they took us into the housekeeping department and issued our chef coats, checkered trousers, and red kerchiefs. I wondered, “Where was I?”, and “Who ARE these people?” Slowly but surely, I learned lessons far beyond the textbooks – I was becoming a Hotelie. In the years since, I traveled the world with confidence. “Which fork to use?” Got it! “Which wine?” Got it. “Can you handle the pressure?” Certainly, I’ve been there. “Do you have any friends?” Everywhere! “Do you know where that person went to school?” Do you mean the one who is smiling, and acting as the Host? Yes, they went to The Hotel School. “Hotelie for Life?” Oh yeah! And wow, what a life it has been. To all Hotelies, past, present, and future, I raise a glass to each of you, and say “Thank You All.”