Michael Lee ’18 sat down with Dexter Wood ‘87, an accomplished industry veteran with diverse global hospitality, finance and real estate experience with leading companies including Park Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Worldwide, Host Hotels & Resorts, HVS International and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
- What was your most memorable experience at Cornell?
It would be when I was the Beverage Director for HEC 62. That year was the spring of 1987, and the Statler was undergoing construction at that time. It was also the first time that my parents had come to visit the Hotel School. We were organizing a 500-person banquet at Lynah Rink as Barton Hall was also under renovation, and the Statler Inn had been knocked down.
We had just pre-made the coffee for the event and were transporting all these beverages en-route to Lynah Rink. While they had initially told me that we could use the water at Lynah Rink, we found out that the water from the rink wasn’t potable. We ended up dumping all the coffee from the Carboys so that we could get fresh water to fill the water glasses for dinner and remade the coffee afterward.
It was one of the first executive decisions that I had to make under a time-pressed situation.
- What was your favorite course as a student?
One of my favorite courses is now what is known as Restaurant Management. I really enjoyed working with Chef White and Professor Giuseppe Pezzoti, and ended up being a TA for them. They made a lasting impact on me. Even though I work in the finance/real estate industry now, I find that having operational experience plays an important role in understanding how hotels run.
One of my other favorite classes is also now known as Business Computing. When I transferred to the Hotel School, it was the onset of the PC revolution, and the Binenkorb Center had just been built. I ended up TA’ing for Professor Alvarez during my senior year for his computing course HA 374. This helped me tremendously in my career. I built my career in part by being a skilled excel modeler, especially at HVS and PWC. It really started with Lotus 1-2-3 modeling, if anyone can remember that.
- What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re back at Cornell?
I usually come back once or twice a year for HEC, board meetings, guest lectures, and the like. A lot of my favorite places are gone now, but I like visiting restaurants such as the Nines and Glenwood Pines. Everything else I used to like is gone, except for Rulloff’s.
- What’s one piece of advice that you would give to the graduating class of Hotelies?
I would say that the Hotelie alumni network is the most valuable thing that you get from the Hotel School. It’s particularly relevant now, especially since it’s something that you don’t realize until you graduate and look to secure or switch jobs.
Our alumni are passionate and invested in the school, students and alumni. Even now, people call me frequently to get advice and introductions. Embracing that Hotelie spirit and the alumni network is the most important thing that you can take away from Cornell. Then get and stay involved with the Cornell Hotel Society chapter in your city. #hotelieforlife
- In recent years, REITs have been trading at a substantial discount to Net Asset Value. As such, you see examples of industry consolidation or REITs being taken private. What is your view regarding the future of REITs?
We recently had RLJ (RLJ Lodging Trust) and Felcor (Felcor Lodging Trust) announce a merger, and this is one of the first indicators that the REIT space might be ripe for consolidation. We’ve seen it for the brand companies such as Marriott and Starwood as well.
Some people think that REITs face more difficulty when try to consolidate. Smaller companies have been around for a while, and they don’t really want to merge. However, investor and shareholder attitudes are changing. There are many advantages of being a bigger company, especially when dealing with brands and distribution channels and OTAs. Being a bigger company gives you more leverage and buying power. All of those factors may start to overwhelm the sentiment of smaller companies wanting to remain independent. I think we will see more consolidation over the next five years or so. All the forces are suggesting that being bigger for the right reasons might be the best direction.
- With current real estate trading at record high prices, what is Park’s growth strategy over the next few years?
Park definitely wants to grow and diversify. While we currently hold all Hilton brands right now, we want to diversify our brands and market representation. We’ll be focusing on employing an active capital recycling program with the goal of expanding our presence in target markets, primarily in the US, while reducing exposure to slower growth assets and markets.
The market cycle is what it is, and we’ll take the opportunity when we see it. We’re also long-term owners of real estate, so we also look for assets where we think we can add value. We’ve got a good strategy and team in place, and we have our sights set pretty high.
* * *
The Cornell Hotel Society Executive Board thanks the Cornell Hotel Society – Collegiate Chapter for initiating and conducting the “Conversations with Alumni” project.