Hotelie Hall of Fame Inductees
Game Changers – 2023
Game Changers – 2023
“I would have to say dad was a game changer in how they went about franchising the Burger King system. To put it simply, it was his innovation! You must understand that in the early 1950’s there were very few franchise operators. Dad and Dave made being a franchisee a success by implementing the systems and equipping them with everything they needed to open a new location. They created two subsidiaries to accomplish this goal. First, opening a commissary called Distron that supplied all the food and paper products needed to operate daily. They also created Davmor that designed and built all the equipment needed to open a new location. They would pack everything in one semi-trailer and deliver it to a new location all at once. In this way they controlled the quality and uniformity throughout the brand which set them apart from other franchise concepts. Finally, they mandated that each franchisee attend Whopper College in Miami and work in one of the company locations prior to opening their first franchise location.” Whit McLamore ‘78
James W. McLamore was born May 30, 1926 and grew up in Central Valley, NY. He attended Mount Herman Prep School in Northfield, MA. In June of 1943 he “hit the road” hitchhiking his way to Cornell. He was told Professor Herbert Whetzel, who was the current Chairman of the Department of Plant Pathology at the New York College of Agriculture, had written an article implying he had helped students find jobs that aided them paying for lodging and tuition. Jim loved telling stories. He described in his book, “The Burger King – Jim McLamore and the Building of an Empire” just how he came to the Hotel School. The story has been shortened for brevity.
Professor Whetzel had taken in students who worked at his home and tended his garden. He was currently in search of a student to assume such a role. This was a way a student could earn money for room and board and hopefully earn enough extra money to pay for tuition and incidental expenses. The tuition at Cornell was only $200.00 a trimester for a New York state resident, but I needed to pay it in advance before I could register for classes. My immediate objective was to find that $200.00.
The “Prof”, as I would come to call him, knew that I was interested in becoming his “student boy” and he talked to me at considerable length about that. It piqued his interest when I told him that I had grown up on a farm. He made a point of showing me his home and his garden which he was very proud of. After the tour we sat down on the steps of his back porch. It was a beautiful late afternoon with the sun coming in over the lawn and his garden. He asked me a lot of questions, mostly about my home, family and experiences at school and on the farm. Obviously, he was trying to decide whether or not to offer me the job.
I remember his turning to me at one point and asking, “Do you know what mycelium is?” I told him that I did and went on to explain that mycelium had some connection with fungi of various kinds including mushrooms and toadstools. That answer was essentially correct, and it was right out of my biology studies at Mt. Hermon. I am sure that my marginally acceptable response to his question had something to do with his offering me the job. He simply turned to me and said, “Son, I think you will do!”
I was delighted to have found a job in such a nice place with such a lovely family. Earning my keep would enable me to get on with my college education. Professor Whetzel explained the terms under which I would live and work at his home. He would charge me $.50 a night for my lodging and $.50 for each meal that I ate in his home. In return he would pay me $.50 an hour for every hour that I worked in his garden or around the house. We would settle up once a week as to how much excess or deficiency I had based on this arrangement.
The “Prof” threw the key question at me and asked how I was going to pay the tuition. He reminded me that student registration was only three days off and asked, “How much money do you have, son?” I reached in my pocket and placed all the money I had on the top step of the porch where we were both sitting. We counted it together and it came to $11.34. Turning to me he said, “Look son, I wasn’t talking about your pocket money, I was talking about how much money you have to pay your tuition. You realize don’t you that it is due in a few days.” I said, “Well, that’s all the money I have, Professor Whetzel.” He seemed annoyed and impatient with that response and said, “Well, alright then, where are you going to get the tuition money. How much does your family have?” I said, “My father doesn’t have any money.” A bit more annoyed, he said, “Goodness sakes, boy, how do you expect to get into this university?” I said, “Well, I was told that boys you accepted could work their way through college, so I just assumed that somehow you would help me do that.” He just couldn’t believe that I had come all the way to Ithaca without making arrangements to pay for my tuition.
After thinking about the problem, he said, “Well, I know the Dean of the Hotel School, Professor Meek. I’ll have a talk with him about a possible scholarship and tomorrow I’ll introduce you to the Treasurer of the University. We can talk to him about the possibility of obtaining a student loan.” The next day Professor Meek said he thought he might be able to get me a $50.00 scholarship from the American Hotel Association and Mr. Graham, representing the University, agreed to loan me $100.00. Professor Whetzel made up the difference by loaning me $50.00, which gave me the needed $200.00 tuition and the start I needed.
So that is how he became a Hotelie! It’s also the reason he has supported so many educational institutions throughout his life and continues to support them through the McLamore Family Foundation today.
Jim met his wife, Nancy Nichol, while at school and they were married the spring of 1947 shortly before graduation. Finding a job back then was difficult with all the returning servicemen looking for work too. Eventually he landed a job directing a YMCA Cafeteria in Wilmington, Delaware. The leadership of the YMCA was pleasantly surprised at how successful Jim had made the cafeteria and its banquet facilities.
A local restaurant owner recruited him away, but their relationship didn’t last long. He decided to open his own 14 seat restaurant “The Colonial Inn” shortly thereafter and made it a very successful operation earning $15,000 on sales of $90,000 in its first year. His success there gave him the confidence to open a second restaurant in Nancy’s hometown – Miami. McLamore’s Brickell Bridge Restaurant was an eighty-seat restaurant on Brickell Avenue. Unfortunately, he committed to leasing space in February when Miami was booming and didn’t realize it was so seasonal. Through perseverance he made it successful.
He met Dave Edgerton not long after moving to Miami. Dave was the first franchisee of “Insta Burger King” out of Jacksonville, FL. He had opened his first location in March of 1954 and wanted Jim to join him in the business. Jim thought the concept was a good idea, so he sold his other two restaurants and matched his capital of $20,000 in June creating Burger King of Miami, Inc. which later became Burger King Corporation. They quickly added three additional restaurants and fine-tuned the concept over the first two years. Their limited menu consisted mostly of 19 cent burgers, 19 cent fries and 19 cent shakes. Their success was limited but they continue to grow the concept. It really took off with the invention of the Whopper and the flame broiler in 1957. They eventually purchased the rights to the name Burger King from the Insta Burger King franchisor in Jacksonville and grew the company to 400 units when they sold to Pillsbury in 1967.
Jim stayed on as President and, later Chairman of Burger King until 1972 when he retired at a young 46 years old. Being too young to be inactive he involved himself in many philanthropic and community endeavors as well as being a board member of many companies around the US. A short list would include:
Member: Pillsbury Board of Directors
Member: Ryder System Board of Directors
Member: Lennar Board of Directors
Member: Storer Broadcasting Board of Directors
Member: Southeast Bank Board of Directors
Member: University of Miami Board of Trustees, 1973-1996
Chairman: University of Miami Board of Trustees, 1980-1990
Member: Northfield Mount Herman School Board of Trustees, 1968-1979
Member: Orange Bowl Committee (Chairman one year)
Chairman: United Way of Dade County, 1974
Chairman: Fairchild Tropical Garden Board of Directors, 1975-1996
President: National Restaurant Association Board of Directors, 1978
Member: Northfield Mount Herman School Board of Trustees, 1968-1979
Minority Owner: Miami Dolphins, 1968 – 1973
Member: Florida Council of 100, 1986-1996
Chairman: WPBT Channel 2, 1978-1979
One of Jim’s greatest accomplishments was working with Tad Foote, President of the University of Miami. Together they spearheaded the largest fundraising campaign ever attempted by any College or University to date. Their commitment was to raise $400 million in a five-year campaign. They impressed the entire higher education collective by raising $517,500,000 when it concluded. He always said it was important to give back and he did that throughout his adult life.
Jim passed away in 1996 at 70. He and Nancy have left a legacy of giving back through the continued efforts of the McLamore Family Foundation. The family is both honored and grateful you have chosen him as the 2023 recipient of this tremendous award.
Here is an excerpt from The Burger King book as published in The Flame magazine in September 1996.
This is a video of Jim explaining how the Whopper came into existence, a fun clip from the video BKC put together for the 30th anniversary.
John Harney was born outside of Cleveland in 1930. The Depression and family tragedies shattered his family. He was farmed out to relatives at age 8. The first relative was truly a farmer. John did not like plucking potatoes in the cold ground, so he moved to Manchester, VT to an uncle that had several country inns. There he fell in love with hotels. Also he fell in love with the love of his life: Elyse. She encouraged him to apply to Cornell after his Korean War service.
That was a special time at the Hotel School with many older students and many with families already. The staff at the School were so kind to him and his growing family. Important staff members: Edna Osborn, Mary Loughnan and Helen Ayers were the linchpins for veterans returning to school. The government deferred GI Bills funding, so money was a scramble. Everyone had two jobs, Chuck Feeney maybe had three, but faculty and friends all pulled together. At that time Bob Beck (later Dean Beck ) taught accounting and John became his Teaching Assistant. By 1956 John & Elyse had two babies and the entire student loan fund with his last semester unfunded. Dean Meek gave John a special project so that he could finish early. The Hotel School was where he made many lifelong friends.
After managing a small inn in Connecticut, he started Harney & Sons Teas. Beside no money there were no sons in that fledgling company. His two sons did join him later. As a Cornell friend told him, the first million is the hardest. Harney & Sons is now consumed on all 7 continents, even Antarctica. John never forgot about the School on the Hill. He interviewed prospective students. Set a record for the number of HECs attended. And was proud to donate an office in the Food & Beverage area occupied by The Cheryl Stanley.
Bon Appetit magazine named him Food Artisan of the Year. And the U.S Tea Association named him Man of the Year in 2011. He was proud to have his tea enjoyed at the Historic Royal Palaces over in the UK and all the great hotels, restaurants & stores. All this would never have been possible without the support of the Hotel School family. All hail Cornell!
From the New York Times, June 26, 2014
By Paul Vitello
June 26, 2014
John Harney, the founder of Harney & Sons, a specialty tea company that helped restore the American palate for high-quality teas, died on June 17 at his home in Salisbury, Conn. He was 83.
Mr. Harney was part of an informal community of American entrepreneurs and food pioneers who barnstormed the country in the 1980s and ’90s to acquaint restaurant managers, their luncheon patrons and the public — one afternoon-tea demonstration at a time — with the dying art of tea appreciation.
He conducted demonstrations for the waiters and waitresses at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and for the book club at the public library in Rye, N.Y., introducing the nuances of aroma, body, complexity and aftertaste in loose teas from China, Africa and India to people whose experience with tea had often been limited to what came in store-bought tea bags.
“John became a missionary of tea,” said Peter F. Goggi, president of the Tea Association of the USA, a trade group.
An inveterate and jovial campaigner — he was involved in community affairs and politics, and helped secure the Republican nomination for a neighbor, James L. Buckley, in his unsuccessful campaign for the United States Senate in Connecticut in 1980 — Mr. Harney described his tea-promoting efforts, in a 2001 CNN interview, as part entrepreneurial and part inspirational:
“All we wanted to do was get out there and convert — sort of like St. John with his gospel of tea. That’s what I consider myself.”
Though far from re-establishing tea as the No. 1 beverage in America (status it lost as a tragic side effect, by tea lovers’ accounts, of the 1773 tea-tax protest that ignited the Revolutionary War), efforts by Mr. Harney and his like are credited with quadrupling tea consumption in the United States in the last two decades.
Harney & Sons, which began with a selection of six varieties in 1983, expanded its catalog to over 300 blends, many of them now standard fare at luxury hotels, including the Waldorf-Astoria and Ritz-Carlton in New York and the Dorchester in London.
The Historic Royal Palaces, which operates sites in Britain like Kensington Palace and the Tower of London, stocks its gift shops with a proprietary line of teas blended by Harney & Sons.
John David Harney was born on Aug. 26, 1930, in Lakewood, Ohio, to William and Hildegard Harney. His father, an engineer who moved frequently to find work in airplane factories, left his children with relatives after their mother died in the early 1940s, when John was 12. As a teenager he lived with an aunt and uncle who ran a country inn in Vermont.
He served in the Marine Corps from 1948 to 1952, then graduated from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. By 1960, he had moved to Salisbury to become part owner and innkeeper of the White Hart Inn, a two-century-old restaurant and hotel.
It was at the White Hart that Mr. Harney, a committed coffee drinker, was converted to the gospel of tea. His St. John was Stanley Mason, an Englishman who had settled in northwest Connecticut after 50 years in the London tea trade. In retirement, Mr. Mason had started a small company to blend and package premium teas, and he persuaded Mr. Harney to add some to his menu.
Mr. Harney’s guests liked the teas so much that he bought Mr. Mason’s company, hired Mr. Mason as his consultant and began a 10-year apprenticeship in the tea trade. In 1983, two years after Mr. Mason died, Mr. Harney sold his share in the inn and established Harney & Sons with family help and a handful of employees.
The company now reports about $30 million in annual sales and employs 150 people. It imports about a million pounds of tea each year, which it sells in the United States and abroad in a wide variety of styles and packages at prices ranging from $2 to $500 a pound. It moved its packaging operations to Millerton, N.Y., in 2000.
Besides his son Michael, Mr. Harney is survived by his wife, Elyse; three other sons, John Jr., Keith and Paul; a daughter, Elyse; a sister, Susan Rooney; a brother, Jerry; and 10 grandchildren.
Mr. Harney remained modest about his expertise. But he held to two absolute rules in making a good cup of tea, whether using a camomile from Egypt or a Darjeeling from India, a tangy black Lapsang souchong or a soft jasmine blossom pouchong.
First, to use “furiously boiling water,” he told The New York Times in 1983, defining furiously (with a thermometer he always carried in his pocket) as exactly 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
Second, to make sure it is properly steeped: “Five minutes,” he said. “No more, no less.”
Harris Rosen: A Man on a Mission
“From humble beginnings, Harris Rosen has built one of the largest independently owned hotel groups in the country. But a hotelier is not what Rosen is; it’s simply what he does. Rosen is family man, an educator, a healthcare provider, a swimmer, a legendary philanthropist and a passionate advocate for civil rights and racial equality. And he’s issuing a challenge to other business leaders around the country — why aren’t you investing in your communities and in your people, too?”
Harris Rosen is President and COO of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, a hospitality company of nearly 50 years featuring an award-winning collection of seven Orlando-area hotels (three convention and four leisure) comprising close to 6,500 guestrooms and suites and 700,000 square feet of meeting and event space. With an unyielding, people-first focus, Rosen is a visionary leader in the hospitality, philanthropy and healthcare industries.
Growing up in New York’s Lower East Side in the 1940’s, nothing came easy for Harris Rosen. His family’s modest apartment still stands at 18 Monroe Street between the East River, the Bowery, Little Italy and Chinatown. After attending Music & Art High School in the Bronx, Harris Rosen applied to mostly fine arts colleges, but also Cornell University. He still marvels at the fact that he was accepted to Cornell and graduated four years later with a degree in hospitality management.
After graduating, Rosen then served in the Army for more than three years as an officer in Germany and South Korea.
Rosen began his career in hospitality as a convention salesman at the Waldorf=Astoria in New York City and continued his rise with the Hilton Hotels Corporation holding various management roles in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cape Kennedy (FL) and Dallas.
Eventually, he landed in Orlando after taking a job with Disney, working on hotel designs and even creating its central reservation system. It was around that time when Rosen realized if he was going to be happy and fulfilled, he had to consider being in business for himself.
The early 1970’s was a tough time in the United States with a stock market in decline and an Arab oil embargo making gasoline scarce and costly. Hotels in Orlando struggled, mightily. That opened the door for Rosen as he took all his savings, some $20,000 dollars, and agreed to purchase a small, 256-room Quality Inn with a two-million-dollar mortgage on the property which he assumed during the purchase. There was no going back.
He did everything from cooking and cleaning to gardening and front desk. Rosen lived on property and even converted two rooms into an office and a tiny apartment with a small stove up against the wall.
Today, Rosen remains in that same office in what is now the Rosen Inn International. His success allowed him to purchase two other hotels which are now the Rosen Inn closest to Universal and Rosen Inn Lake Buena Vista and build the Rosen Inn Pointe Orlando, Rosen Plaza, Rosen Centre and the crown jewel of the collection, Rosen Shingle Creek. His success in the hospitality field is legendary, only matched by his success as a philanthropist and humanitarian.
Rosen is a pioneering philanthropist for education. In 1993, Rosen created the Tangelo Park Program which has provided free preschools for all 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds who live in the underserved Tangelo Park neighborhood in Central Florida.
All the neighborhood children who graduate from high school and are accepted to a trade school, community college or four-year public college or university in Florida are provided with scholarships that include tuition, books and room-and-board—paid for by Rosen’s foundations. To date, more than 200 Tangelo Park youths have received full college scholarships.
In 2016, Rosen’s passion for providing hope through education led him to embark on a second similar program in the Parramore neighborhood, an urban community located near downtown Orlando that is five times the size of Tangelo Park. Rosen provides the same post-high school education opportunities as he does for Tangelo Park children. In addition, he funds the Rosen Preschool at the Orange County Public Schools Academic Center for Excellence. His hope through both initiatives is to change America one community at a time.
He has also been a major supporter of the University of Central Florida and made a major financial donation in 2002 to develop the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, which is currently the top-rated hospitality college in the nation and ranked second in the world.
Rosen and The Harris Rosen Foundation also made a $12 million gift to advance innovative brain tumor immunotherapy research and care at UF Health and to launch an unprecedented partnership for the development of novel brain tumor treatments. The Rosen gift is the cornerstone of a $100 million fundraising commitment led by the University of Florida to support the ReMission Alliance Against Brain Tumors, a groundbreaking, collaborative initiative that will unite world-leading neuro-oncology physicians and scientists in dynamic research and clinical trials.
The gift was announced Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, before the inaugural ReMission Summit for Brain Tumors at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel in Orlando. The UF-organized Summit brought together more than 100 experts in neuro-oncology, tumor immunology, genetics, artificial intelligence, neuroimaging and bioinformatics to form an elite research community focused on achieving transformative outcomes for patients with brain tumors over the next decade. The ReMission Summit also served as the public forum for the debut of the ReMission Alliance.
This collaborative strategy for brain tumor research resonates deeply with Rosen. His son, Adam, died in November of 2018 at the age of 26 after a two-and-a-half-year fight with brain cancer. Throughout his own struggle with the disease, Adam remained committed to helping others and raising money for Orlando-area families of children fighting cancer.
Rosen’s support of UF’s work with the ReMission Alliance builds on his longtime commitment to healthcare.
In 1993, he established an in-house healthcare program that included a medical center to provide access to personalized care for his associates. His revolutionary view of the healthcare system provided the foundation for RosenCare, which keeps comprehensive care costs down, while providing insurance coverage rich in benefits for his associates. To date, his organization has saved close to $500 million in costs.
He also established the 12,000-square-foot Rosen Medical Center, A Place for Healing and Wellness, in 2012, which includes a full offering of comprehensive primary and occupational care services. In recognition of his achievements, Rosen was honored in 2018 by the World Health Care Congress with two Lifetime Achievement Diamond Awards in Health Benefits Innovation and Public Leadership.
Rosen has received numerous awards and recognitions during his lifetime of service and philanthropy. In 2022, Rosen received Leadership Florida’s highest honor, the LeRoy Collins Lifetime Achievement Award for his efforts to improve the lives of all Floridians. He also received the United Negro College Fund’s Community Champion of Education Award for his efforts in Tangelo Park and Parramore.
“Burton M. “Skip” Sack ’61 is partner and chairman of Classic Restaurant Concepts. He serves on the board of the National Restaurant Association, of which he is a past chairman. Sack began his career in the restaurant industry at the age of 13 as a dishwasher for Howard Johnson’s. At 17 he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and rose to the rank of sergeant. Immediately upon his discharge three years later, he enrolled in Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Following his graduation in 1961, Sack joined the Howard Johnson’s as an advertising assistant and soon became assistant director of marketing and vice president of public relations.
In 1984, Sack became the second franchisee of Applebee’s, acquiring the right to develop the New England territory. At the time, Applebee’s had only two restaurants. His first restaurant opened in 1986, and by 1994 he had 16 restaurants operating in four New England states that employed more than 1,300 people. That year he sold his restaurant operations to Applebee’s International and continued to work as executive vice president. He served as a member of its Board of Directors until 2007 when the company was sold.
Sack has privately invested in more than 50 startup companies and serves on the boards of Tibersoft Corporation, Tempra Technologies, Evolucia Lighting, and Cambryn Biologics. He is a founding member of the Marine Corps Heritage Museum, a member of the Board of Governors of the Marine Corps Association, and a trustee of the Marine Corps Association Foundation.
Sack is a former president of the Cornell Hotel Society. In 2011, he was recognized as Cornell Hotel Society Southeast Regional Hotelie of the Year. He has served as a member of the School of Hotel Administration Dean’s Advisory Board and is a life member of Cornell University Council. Sack and his wife Gail live in Longboat Key, Florida and spend the summers on Cape Cod.”
Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration.
Now in his own words,
“In 1958, the application packet for Cornell required a Letter of reference be sent directly to the admissions office in a supplied, stamped, self-addressed envelope. I asked my former supervisor at Howard Johnson’s (Bill Pendergast – VP Northeast Region) if he would write a letter, and he consented. Three weeks after starting School, Dean Meek saw me in the hallway and said: “Mr. Sack, I’d like to see you in my office.” When I went into the Dean’s office, he asked me if I knew why I was accepted at Cornell. I replied that I didn’t know. He said it was because of a wonderful letter of reference he had received from Mr. Howard Johnson. I said, “You mean Mr Pendergast from Howard Johnson’s?” He said “No. From Mr Howard D Johnson.” Evidently, Pendergast wrote a glowing letter of reference, but then gave it to Howard Johnson to have typed on his stationary and signed by him. Dean Meek said he was so impressed that Howard Johnson would take the time to write a letter of reference, he just had to accept me. Truth be known, I was a solid “C” student in High School. What also helped, I believe, was that during the 18 months I spent in Japan, I attended the University of Maryland Extension Courses on the base, taught by University Professors. I also completed several correspondence courses from the U.S. Armed Forces Institute.
The first day I was in Professor Beck’s Accounting Class, he proudly proclaimed that he was the only Professor at Cornell to hold up his sox with a tack.
I received my notice of acceptance from Cornell, the day before I was discharged. I had planned to leave the base at 6:00 AM, so the afternoon before, I went to the Post Office and gave them my change of address. The Postmaster checked my box and handed me the letter which arrived that afternoon. Had the letter came one day later, I would never have gone to Cornell. It would have taken 3 weeks for the letter to reach me, and the acceptance letter said the Spring Semester started in 6 days. Since then, I’ve been a firm believer in fate.
Another example of fate. In February 1958, there was a major recession in America. Jobs were hard to come by. I needed a job to pay my way through school, so I applied for every position that was advertised on the job bulletin board at Day Hall. One of those positions was for a Campus Police Officer, and I applied for that as well. I received a call from the Cornell Chief of Police at the time, Chief McCarthy, who asked me to come into his office for an interview. During the interview he mentioned that I had put down the name of Colonel Bowker as my last employment supervisor. (Colonel Bowker was my Battalion Commander, but as a lowly Sergeant, I had never met him.) Chief McCarthy asked me if I knew that Colonel Bowker had been at Cornell a few years prior, in charge of the PLC Program (That’s the Marine version of ROTC.) I told him I didn’t know that. He asked me if I knew that he and Colonel Bowker were the best of friends. I told him I didn’t know that either. He then said that any friend of Colonel Bowker’s was a friend of his, and that’s how I became the only student at Cornell to work full-time for the Campus Police. In April of 1958, I had the honor, along with another officer, of driving former President Truman during his 3-day visit to Cornell. President Truman lectured at Bailey Hall, had dinners with Cornell President Dean Mallott, lunches with the faculty and spoke in various classes.
President Truman eschewed the Secret Service after leaving the White House, and I had the privilege of driving him for the 3 days he was at Cornell. The last night he was at Cornell, he invited the other officer and me, up to his room for a drink, which was an experience I will never forget.
My roommate at School, for 2 and a half years, was Dick Ferris who later became my business partner in the New England Applebee’s franchise.
One of the first people I met at Cornell in 1958, was Tom Pedulla (’60), who had just gotten out of the Air Force. Tom and I became the best of friends for over 60 years.
I graduated in three and a half years because I was working full-time, including summers, so I took courses during the summer for extra credit.
In 2003, Dean Butler asked me to give the Hotel School Commencement Address at Barton Hall.
I have lectured in over 40 classes at Cornell over a 60-year period. On 5 different occasions, I was the Friday afternoon speaker at what used to be Class #155: then Brownies with Beck, Cookies with Clark, Donuts with Dittman, etc. “
An interview with Skip from Business Observer magazine July 30th, 2004, by Sean Roth
Welcome to Skip Sack’s Neighborhood
Burton ‘Skip’ Sack made his Applebee’s neighborhood restaurants one of the chain’s most successful franchises.
Now he’s bringing his recipe to the National Restaurant Association.
When Ted Teng ’79, Chairperson of the Cornell Hotelie Hall of Fame Committee, and two of its members, Kristin Sander Urhammer ’99 and Carla Petzold-Beck ’95, approached her at a Cornell Hotel Society event in Amsterdam this year, Annabella Wisniewski got the surprise of her life.
“You have been selected as one of the inductees for this year,” Ted told her.
Was it her turn as the token female, or token Asian, or token something for the Hall of Fame? She was truly in awe, but could joke with Ted about it, with the prejudices of the past comfortably behind her.
As soon as she was alone, in suitable quietude, she found herself looking back across a journey of 60 years.
Annabel, as she has come to be more widely and familiarly known, was born into the restaurant and hotel business. Her mother, Honorata Fajardo, owned and ran Bungalow Food Services, the largest restaurant company in the Philippine industry in the 1950s. Naturally, her mom would have none of her teenage dream of becoming an architect, like her father.
“You should go into business; then you can support a hobby like architecture,” she said, and proceeded to command Annabel: “Go to the best hotel school there is. Go to Cornell.”
Within months, her mom and friends were hosting H. B. Meek, the founding dean of Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, in Manila. Once she heard Dean Meek’s spiel on Cornell, Annabel was sold and obediently on her way to Ithaca.
“At Cornell,” Annabel recalls, “we had to be serious to make it. Entrepreneurship is genderless. It’s the passion for excellence that distinguishes oneself, coupled with the drive, motivation, confidence, and courage to take risks.” In her Cornell class, 92 percent of students were male.
After graduating from the Hotel School in 1965, Annabel knew she had to come home – it was the unspoken deal, but she stalled and got a job in Hawaii at the Kahala Hilton. The taste of independence had her yearning for more but, without financial independence, home beckoned.
Once back in the Philippines, Annabel was eager to share what she had learned with those who lacked the privilege of that education. She suggested that the Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines invite Cornell professors to provide seminars in the summers. And they came, led by Dean Robert Beck, for three consecutive years. It was the first major exposure of local hoteliers and restaurateurs to international educators in the hospitality industry, and it led to the expansion of the Hotel and Restaurant Department of the University of the Philippines and further to the creation of the Asian Institute of Tourism in that University.
Not long after returning home, however, Annabel felt she needed more experience and more freedom. On the pretext of having to go to New York to formalize her resignation from Hilton, she asked her mother for plane fare. Her mom was not fooled, but gave her the money all the same, thinking Annabel deserved some rest before plunging herself into the family business.
But New York had a job for her, at the Waldorf Astoria, and she was convinced to stay. A student visa for graduate studies at the Hotel School provided a quick solution to arranging a legal stay. She called her mom again for the necessary resources. “She replied by practically disowning me!”
With Professor Gerald Lattin’s help Annabel took a variety of jobs on campus — teaching assistantships, working at the Statler Hotel, and resident assistant at Mary Donlon Hall, thus supporting her own stay. During her graduate studies she met Tom Wisniewski ’71, a tall, handsome Marine who had just returned from Vietnam.
Scarcely reconciled with her mother, Annabel rang her to share the news that she was marrying Tom. In keeping with Philippine tradition, the whole family flew to Ithaca for the wedding. Six months later the couple visited Manila, and Tom liked it enough to stay for 11 years and, with Annabel, help her mom manage her business, expanding it rapidly.
While in Manila she and Tom also started their own hospitality consulting firm with major clients like Philippine Airlines, Orchard Hotels, Ascott, and the Manila Polo Club. But Martial Law was proclaimed in the Philippines and finding the business environment too suffocating, Tom and Annabel, now with three boys, moved to San Francisco where she joined the Pacific Area Travel Association as Director of Development.
The entrepreneurial urge, however, was simply too strong to contain and they developed, with a partner, the 95-room Orchard boutique hotel in San Francisco along with a critically acclaimed French restaurant, Annabel’s. As many Bay Area hotels were still recovering from the early 1980’s recession, they formed a company to rescue distressed hotels.
An industry colleague, hotelie classmate, and CHS past president, Jeanne Brown Sander ’66, sees the revolutionary in Annabel. “The trend in the hotel business in the ’60s and ’70s was to forget about planning to own and run your own and to join a big chain. That, after all, was where the money was made, but that was not Annabel.”
After 12 years of successes as a rescuer, Annabel took up an offer from Singapore, in 1994, to sit as the first woman director of Ascott International LTD, charged with presiding over its International Hospitality Division. Tom remained in San Francisco, holding the fort for their American businesses, and, from separate locations, they watched over their three sons, away in other states for school – with middle son Andrej ’94 at the Hotel School at Cornell.
At the painful cost of separation, Annabel was opening luxury properties for Ascott in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and London. She introduced the first luxury long-stay lodging with full hotel services in Singapore to an unserved international corporate market. Asked to open one in the Philippines, the serendipitous assignment provoked what would turn out to be a prescient thought, Why am I doing all this for someone else when I could be doing it for myself and for my own country?
The Wisniewskis came home to Manila in 1996 and set up Raintree Management Partners. Through the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the Wisniewskis kept their company going with projects capitalized by companies that could afford the risks. In 1999, they bought out their partner and started a new hotel and restaurant company with three employees. Today, its workforce has grown to just under one thousand.
“I didn’t really envision anything big. We had already done enough to be proud of ourselves and set in our lives. I wanted to give something back, help raise the standards for the local industry, and showcase a new kind of management,” Annabel says.
Raintree created, in the atrium of one Manilla’s best-situated office buildings, its first Foodpark—a sprawling food hall with small restaurants, food vendors, and shops. And upon learning the historic Ayala Museum was building a new museum with a café, Annabel remarked, “Don’t tell me it’s going to be another of those teahouses for little old ladies!” Instead, they selected her concept of what became M Café, and on its success, Raintree has expanded the Foodparks and restaurant company to 12 brands in 30 locations around the Philippines.
Alongside Raintree, Annabel and her hotel partner created Discovery Suites, a successful serviced apartment hotel in Manila as well as Discovery Shores, the first luxury resort on the Island of Boracay, when local resorts were all two and three-star levels. Soon, international luxury hotels were sprouting and tourism booming. The company opened resorts in typhoon devastated and impoverished provincial locations, detecting a strong potential for tourism. These properties set new standards, employing hundreds of local workers, engaging native suppliers, and boosting local economies.
Bobby Horrigan, GM at Discovery Hotels when Annabel was president and CEO, refers to her as a “living legend” in the industry. Discovery, the first Filipino luxury hotel group, is now a brand, taking awards from Tatler, Travel & Leisure, and Conde Nast Traveller, among other publications.
Raintree continues to evolve, and Annabel continues to be fully involved, opening new concepts following the Covid pandemic including two new country garden restaurants, Farmer’s Table and My Country House. Albert Alcantara, Raintree’s Director for Finance and a member of the executive committee, sees Annabel as “a visionary leader who, with her strong presence and guidance, has the remarkable ability to influence, inspire, and motivate employees whether as individuals or as teams.” “But it’s her compassionate nature that shines through. She bets strongly on native Filipino traits – warm and welcoming. Given the appropriate education, training, and motivation, Filipinos, she hasn’t the slightest doubt, make great hotel and restaurant managers.”
“At Raintree,” Annabel herself says, “we work very hard to create a strong sense of place. I don’t want to be waking up in a beautiful patch of property and not know that I’m in Bali or Phuket or Singapore. Whether it’s Misibis Bay or in Baler or on Boracay Island or in Tagaytay, the resorts and restaurants should take in the best of the character of the place, the best view and ambiance, the best local hires. It must unmistakably exude that local sense of community.”
Annabel is pleased the next generation of managers, including two of her sons, is stepping up to take on the reins. Her one regret is that Tom cannot be at her acceptance of the Hall of Fame honor – he passed on in 2018. “If only Tom were still here,” she is in fact heard to say all too often. Annabel and Tom had always been a team, navigating the roughest waters and pulling it off together – through consulting deals with international hotel companies, through the pioneering Discovery Suites, and through Raintree. In 1998, for Discovery Suites, they received the Best Employer Award from Hewitt Associates and the Wall Street Journal. Their Boracay Discovery Shores was judged in 2010 as one of the top 15 family hotels in Asia.
Annabel can rest on her laurels now – a finalist for Ernst & Young Philippines’ Entrepreneur of the Year, one of the “1I Bossings in the Philippines,” a PLDT-Smart prize for business leadership, and one of the top 55 Philippine entrepreneurs named by the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship Foundation.
Her advice to those who may want to follow her path: “Success takes believing – in yourself and in your dreams. Stay passionate, persevere, and pray a lot. Don’t forget that in the end it’s all beyond profit, outside your balance sheet. It’s about family, country, and the difference you have made in the lives of others.”
Steve’s professional life is defined as being the hotel valuation expert. His great contribution is to establish hotels as a financial asset that can be valued and understood in the context of other real estate investments. His support of Cornell and Cornell’s Hotel School has been unwavering since his graduation in 1967. At Cornell, Steve established a chaired professorship in “Hotel Finance and Real Estate”, participated in numerous speaking engagements in the classroom, taught extensive in the Hotel School’s executive programs and served on advisory committees, both at the Hotel School and at Cornell University.
Jan deRoos ’78 occupied Cornell Hotel School’s HVS Chair from 2000 through his retirement in 2019. He offers the following thoughts as a tribute to Steve: “I first met Steve on one of his many trips to Cornell to teach in the Hotel School’s executive education programs. We instantly found a bond in our love for the minutiae of valuation and trying to “get it right”. I had the honor of working with Steve in the classroom and as a co-author.
In over three decades of working with Steve, I came to admire his great generosity. He grew his global platform by being generous and partnering with others. He was generous with his time and empowered others to be successful both within the firm and as “HVS alumni”, having worked for the firm at some point in their careers. I am the personal recipient of Steve’s generosity to Cornell, for that I am forever grateful. Steve is generous with his time, relentlessly traveling the world giving the “Hotel Valuation Seminar” to thousands of interested students.”
Rod Clough ’94, President of HVS Americas offers this tribute: “On behalf of all of us here at HVS, I congratulate Steve on this most deserving honor. Steve built an impressive foundation here at HVS that hundreds of us continue to build upon – for both our present team and for those that have moved on from the firm. Through many partnerships and alliances, he built a worldwide consulting organization where entrepreneurs could thrive. He hired brilliant minds to collectively build this extraordinary hospitality consulting organization and where they could all become industry’s valuation thought leadership. He then married this with an equity sharing structure where these minds would then stay. A culture that allowed both independent thought and collaborative thought to thrive was created; Steve ultimately created a very special place here, which continues to this day. His principles and brilliance still guide what and how we go about our work. Not surprisingly, alumni of HVS have risen to leadership positions throughout the industry, including most of the nation’s consulting firms, and they continue to reflect Steve’s foundational principles in their work.
Beyond HVS, Steve’s dedication to the hotel industry was far reaching. He spent countless hours teaching classes to industry professionals and students. Steve’s textbooks and articles are highly regarded in the industry and represent the gold standard in valuation and consulting. He was also a star in the courtroom, often serving as a sought-after expert in high profile cases. Steve’s involvement in industry committees, conference advisory boards, and speaking engagements was extensive. Looking back on Steve’s career and his contribution to the industry is just simply extraordinary. It is inspirational and we here at HVS are grateful for everything he did to make this a special practice area to work in.”
Russell Kett is Chairman of the HVS London Office and has asked that we include the following:
By the time I first met Steve Rushmore ‘in the flesh’, as opposed to watching him from the audience making keynote presentations at hotel investment conferences, it was January 1995 and he was already considered a hotel valuation ‘guru’. At this time we found ourselves speaking at the same conference in Lisbon, Portugal, when I was working out my notice at Deloitte having been hired to join the London office of HVS which I did later that month.
What struck me most about Steve at that first meeting was how he chose to teach complex issues in a gloriously simplified way, something which I hope I have been able to copy in my own life – imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.
Steve had instilled an ethos within HVS from its inception which was partly my reason for joining in the first place but it has certainly been the reason for me staying for what is now nearly 30 years. That ethos was founded on the utmost integrity and a recognition that a successful consulting business relies on being client-driven on the one hand and people-focused on the other. Without having well-trained, enthusiastic and talented people to deliver the services, clients have no justification to commission the firm – and especially not to return time and time again as so many do.
Hiring the brightest and the best people available has long been a hallmark of Steve and HVS and, whilst many joiners have gone on to occupy senior positions within the firm, many of those who have left HVS have moved to senior positions within the hotel sector and gained significant reputations on the back of their HVS experience. Steve was quick to realise that having HVS on your resume was well-recognised by other employers and an outstanding cadre of alumni has been accumulated over the years, who are the cause of immense pride to their previous employers.
Steve also pioneered the recruitment and advancement of women and diversity more generally, along with encouraging both flexible working practices and rewarding associates in line with their performance and achievements, without the need for any external encouragement and well before most other entrepreneurs recognised the importance of these trends.
Finally, despite Steve’s achievement to be recognised as the guru of hotel valuation – and writing the book on the subject has done no harm to cement his reputation – Steve remains utterly modest in his demeanour, encouraging his colleagues around the world to develop their own reputations in this field, albeit whilst ‘riding on his coat tails’. I take immense pride in supporting Steve’s nomination for the Hotelie Hall of Fame and can only express surprise that it has taken so long for him to be so recognised.
A summary of Steve’s accomplishments:
Steve Rushmore, MAI, CHA is the Founder of HVS- a global hotel consulting organization with more than 50 offices around the world. He has provided consultation services for more than 15,000 hotels during his 50-year career and specializes in complex issues involving hotel feasibility, valuation, and financing. He was one of the creators of the Microtel concept and was instrumental in its IPO. Steve is a partner in HEI Hospitality, LLC, a hotel investment fund.
As a leading authority and prolific author on the topic of hotel feasibility studies and appraisals, Steve has written all five textbooks and two seminars for the Appraisal Institute covering this subject. He has also authored three reference books on hotel investing and has published more than 300 articles. Steve developed Hotel Market Analysis & Valuation Software which is used by HVS and thousands of hotel consultants, owners, and lenders throughout the world. Steve is truly the Creator of the Hotel Valuation Methodology.
Steve lectures extensively on hotel trends and has taught hundreds of classes and seminars to more than 20,000 industry professionals. He is also a frequent lecturer at major hotel schools and universities around the world including Cornell, Glion, Hong Kong Polytechnic, EHL, Florida International University, IMHI, Michigan State, Penn State, Houston, NYU and the Harvard Business School.
Steve is the Chairman of the International Advisory Board at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and a Member of the International Advisory Board at EHL Hospitality Business School as well as a past trustee at the Culinary Institute of America. During his 50-year career, Steve has been on the Boards and provided guidance for many hotel schools including- Cornell, Michigan State, Penn State, NYU, University of Houston, Florida International University, and Johnson and Wales.
Link to Steve’s Home Page: Steve Rushmore- Creator of the Hotel Valuation Methodology
Prepared September 12, 2023 by Jan deRoos ’78; many thanks to his colleagues for their tributes.
Jim’s life journey is the gold standard for human beings who inspired others. He was a life-long learner who was always seeking a better way forward, a gentle mentor to all who wanted to impact others by lifting their aspirations, an educator who taught the next generations of leaders how to lead in hospitality and related industries as well as in society.
While these three characteristics are separately found in others, Jim embodied all three simultaneously as he fulfilled his life’s purpose. The following information and stories from professional colleagues remind those of us who knew about his endearing and powerful sense of humanity.
Jim retired in 1999 but continued to keep in touch with his students. They returned the favor by nominating him to carry the 2002 Olympic Torch through Seneca Falls, New York, on Dec. 31, 2001, on the way to the Olympics in Utah.
Jim’s wide-ranging influence has been felt as he fulfilled his life’s purpose. Jim taught courses in financial management and real estate. He followed politics closely and was very concerned about the social and political injustices of the world as well as with human pain and suffering. To make a difference, he courageously initiated the course entitled Housing and Feeding the Homeless. He received a Chaired Professorship, the HVS Professor of Hotel Finance and Real Estate and became a Professor Emeritus at the Hotel School upon his retirement. His Ph.D. centered on a study of hotel management contracts and evolved into worldwide consulting work, and he was sought after by many of the leading hotel owners and management companies. His book, “The Negotiation and Administration of Hotel and Restaurant Management Contracts,” has become the go-to book for the industry. His consulting work led to a longstanding relationship with the United States National Park Service, which held a special place in Professor Eyster’s heart. He loved nature and the outdoors. He served as the chair for ten years of the National Park Service’s Concessions Management Advisory Board.
One of the gems from Jim’s Cornell Archive is the following, entitled Eyster’s Five Things to Know about Finance
A Cornell faculty member since 1972, Eyster is credited with creating an entirely new area of study – with his exploration and analysis of hotel management contracts – then writing the authoritative book on the subject.
Jan A. de Roos ’78, who collaborated with Eyster on the fourth edition of that book, “The Negotiation and Administration of Hotel Management Contracts,” calls Eyster “the intellectual father of hospitality real estate management.” De Roos, SHA associate professor and the HVS Professor of Hotel Finance and Real Estate, said, “Jim Eyster was known for his warmth and integrity,” adding, “He always took the high ground.”
Glenn Withiam, executive editor of the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly explained that by the 1960s hotel management contracts between property owners and management companies were becoming “remarkably complex and detailed, and Professor Eyster realized the importance of compiling and analyzing their diverse terms.”
Withiam pointed to Eyster’s “astonishing accomplishment of persuading several hundred hotel owners, operators, financial partners and consultants to share the terms of their management contracts, as well as their experiences with and concerns about those contracts.
“This was no mean feat in an industry as competitive as the hotel business,” Withiam said. “The fact that they were willing to provide this information to Professor Eyster demonstrates the trust he earned from his contacts, and the fact that this book continues in print testifies to the importance of this research.” The book was first published in 1977 by the School of Hotel Administration, with subsequent editions in 1980, 1988 and 2009.
One of Professor Eyster’s long standing colleagues, Professor Emeritus Neal Geller ’64 says: “The best thing I can say for Jim’s tribute statement is that he was a consummate Cornellian—as a student, graduate student, and faculty member. As a faculty member, he was demanding yet caring for his students. Their love for him showed. As a colleague, he was caring, supportive, and wonderful to work with. As a friend, he was caring, concerned, and incredibly reliable. I will miss him greatly.”
Another long-term colleague, Professor Emeritus Michael Redlin says: “I remember Jim as a principled and caring man. He lived his principles throughout his life by such activities as being a Boy Scout leader to his son, Jamie, and other young men and creating at SHA the innovative course “Housing and Feeding the Homeless.” This course was renowned for applying the tenets of hospitality to a nationally important cause. He cared about his students because he knew the importance of them having significant impacts on their generation. He maintained an extensive and active network of past students with whom he shared his wisdom and passion for life. He will be missed by many spread far and wide around the world.”
Ann Hales, N.P., Ph.D., who co-taught with Jim for many years, remembers him as a mentor and colleague. At the top of Jim Eyster’s overwhelming number of achievements and his admirable character traits were his commitment to excellence and his dedication to helping others also achieve success and excellence. I worked in academia for over 30 years, and I saw no other person dedicate himself or herself to the success of others as much as Jim did. He made certain that others received first credit for scholarly work that he had completed with them. I was fortunate to have been a colleague of Jim’s during the height of the Housing and Feeding the Homeless Program in the School of Hotel Administration. It was my first academic position and Jim mentored me the entire way and made certain that I was the first author and received the first credit for all the academic work that we did. Jim was passionate about the Homeless Program and showed a heartfelt concern for colleagues, students, community leaders, and individuals struggling to obtain adequate food and housing. The Homeless Program was his creation, and his leadership was admirable and unprecedented. I am so proud to be able to say that Jim was my friend.
De Roos also remembered this prescient addition by Eyster to the School of Hotel Administration curriculum: a course on the housing and feeding of homeless people. Administrators and some faculty members of the nation’s pre-eminent hospitality education institution were a bit unsettled, at first, de Roos recalled, “but the students cherished that class and the man who taught it.”
He also recalls Jim’s impact on him. “Jim and I first met when I was a freshman at Cornell, in the fall of 1972. It was Jim’s “rookie” year, a freshly scrubbed assistant professor teaching accounting to a class who would become friends and colleagues for life. I “earned” a C in accounting, a tough course for me. But I did learn many important lessons in Jim’s course – both the mysteries of the “three statements” and how the numbers moved from one statement to another as well as the importance of thinking clearly and accurately.
Little did I know that first semester with Jim would be the spark for my academic career, following his advice as my master’s thesis advisor and then as chair on my PhD committee, where he continually challenged me to see the forest by coming to understand the role of each tree within the larger forest. I am indebted to Jim in many ways; as my teacher, as my mentor, as my co-author, as a trusted advisor, as an inspiration; but most importantly, I counted him as a friend.”
Professor Tadayuki Hara MPS ’91, PhD ’04, University of Central Florida and one of Jim’s former PhD students, recalls Jim’s impact in Japan and on him. Professor Jim Eyster is not only well-known in the USA, but also overseas. Different Japanese entities invited him to visit Japan multiple times, and while I was involved, he was invited to give lectures, seminars, speeches in different part of Japan. He talked about hotel management contracts, valuations of hotels, and general hotel management issues in cities including Tokyo, Osaka, Nagasaki, and Kofu.
“I took his course in 1989, and then became his teaching assistant for HA323, hotel valuation course in 1990 and 1991, in my second year of MPS. After completing my MPS I went back to Japan to work for a Japanese bank, while I served as executive secretary for the Cornell Hotel Society, basically service work for senior alumni, such as Mr. Ichiro Inumaru ’53 and Mr. Yuji Yamaguchi ’61.
I had multiple pleasures of taking care of SHA faculty in Japan, and naturally I took Professor Eyster out for meetings and sometimes for personal trips during off-duty days.
Once I took him to the mountainous part of Fukushima Prefecture, about 200 miles north of Tokyo. He was an early riser in the morning, so we walked along the small village of Nango. Suddenly there was a moment that he became exceptionally curious about a sound, which sounded like metal hitting something. “Tad, let’s walk to find out what the sound was”. After a few minutes, we saw villagers, mostly local tomatoes farmers, in perfectly fitting classic uniforms and playing baseball before 07:00am; the two teams started to line up at both sides of the home base in two lines, facing each other, then took off caps and bowed to each other at the end of the game. I saw the happiest facial expression of Professor Eyster, who had by chance discovered a baseball game in the middle of Fukushima.”
One of Jim’s unsung contributions is to all Americans, his service to the National Park Service. Kurt Rausch, Chief of the NPS Commercial Services Program says: “Dr. Eyster provided invaluable service to National Park Service. Between 2005 and 2014 he volunteered as member and chairman of the Congressionally authorized NPS Concessions Management Advisory Board. Jim uniquely combined his love of national parks and his expert industry knowledge to help the NPS make fundamental improvements in how they deliver hospitality and recreational services to hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Under his chairmanship, the National Park Service streamlined and improved practices in areas ranging from contracting and leasehold surrender interest valuation to rate administration and performance standards and evaluation. The Board’s annual report to the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate on its accomplishments was instrumental in demonstrating the National Park Service’s commitment to always improving for the U.S. public. Throughout his time of service to the NPS, Dr. Eyster embodied the spirt of Cornell University through his level of commitment, excellence, generousness of time and advice and his good nature. To this day, the National Park Service, its hospitality providers and its visitors benefit from Dr Eyster’s contributions to helping the NPS meet its mission to conserve, preserve and protect its most precious natural and cultural resources and provide enjoyment now and for future generations.”
Commenting on Jim’s contributions to the Hotel Industry, long time Marriott executive William “Bill” Minnock ’79, MBA ’83 says: “Jim’s cutting-edge work on management contracts and real estate development helped to guide the strategies of virtually all of the major hotel companies such as Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, etc. for decades. Industry executives sought out and respected his insights and ultimately his work changed the structure of the hospitality industry, not just for the hotel companies but also for new sources of capital from REITs and Private Equity firms. His efforts clearly positioned Cornell Hotel School graduates as the leaders of both public and private hotel companies around the world.” Jim Butler, Chairman and Founder of JMBM’s global hospitality law practice says: “Jim Eyster was a wonderful, warm, caring human being with a great sense of humor who never took himself too seriously. It was always a pleasure to work with him on client challenges. He always made timely and insightful suggestions. He certainly “wrote the book” on hotel management agreements!”
Jim’s induction into the Cornell Hotel Society’s Hall of Fame is a tribute to the contribution he made to the lives of the many who he touched. My introductory story is but one “tree” in the “forest” of Jim’s devotion to making a difference in the lives of others. He inspired us all to embrace our better instincts and be intentional in improving both our own and other lives. He embraced the noble spirit of service to others as an act of kindness and grace, he walked the path of peace.
Jim inspired us all to be better, he is missed. May he rest in peace.
Link to Jim’s Obituary: James Eyster Obituary (2015) – Lansing, NY – Ithaca Journal (legacy.com)
Prepared September 12, 2023 by Jan deRoos, Editing assistance from Michael Redlin
After graduating Lee spent 19 years at Marriott, rising to become an Executive Vice President and Corporate Officer. Lee and his team introduced many innovations at Marriott including the first revenue management system for hotels, the first large scale guest loyalty program in the industry, developing Marriott’s multi-brand strategy and leading Marriott’s entry into the time share industry.
Lee left Marriott in 1988 to launch Thayer Lodging Group, a hotel real estate private equity fund for institutional investors. Thayer Lodging Group sponsored six large equity funds, investing in hotels branded by Marriott, Hilton, Weston, Sheraton, Wyndham, and DoubleTree. During its 25+ years, Thayer Lodging’s funds achieved a 26.2% IRR, ranking it one of the most successful real estate funds. Its properties included the development of the Grand Lakes Resort in Orlando, renovation of the Ritz Carlton San Francisco, the renovation and conversion of Marriott Wardman Park in Washington DC and the renovation and conversion the Diplomat Hotel by Curio in Hollywood Florida as well as over 3 dozen other properties. The company was sold to Brookfield Asset Management in 2015.
Thayer Lodging Group launched several companies including TIG Global Internet Marketing that built the first website for hotels 2 years before Expedia. The company was bought by Micros Systems.
Thayer Insurance Group, built by Lee’s wife Mary dramatically cut the cost of property and casualty insurance and employee benefits for Thayer’s hotel portfolio, as well as many other hotel owners. The company was sold to its key executive in a leveraged buyout.
EMC Venues, developed to market meeting centers built in selected Thayer-owned hotels, was spun off to its key executive and now serves large corporations planning hundreds of meetings in hotels and conference centers nationwide.
PURE Rooms, enabling hotels to offer hypoallergenic guest rooms to travelers suffering from allergies, hay fever, COPD and asthma. Pure was bought by Ashford Hospitality.
In 2004, Lee and Mary, with Teddy Zhang MMH ’97 visited 18 of China’s provinces at the request of the Beijing Government to meet with local officials to promote the development of travel and tourism within China as a major employer and engine of economic growth. Thayer China formed a joint venture with China’s Jin Jiang Group to build the first central reservations/global distribution system running in Mandarin. In 2010, Thayer Lodging Group partnered with Jin Jiang to take Interstate Hotels and Resorts private, tripling the size of the company to manage over 500 hotels worldwide prior to its sale in 2015.
Lee launched Thayer Ventures, an early stage venture capital company focused on early stage companies in travel and hospitality technology with three partners in 2012. Now on its 4th fund, investments include Canary, Sonder, Inspirato, LightHouse, Duetto, Mews and many others. The Thayer Ventures annual meeting has become the leading event for investors and innovators in the travel tech space.
More recently, Lee has formed TLG Investment Partners to focus on real estate investments. Its projects include the purchase of the 1,000 room Sheraton Grand Hotel in Phoenix and its subsequent sale to Marriott, ground-up development of the Saranac Waterfront Lodge, a 93 room boutique hotel in the Adirondacks, development of 7 gated communities with 252 townhomes and single family homes at the former Mizner Trail Golf Course in Boca Raton Florida, the redevelopment of the 70 acre MetroCenter Mall in Phoenix which will include 2,600 apartments and condominiums, and the redevelopment of the Inverary Golf Course in Lauderhill Florida to include 1,200 apartments.
Lee and Mary have been active supporters of Cornell for their entire careers. In 2006 they made a $15 million donation to the Hotel School to found the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship. Lee and Mary have been named Foremost Benefactors of the University. They have supported the Nolan Hotel School Annual Fund, being Tower Club donors for over 15 years. He also has been an active fund raiser for his class for many years. Lee served as the Frank H. Rhodes Visiting Professor at the University from 2010-2012.
A Presidential Counselor and Trustee Emeritus, Lee served on the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, during which time he championed the development of the North Campus Residential Project among numerous improvements to Cornell’s physical plant in Ithaca and throughout New York State and City. Lee was an early and vocal supporter of creating the Johnson College of Business, enabling the University to attract top ranked faculty and offering students a much broader range of academic programs.
They are especially proud of 7 of their nieces and nephews who have graduated from Cornell.
Lee was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016 by the University. In addition, he has been recognized by Penn State, the J.L Kellogg Graduate School Northwestern University, the University of Denver, and HSMAI. He has lectured at universities around the world including China and Singapore.
Lee and Mary have been married 53 years. Their many adventures include sports car racing with Sports Car Club of America and Ferrari, where they both graduated from Ferrari’s Advanced Racing Schools in Italy and the U.S. They crossed the finish line of the London Marathon “hand in hand,” and are the first husband and wife pilot team to fly a single engine airplane across the North Atlantic. They flew their own twin engine business jet for over 12 years. Lee and Mary are lifetime sailors and boaters and are members of the New York Yacht Club.
It is an honor for me to have been asked to write a few words about Lee Pillsbury for this well-deserved acknowledgement of his lifetime of achievement. I have known Lee since he joined the Board of Trustees in 2010 and have worked very closely with him during my entire decade as Chairman. I can definitively say that Lee has been one of the most effective Trustees with whom I’ve had the privilege of serving during my 20+ years on the Board.
As a native of Ithaca and an undergraduate at Cornell, Lee joined the Board with a deeper understanding of the issues facing our community than most Trustees – so he hit the ground running from the moment he was elected. In the depths of the Great Financial Crisis, Lee proposed creating a Task Force to focus the university administration and the Board on revenue generating opportunities, not just cost reduction approaches to dealing with the crisis. With a background in real estate, finance, and private investing, Lee brought a level of sophistication to our housing and real estate development discussions that will benefit the university for many years to come.
As Chair of the Trustee Buildings and Properties Committee, Lee led the efforts to revitalize graduate student housing at Maplewood and construct a spectacular expansion of North Campus undergraduate housing which will allow every freshman and sophomore to live on-campus and not have to deal with the incredibly tight, off-campus housing market. He was also instrumental in structuring the financing that put a hotel on the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island.
Lee’s success in transforming the Ithaca campus has already shown positive, knock-on effects off-campus, which he anticipated. Given the competition from brand new Cornell housing, Collegetown landlords have been incentivized to transform dilapidated rental properties of questionable safety into attractive new apartment buildings in compliance with 2023 building codes.
Aside from out-of-the-box thinking, deeply relevant expertise, and generous philanthropy over many years, Lee has also been a Big Red cheerleader and a source of Big Red memories for many Cornellians specially designed Cornell putters and then convincing the Board of Trustees that all of us needed to purchase at least one – with proceeds going to the golf team. And none of us will ever forget the dinner cruises aboard Lee’s Double Eagle yacht, to welcome Cornell’s newest Trustees or to celebrate the university’s special moments, like winning the right to build Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island. Lee and his wife, Mary, hosted an unforgettable nighttime cruise around Roosevelt Island to celebrate this transformational event in our history.
over many years. He has supported the Cornell golf team, for instance, by commissioning and underwriting the cost of
Anyone who knows Lee knows that he is a big personality — infectious, funny and authentic. He has given back to Cornell much more than he has received for decades. I am grateful that he is my friend.
Robert S. Harrison