Life Lessons From Leaders

By Dennis Nessler | June 11, 2020

Few industries have had their labor force as impacted as lodging, which has seen massive hotel closures resulting in laid off and furloughed employees.

As such, for students at various hospitality schools poised to graduate and looking to enter the work force it can be a challenging time.

According to the AHLA, the number of people employed in the hospitality sector in May of 2020 was the same as 1984. A handful of prominent brand leaders were asked to offer their advice to students of New York University School of Hospitality and Hotel Management, as well as other hospitality schools, during the recent Virtual NYU Virtual CEOs Check-in Panel.

Among other things, all of them preached the importance of patience and flexibility to the students. Arne Sorenson, CEO, Marriott International, commented on the availability of line-level jobs for students coming out of school.

“I think it would be unfair to say that those jobs are available in mass today. We obviously have many, many people who are furloughed or out of work. I think many of us will have a bias of going to that pool and bringing them back before we hire folks that we don’t already know. As a consequence maybe the words would be ‘be patient.’

“That’s a hard thing for a recent college graduate or graduate school grad to do because they’ve often got some school debt or are simply eager to get going. They’re ready to start their life and they’ve invested all this time, but it’s not going to be simple I think in the next 12 to 24 months,” he said.

Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO, Hyatt Hotels Corp., stressed the importance of an open mind. “I would encourage them to really apply a growth mindset and think about what the possibilities are like. Don’t constrain their thinking into a fixed path that might have been in their minds when they started into the program. There are many paths to a future in hospitality,” he noted.

Keith Barr, CEO, IHG, emphasized communication as well. “Engage with leaders that you know in the industry. Be patient, maybe go work somewhere else for a short period of time and get some skills, but stay engaged. We’re all signing hotels this week and opening hotels this week, we will be hiring GMs in the future and that’s just the reality. Just stay connected, build those relationships and know we collectively want great people. There will be great opportunities that present themselves,” he commented.

Meanwhile, David Kong, president/CEO, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, maintained there’s plenty of opportunity for anyone who is willing to work hard referencing many of the brand CEOs, including himself, who began in entry-level jobs such as dishwashers.

He offered a nod to the current students. “I’ve been very impressed with all the students that I’ve met along the way. I find them to be bright, talented, well educated, progressive, and risk takers. This is a great industry with lots of opportunities,” said Kong.

Chris Nassetta, president and CEO, Hilton, emphasized a positive outlook and patience. “Be patient and remain optimistic, because it’s really easy to cry in your own milk. Coming out of a school at this point is going to be a really challenging time, remain optimistic and remain opportunistic meaning there are a lot of different paths to getting to where you want to go. It is an amazing industry and most of these folks have chosen it because they have a love of hospitality. We will get back to a Golden Age of travel so stay the course,” he said.


Dennis Nessler

Dennis Nessler brings more than 28 years of editorial experience, including some 17 years in the hospitality industry. He covers the industry editorially but moderates various high-level panel sessions at hospitality events and frequently conducts one-on-one interviews with C-level executives.

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