Young Professionals: Education in many forms leads to hotel success

(People standing on different levels of platforms)

Caps and gowns, diplomas, tassels—it's graduation season. Whether it is high school or college, the end result hopefully is a new generation of well-educated, prepared future employees entering the work force. The classes and topics studied are a huge part of the process, but so are experiences lived outside the classroom.

To get a picture of what aspects combine to create success, we asked the members of this year's Thirty Under 30 class to share what class or experience during high school or college most prepared them for a career in the hospitality industry and why. Here are their responses.

Early Exposure

Herb Glose, assistant VP, hotel performance support, B. F. Saul Company Hospitality Group: The experience that most prepared me for my career in the hospitality industry during high school and college was working in the industry. No class, speaker or tour can match the understanding gained from working on property. The hospitality industry is one of the few that gives individuals the opportunity to join it regardless of experience or education—not to mention the flexibility to work while a full-time student. As a high school and college student, I had the opportunity to be a meaningful part of a hotel’s operation in a way that most 16 year olds would never get in other fields. Pairing those experiences with my education accelerated my opportunities after graduation.

Finance and Accounting Focus

Jonathan Jaeger, managing director, LW Hospitality Advisors: I have taken many courses throughout high school and college that have prepared me for a career in the hospitality industry. If I was forced to choose, the financial and managerial accounting classes at Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration had the greatest impact for my current role. Understanding the revenue and expense line items of a hotel income statement is one of the most important facets of analyzing the performance and/or valuation of a specific hotel asset. Without a contextual understanding of basic accounting functions, a transition into the hospitality real estate and investment industry would be extremely challenging.   

Communication Skills

Matthew Butterfield, revenue analyst, Maine Course Hospitality Group: I actually went to college for broadcast journalism so most of my courses regarded developing charisma and eloquence when communicating. It may seem like a loose comparison but when presenting ideas, concepts and offering input or advice to any of the leaders in our company these skills have become ingrained into how I engage with others.

This also applied to when I worked in the hotels themselves, before becoming a revenue analyst. A warm personality can make the difference for nearly any guest between having a good experience or a great experience as well as helping to defuse situations with a guest having a poor experience before they escalate. Communication classes may seem like a drag (they can be!) but the skills learned in them are invaluable in all walks of life!

Targeting Profits

Alicia Luke, GM, Hotel Shocard New York: In managing a hotel, when all is said and done, the end goal is to achieve a targeted profit. The accounting courses in college gave me an advantage in understanding the story told in a P&L and the flow of money. In turn, I was better able to find inefficiencies and control expenses.

On-Property Experience

Drew Wallace, senior associate, investment management, Davidson Hotels & Resorts: Not unexpectedly, the experience that most influenced and prepared me for a career in hospitality was working in hotels over summer breaks during high school and college. Though I may not be a GM with years of experience on property, those summers helped me understand what our industry really is, the people who work in it, and the challenges they face.

Today I know that whether working in development valuing and acquiring hotels or brand management creating the new cutting-edge guest experience, at the end of the day our business is driven by hotels, the people that work in them and stay in them. Keeping that in mind, especially now that I no longer work on property, has been extremely important to ensuring that the work I do is actually helpful to the hotels and relevant to the guests.

Having that on-property experience, although brief, has also added credibility to me and my work within the corporate world as well as helped me build relationships with GMs and others when I represent the corporate office or ownership group to them. Finally those summers gave me a taste of the complexity and excitement of our business that ultimately led me to make a career in it. 

Well-rounded background propels Hawkeye Hotels' achievements

For Ravi Patel, president of Hawkeye Hotels, a mix of hands-on experience and classroom instruction prepared him for the realities of the hospitality industry.

 "While I was in college at the University of Iowa, I was able to do an internship with the MGM Mirage companies in Las Vegas. I rotated through every department of various mega resorts on the strip. I spent time with operations, human resources, gaming, housekeeping, food and beverage, and surveillance," he said. "It was meaningful gaining this experience in the hospitality mecca that is Las Vegas.

 "Although I studied management at the Tippie School of Business, it was my Entrepreneurship and Innovation course helped me the most. That course provided me with the technical know-how needed to run a much smaller, yet rapidly growing, family business. Not only did I come away with great technical skills, but the course also provided the inspiration I needed to redefine what our family company could be, by implementing a new and innovative approach to doing business. I’m happy to say that since taking the helm of the family business, we’ve grown to become one of the fastest growing privately held development firms in the country."