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"The hospitality industry has endless possibilities" Kate Walsh, Dean & EM Statler Professor, Cornell Sc Johnson College of Business

In our special Hospitality ON issue on hospitality management schools and trainings (No 308-309/May-June 2021) we interviewed Academic directors of renowned hotel schools around the world. Here we unveil insights from Kate Walsh, Dean & EM Statler Professor, Cornell Sc Johnson College of Business.

What innovations, programmes and projects have been implemented in your school over the last two years?

We have built out our capability and expertise in data analytics, innovation, and entrepreneurship to meet the current industry demands for these skills and abilities among our graduates. We recently revised our entire curriculum to enable our students to focus on three specializations:

The Business of Hospitality, which includes a focus on elements such as services marketing, finance, technology, and data analytics.

Operations management, which focuses on unit-level and corporate-level hospitality leadership.

Real Estate, which focuses on the hospitality real estate business.

What approach(es) has your school chosen to train its students? What are the specificities of your schools?

Our education value proposition is grounded in experiential learning. Students are first introduced to theoretical concepts in our classrooms. They are then required to apply the concepts to real world industry problems, through our hotel and food and beverage laboratories, which are our learning laboratories, industry immersions, and internships. Each year, over 400 industry leaders, many of whom are our alumni, visit our classrooms and partner with our world-renowned faculty to educate our students. Our program is founded on our signature experiential programs including for the past 97 years, a program named Hotel Ezra Cornell, where students plan a signature event for industry leaders and alumni and for the past 94 years, the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series, where every week during the Fall semester, top industry engage in a 24-hour immersive experience with our students and faculty.

Has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the students interest in the hospitality industry?

Our students remain very strongly interested in the hospitality industry. In fact, because a third of our students pursue hospitality operations leadership roles, a third pursue opportunities in finance, consulting and real estate and a third pursue opportunities in data analytics and startups, our students’ career opportunities were minimally impacted by the crisis. While the COVID-19 crisis has required all of our students, faculty, and alumni to learn to a new educational model, we realized many innovations that we expect will only strengthen our value proposition. With the power of Cornell University, a leading worldwide research institution, our faculty and our students are continuing innovate in ways that serve our industry.

What values / skills do you think are necessary for the hospitality industry that should be taught in a hotel school?

To become tomorrow’s key industry leaders, students need the skills required to lead purpose-driven organizations. This includes having strong emotional intelligence, as well as the ability to thinking globally, be agile decision makers and support team-based models. Students also need to be well-versed in the foundational principles that are important to running our industry, including how hospitality operations function and are managed. Yet we take it up a level and prepare our students to be strategists of their enterprises, including having the data analytic capabilities to understand all dimensions of hotels as asset classes, innovate and make key business decisions. Underlying it all is having a clear service mindset and focus (to be of service toothers). This is our formula to prepare tomorrow’s top industry leaders in all dimensions of hospitality.

What do you think hoteliers need to do to attract & keep young talent?

Our industry struggles to retain its talent and this is for a few key reasons. With its underlying ownership structure and lean operating margins, it is challenging for many companies to take a longer-term, investment-oriented view of its talent, especially at the supervisory levels. But that is exactly what will distinguish the successful organizations of tomorrow. Our young talent is seeking the opportunity to perform meaningful, challenging work. They hope to be fairly compensated for their talents and expertise, and will be attracted to employers who will be flexible as their lives change. Employers who can a long view, and design meaningful career paths and trajectories will be rewarded with smart, dedicated talents who are committed to the success of their organizations.

What message would you give to hoteliers?

The future of our business rests with our future talent, our students. We need to do everything we can to invest in and support their growth and development, and their ability to develop meaningful, impactful careers in our global industry. 

What message would you give to future generations?

The hospitality industry has endless possibilities and is built on the premise of serving others, a premise that provides immense satisfaction as a form of work and is actually transformative in its impact. The global hospitality industry improves peoples’ lives, transforms communities and quite simply, makes the world a better place. If nothing else, this past year has made this foundational impact salient. We invite future generations to consider developing their career in an industry that by definition, transcends cultures, brings people together, and connects at the most fundamental human level around the globe. Future leaders are at the precipice of transforming our industry in incredibly innovative ways, all rooted in carrying our service-minded legacy forward. What an exciting opportunity!

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