After 40 years in the hospitality industry, you could say that Steve Townsend had done it all. But as his mouse hovered over an ad on LinkedIn for an MBA – Hospitality from Johnson & Wales University, he realized that there was one thing on his bucket list that he had yet to accomplish.
Steve began working toward his master’s degree in 2015. “In the four decades since I had been in school, the academic world had changed so much,” he said. For starters, he was able to complete his coursework from his home in Washington state whenever it was convenient for him, as the program was fully online.
Parallel to chipping away at his coursework, he was also working on another dream project: Building a hotel from the ground up in his hometown of Ellensburg. “Opening hotels is what I do and what I enjoy the most,” he said. But this project was special: The building would fill a void in the downtown’s renaissance, creating a space for visitors and locals alike. “I want it to be a point of pride for the community and part of my legacy,” Steve said. “At 62, I’m not a kid anymore.”
In his courses, Steve found that his experience added color to the online discussion boards: “We were studying things that I had lived: Enron, 9/11.” One reading in particular made an impact on him and the design of his hotel. “In an events management class, we read a book on The Station nightclub fire,” he said. The Station fire occurred in 2003 in West Warwick, Rhode Island. Pyrotechnics malfunctioned and within five minutes, the building was engulfed in flames and 100 people perished. “It gave me the willpower to stand up and say that even though the Elks [the building attached to Steve’s hotel] was grandfathered into old fire safety code, we should put sprinklers in. It’s the right thing to do.”
On a cloudless May day in 2017, Steve walked across the stage at the JWU graduate commencement in Providence, marking the achievement of his academic goal. “JWU’s philosophies meshed very well with my own vision of the business world as a ‘win-win’ relationship between stakeholders,” he said. “Success that includes all stakeholders is far more sustainable than the success which is realized at the expense of others.”
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