This past May, I reached a benchmark on a journey that started more than four decades ago in Tallahassee, Florida. I completed my MBA at Johnson & Wales University and attended graduation ceremonies in Providence. It was a glorious occasion that I was fortunately able to share with my wife Ruth and my son Zachary, both of whom accompanied me on the trip. I pursued my MBA entirely online at JWU. It was initially a daunting experience, partly because the online aspect was completely foreign to me, but even more so because there was a 40-year gap between completion of my bachelor’s degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration at Florida State and the pursuit of my MBA. I have to say, however, that it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life—one that had been on my bucket list for the two-thirds of my life that passed in the interim.
The path that led me to JWU was an eclectic one. I started my hospitality career at the front desk of a Holiday Inn in Tallahassee, Florida, while in school. I moved on to the “big hotel” in town a year later to become a front desk supervisor at the Tallahassee Hilton. After graduating from Florida State’s Hospitality School in 1975, my first taste of large hotel experience also introduced me to the condominium resort industry during seven years in the front office at Innisbrook, a 1,000-unit condo resort, golf, and convention facility near Clearwater, Florida.
That led to a wonderful opportunity to join the team at Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. Under the tutelage of Jack Vaughn, the iconic General Manager of the hotel, I learned a great deal about quality, high standards, and the commitment required to maintain them. I eventually became director of rooms at Opryland, which at that time had 1,100 rooms and about 1,500 staff in the Rooms Division.
After three years at Opryland, opportunity knocked once again, and this time it was the chance to open a Ramada Hotel across the street from Opryland as general manager. There is something very fulfilling about building a team from square one, establishing standards, working with talented people to create the marketing plans and F&B operation, and having your fingers in every aspect of the creation of a new hotel.
The Caribbean was the next stop, with the opportunity to become the assistant general manager at a struggling, severely underfinanced yet very beautiful resort on St. Thomas called Mahogany Run. Unfortunately, financial problems with the owner’s other businesses far from St. Thomas shortened that experience. It challenges a manager’s creativity and commitment when you are forced to make do with little or no resources. Notwithstanding the challenges, the resort was successful until forces far flung from St. Thomas ended that chapter.
A series of fortunate connections led to an opportunity to move across two oceans and the U.S. to Hawaii, where I spent most of the next 17 years. Along the way, I became GM at Kiahuna Plantation, in Poipu on Kauai in 1991. What followed was an experience that no one should seek, but that left an indelible mark and lots of experience. Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai in September 1992, all but destroying a pristine, oceanfront 38-acre 333-unit resort paradise. The ensuing two years were consumed with damage mitigation, insurance claims, reconstruction planning, rebuilding a management team, and eventual reopening. Lots of lessons learned along the way, some by making missteps, prepared me for a dubious opportunity to repeat the process just a few years later. In 1995, while a regional director of operations for Interstate Hotels, Colony Resorts in Hawaii, I was asked to return to the Caribbean to assist with an extreme exercise in bad timing. Interstate had taken over management of Point Pleasant in September of that year, days before Hurricane Marilyn swept across the Caribbean, heavily damaging Point Pleasant and shutting down St. Thomas. What followed was nearly two years of shuttling back and forth from Honolulu, eventually spending a year full time in St. Thomas, leading a team to repeat the process of a few years earlier on Kauai, albeit more effectively, with the advantage of earlier lessons learned. The resort reopened on a firm financial footing and was immediately successful.
I returned to Hawaii to become senior vice president of operations for Castle Group in Honolulu, a resort development and management company. During my years with Castle, I led a team that opened new resorts on Saipan and Guam, as well as renovating and reopening one in Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia. I eventually left Castle for an opportunity with Aston Hotels and Resorts to lead a team to work with a new owner of what became the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, a 700-room hotel on Waikiki Beach. The project included a $60-million-dollar renovation and complete repositioning of the resort. The resort was successful in reopening as a non-union property in a heavily unionized environment.
The next chapter led me back to the U.S. mainland for an opportunity with Wyndham Vacation Ownership, then known as Trendwest Resorts, in Redmond, Washington. During a 10-plus year career at WVO, I filled different roles, eventually ending my Wyndham career as director, standards and service excellence, for the nearly 200 resorts that make up WVO.
Upon leaving WVO in 2014, I decided to change direction in my life and career. Part of that change in direction was to take some time and complete that longstanding bucket list item. I saw a JWU ad on LinkedIn, did some research and inevitably chose to go for it. The JWU experience led me to the opportunity to take on an adjunct online teaching role at the University, which I am enjoying. At the same time, the company that I kicked off upon retiring, Indigo Solutions, is developing a 59-room, independently operated boutique hotel in Ellensburg, Washington, along with some great partners. This hotel will become the centerpiece of a wonderful, historic, exciting downtown area that has come back to life over the past decade. The hotel will fill a void in a downtown that desperately needs an anchor hotel. The Hotel Windrow will connect to the recently renovated, historic Elks Lodge building, making use of its iconic ballroom as the primary meeting space for the hotel. It is an exciting project and will be managed by Indigo Solutions when it opens in early 2019.
The best advice I can give anyone who is pursuing a career in hospitality is to chart a path toward eclectic opportunities, as I believe I did. Try different segments and locales and get a feel for large and small operations. Inevitably, it will help prepare you for your craft. Most important, set long- and short-range goals and be prepared to modify them as things change along the way. And, lastly, don’t ever get the idea that the time for further education is over.
To learn more about the Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education and how one of our degree programs can help further your career, complete the “Request Info” form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881 or email [email protected]