As a senior vice president for Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, Tiffany Cooper ’20 MBA – Hospitality could have rested on her laurels. Instead, she juggles jet-setting for her job with her online studies. Here’s how she makes it work — and why she says it’s worth it.
What is your background in the hospitality industry?
I have worked in the hospitality industry since 1995, 23 years which have been spent in operations and hotel development for the biggest and arguably best hotel brands in the industry.
My formal bio: I am currently the Senior Vice President, Development for the Americas for The Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, based in San Francisco, California. I began my career working in sales and marketing/hotel operations for The Kimpton Group in early 1995 and then joined Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 1999. I continued working in operations, leading sales teams for various Starwood properties until 2005 when I transitioned to the Real Estate Development Group for Starwood. During this time, I was responsible for growing Starwood’s hotel portfolio, doubling the footprint throughout the Western Region. In September 2016, following the Marriott acquisition of Starwood, I joined the Marriott International development team, focused on full service and luxury hotel development until moving back to Kimpton in April 2018 after a 20-year hiatus. I oversee new development opportunities for the original and most iconic boutique hotel brand. Thomas Wolfe said you can never go home, but I disagree!
Can you describe a typical day at work?
It likely begins with me on a conference call at the break of dawn, then heading to the airport to catch a flight to look at a new hotel site, meet with a client or walk a hotel for a possible conversion. No two days are alike, which I sincerely love — it keeps me challenged.
How do you define “hospitality”?
I view true hospitality as having your needs anticipated without having to say a word. Also, having real people who deliver heartfelt service that are passionate about what they do and sincerely care about making your experience so special that you leave a little better than when you first arrived. Oh, and housekeepers are Earth’s angels. By far one of the hardest, back-breaking jobs and they always have a warm smile and “hello” for you!
Why did you decide to pursue your master's degree?
Full transparency — I was not the greatest student when I went for my undergrad, way more focused on sorority life, fraternity parties, and boys than academics. Had I known I would land in a more heavily weighted finance world, I likely would not have studied journalism and would have probably paid more attention to my econ classes. All these years later and as you can imagine, having proficient finance skills is important for real estate development, so I am eager to receive a more formal education as to the basics of financial management rather than the ad hoc method I've received while working on the day-to-day. In a nutshell, my main motivation in taking this program is three-fold: the pursuit of greater knowledge, to avoid general complacency, and to sharpen my finance IQ.
Why did you choose Johnson & Wales University Online?
I researched a few options, and J&W offered everything I was looking for from an MBA online program — quality classes and teachers; ease of balancing work, life, and school; and their counselors were extremely responsive and helpful in explaining the program expectations.
With your extensive hospitality/business background, have you found the coursework relevant to your career?
I have already completed my ethics and research classes and am currently working on my corporate finance class. All three classes have been relevant to my everyday work day in that the instructors go out of their way to have you incorporate your area of specialty into their specific class. Whether it is having a better understanding of credible references, having a strong grasp on corporate social responsibility, or doing a deeper dive into corporate structures, balance sheets and how to account for depreciation, I have already found great parallels in what I have worked on and what I am learning.
Students who choose online learning are often balancing a myriad of obligations outside of the classroom, such as work, family, life events, etc. Would you say that's true in your case? What are your strategies for success?
Yes — absolutely. What is so nice about this program is that I can structure the week ahead of time, scheduling enough time for papers, discussion forums, and reading. I will usually do all of my reading on my flights early in the week and will try to stay a few days ahead of everything so I don’t feel overwhelmed. I have been taking one class per semester which has been a perfect balance for me personally. I will finish in 2 1/2 years, which is perfectly fine, as I am in no rush and want to get as much as I can out of my classes as possible.
What advice do you have for anyone who is considering pursuing their degree online?
Start now! You can do it. I am married, in my mid-40s, and have three children (with one in college) so when I first started, I felt a little like Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School. Three classes in, and I’ve found my groove. Life really does begin out of your comfort zone, so get uncomfortable. You will be amazed at what you are capable of and all the knowledge that is still out there to gather. So — it’s not a no, it’s a now!