Four new members of the Alumni Association Hall of Fame for The School of Hospitality Business at MSU were inducted at the annual Celebration of Leadership in an elegant ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City on November 10, 2012.
The “Class of Pacesetters” includes Hans Desai (BA ’79), vice president of Xanterra Parks & Resorts; John Huckestein (MBA ’72), partner with Yang Kee Noodle; Mary Roszel (BA ’88), co-founder of BIGGBY Coffee; and Jim Veil (BA ’73), hotelier and distinguished alumnus. In addition, The School honored the 2012 Industry Leaders of the Year CEO of Hersha Hospitality Trust Jay H. Shah and President and COO Neil H. Shah.
The evening began with a welcome from Waldorf General Manager Eric O. Long, whose confidence in graduates from The School is highlighted by the eight alumni currently in executive positions within the iconic hotel.
Introducing the honorees, School Director and Professor Dr. Ron Cichy (BA ’72, MBA ’77) said, “Whether setting the bar high in our nation’s national parks; creating new and exciting restaurant concepts; building a fast-growing coffee franchise company; or developing groundbreaking hotel brands – each of our new Hall of Fame members has earned our recognition. In addition to career success and contributions to our industry, they have challenged our students with their values and their lives.”
Hans Desai joined Xanterra Parks & Resorts in 2004, and prior to that spend 25 years in hotel management with Fairmont Hotels, Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental, HVS Hotel Management, and Sheraton. With Xanterra, he is responsible for business development, operations, and asset management for the nation’s largest operator of park-based hotels, restaurants, and stores. With The School, Hans serves on the Executive Board of the Alumni Association and has for years been very active in the Spartan Sponsors Mentor Program.
Speaking to the 60 School students who travelled from East Lansing to New York for Celebration of Leadership and the activities surrounding the International Hotel, Motel & Restaurant Show, Hans recalled his days as a student with fondness. He urged the students to follow The School’s lead and “think like the owner,” no matter their position within a company. He encouraged them to find a company that shares their values, then take the responsibility for adding value to that company. “Get the most out of your HB classes,” he said, but become well-rounded, taking classes in the humanities, English, and history, as well. “Put your heart into what you do, and don’t forget your roots,” he concluded.
John Huckestein enrolled in MSU’s MBA program after gaining valuable hospitality business experience as club officer with Tripler Army Medical Center Officers’ Open Mess in Honolulu while serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam conflict. After leaving MSU, John joined Burger King and then Long John Silver’s, Inc. He later served in several executive capacities with Chi Chi’s, Inc., eventually becoming senior vice president of development during a period of rapid growth for the company. He then joined with partners in a variety of successful franchises, and is currently a partner in Buckhead Mountain Grill and Rocky’s Italian Grill. John and one of his sons have developed Yang Kee Noodle, a fast casual concept serving Asian stir fry dishes. John’s executive and entrepreneurial skills are inspirational for students who aspire to careers in the restaurant industry.
John spoke gratefully of the opportunities MSU provided him in setting him upon a very rewarding career path. He noted that the restaurant business takes hard work and “giving everything you have to make it happen.” He acknowledged that the business has been very good to him, as have the supportive friends and colleagues he has known through the years. John recommended that the students “spend time on the floor” of restaurants they manage – and “you have to be there on the weekends!”
Mary Roszel’s story is an inspiration, and one that resonates with MSU students, most of whom have spent their college careers attending classes holding a coffee from a BIGGBY café, co-founded by Mary and fellow Spartan Bob Fish. The company was named last year by CNBC as the “fastest-growing coffee retail chain in the U.S.” Mary moved to East Lansing with her two small children to attend Lansing Community College in 1974. Becoming a paralegal, she worked for 13 years with the Michigan Supreme Court until 1987, when she enrolled in what was then known as the School of HRI.
Mary took a job at a local breakfast spot, and, after graduating, built and managed another. The first BIGGBY opened in March 1995, just across from the MSU campus. The first franchise for BIGGBY was sold in 1999. With numerous industry awards and 160 stores and growing, the company is known for outstanding customer service and quality products. BIGGY is a real-life and close-to-home example to the students of effective entrepreneurship, hard work, and perseverance.
Accepting her award, Mary told the students to “do what you love.” She offered sage advice as they progress in their careers: “Be alert to opportunities,” she said. She also encouraged them to hone their “people skills,” give back to their communities, and “take care of yourselves.”
Jim Veil has more than 40 years of experience and leadership in the hospitality industry in a wide range of areas including hotel operations, corporate, owner relations, development, and pre-development. He has worked with Fortune 500 companies in the lodging and entertainment industries, multi-brand lodging management organizations, and startup hotel companies. His most recent position was regional director of operations for InterContinental Hotels in Baltimore and DC, and as general manager of the historic Willard InterContinental. From 2004 – 2009, Jim served as president of TWELVE Hotels & Residences, a boutique hotel brand which he helped create. Before that, Jim spent 18 very successful years with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, where he was a senior executive and a member of the corporate steering committee that twice won the highly coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
Jim reminded the students that they will be “armed with a great degree” when they graduate from The School. Relating a story about the time he was “let go” on the very first day of his first job with Disney (it all got worked out, he explained!), he told the students to be flexible, and work hard toward their goals. “Success is what we do every day, not in the future,” he said. “Maintain a support system around you, people who will serve as good mentors.”
The entire evening, including an elegant reception following the award ceremony, was a celebratory opportunity for the nearly 250 alumni of The School, students, faculty members, and friends and family of the honorees to connect with each other. The students were able to attend because of travel scholarships sponsored by alumni and industry partners.
During their stay in New York, the students participated in a dozen professional development experiences hosted by various hotels, restaurants, and clubs and the alumni who help lead them. Record-breaking generosity on the part of corporate and individual sponsors in honor of the evening’s honorees makes the Celebration of Leadership possible. “We are fortunate to be able to recognize these very special individuals, and are grateful to our alumni and industry friends who have given in their honor,” says Dr. Cichy.