Career Advice: Alums from Marriott, 76ers, Westin

Hospitality Alumni Leaders Conference 2011Each year, hospitality graduates return to JWU to share their insights with students as part of the university's annual Alumni Leaders Week.

This year, 13 alumni — representing companies as varied as Westin Hotels & Resorts, ARAMARK, Starwood Hotels and the Philadelphia 76ers — offered candid career advice to a packed house of current students.

Love What You Do, Do What You Love
Early in the panel discussion, an alum asked, “How many people here love what they’re doing?” and everyone — including students in the audience — raised a hand.

In hospitality, that level of passion is a true differentiator. Panelist David Butler ’88, regional director of operations for StepStone Hospitality, called it sparkle. “It’s not about the knowledge you have but about how you apply it — your ability to speak, communicate and be passionate.”

A strong work ethic is key, as is a solid GPA. “Your GPA is your performance evaluation when you’re in school,” noted Lori Zabatta ’95, director of banquet and catering sales for Chelo’s. Butler agreed: “A good GPA shows that you’re good at prioritizing your time and taking your work seriously.”

Power of Mentorship
All of the panelists emphasized the importance of finding a mentor.

Suzanne Markham ’98, program director of Hospitality & Tourism at Mount Ida College, said, “I learned a great lesson [from my mentor]: start from the ground up. Roll up your sleeves and get involved in everything. Find that key strategic person and bounce ideas off of them.”

Butler stressed that a good mentor should be both impartial and candid, “someone who encourages you but is also honest.”

Networking: How Business Is Done
Networking is a way of life in the hyper-social hospitality industry. “It really is how business is done,” said Andrew Martin ’07, account executive for the Philadelphia 76ers. “In sports especially, it’s not what you know — it’s who you know.”

Charles Kahn ’03, global sales account manager for Marriott International, stressed the importance of honesty and sincerity in all interactions. “The ability to level with people is incredibly important. Work with people, not against them.”

No matter what, said Markham, “You always want to channel positive energy.”