Rummy Pandit Joins JWU Providence as Dean, College of Hospitality Management

Starting a new leadership role can be exciting and challenging. Starting the position of dean for a university during a pandemic, and doing so virtually, is something altogether different. “This is my first job in my 20-plus years in the hospitality industry and 15-plus years in academia that I've ever started online, not being present at the facilities. It’s been very interesting, to say the least,” says Rummy Pandit, LP.D.

Pandit recently joined JWU Providence as its new dean of the College of Hospitality Management (COHM). Bringing an impressive background in both academia and the hospitality industry, he is excited to be a new member of JWU's academic leadership. He’s also confident that the hospitality industry, which has a symbiotic relationship with JWU's COHM, will thrive again despite being sidelined by COVID-19.

Pandit, who jokes about starting to work in hospitality at age 10, began his career as a front desk agent for the Taj Group of Hotels in India. He also held positions with several other hotel groups, much of the time in operations, and has worked on three different continents.

Switching his career from the industry to academia was not originally part of Pandit's career plan. “I always had it in my head that I wanted to get an MBA in finance and make a lot of money on Wall Street.” But in 1997, already in a hotel management role and holding a master’s degree in hotel administration from Cornell University, Pandit entered Rutgers University's MBA program. After graduating, his career took an unexpected turn.

“I never got rich working in the stock market, but what did happen is that I got to know the folks at Rutgers. The dean of the business school at the time said to me, 'We are looking at starting a hospitality management program. Is that something you'd be interested in looking at?' So, I thought, 'wow, this is amazing.’ That was my initial foray into academia.”

Pandit became assistant dean and executive director of Rutgers' Hospitality Management Program. “I really enjoyed the interaction with students, being creative, and giving back … and the glimmer in the students’ eyes when you get across to them. From there on, I stuck on with academia, and it's been an exciting journey.”

Pandit left Rutgers after 5 years to become associate dean for business management at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York. A few years later, he joined Stockton University in New Jersey as executive director of the Seaview Hotel & Golf Club. When he left Stockton to join JWU, Pandit was executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism.

Now, Pandit is using his complimentary experience in academics and industry at JWU. “I'm excited about being able to work with our students and faculty. I believe we have a very strong, diverse faculty with a breadth of experience in academia and industry. I think that’s the key to driving programs in today’s hospitality world.” He also wants to position JWU faculty as thought leaders and says, "their scope of experiences lends itself well for that.”

Pandit’s strategy for leading the college successfully into the future includes promoting its existing strengths and adding some new initiatives. “We need to differentiate ourselves. That’s key, and that’s going to come about through our curriculum." One area Pandit wants to focus on is JWU's food and beverage department. “Many students will go through Johnson & Wales and then seek employment in hotels, food and beverage, restaurants, integrated resorts, casinos, cruise lines — there is a strong food and beverage thread in these, and I believe we excel in that. That’s one of our strengths that we will certainly look at.”

Pandit also wants to highlight JWU’s experiential learning and industry affiliations. “We create a curriculum that focuses on industry, and the industry is our primary partner. We want to ensure we are a resource for the industry. That’s the key to driving our programs and ensuring JWU graduates are sought after as soon as they graduate.”

“We create a curriculum that focuses on industry, and the industry is our primary partner."

A new initiative Pandit wants to put in place is an advisory board comprised of industry executives to help the COHM gain access to industry expertise and insight on what our students need to bring to the table for success. “The board will also open up doors for employment and internship opportunities,” says Pandit.

In today’s global market place, Pandit wants to ensure JWU students and grads are “ready to contribute globally the moment they graduate." He explains why: "If you go to work for a major corporation in hospitality, chances are they have operations throughout the globe. It is important for our students to, for example, be conversant with operations and methodology that take place globally. Those are the kinds of things brought forth through our faculty, curriculum and travel programs.” He also wants to look at the importance of students learning a foreign language. “That’s a strong driver in today's market, at least in the hospitality world.”

Pandit used an example from his background to depict the importance of broad and global experience. “I worked for a few years in Paris and spent time learning the wonderful world of food and beverage there. … That’s where I first learned how to gut fish. It was not the most pleasant experience, but something you have to learn if you're going to be a generalist and a general manager in a hotel environment. I often tell students that it's important to develop skills in multiple areas, not just one specific area … you need to understand not just food and beverage, but also lodging and rooms division, marketing, human resources, finance and accounting. These, collectively, help you operate in the world of hospitality.”

Many, if not all, hospitality segments have been on temporary hold for months due to COVID-19. But that isn't dampening Pandit's enthusiasm about leading the COHM successfully through this uncertain time. “The industry is not just going to survive, it’s going to come out stronger … There’s going to be a difference in the standards and how you operate the properties, including maintaining social distancing, the methodology for cleaning rooms, and public areas … But eventually, the industry will be back to where it was. It will probably take maybe a year, a year and a half to get to the point where we were before COVID-19 hit, but it will get there.”

“What’s going to make you a true leader is being a generalist and exposure to different aspects of businesses."

Pandit is also optimistic about the travel and tourism sector: “Once business travel begins to come back to normal, the hospitality industry will start to function again, including travel and tourism … Inherently, we, as human beings, love traveling. How long are we going to stay cooped up within four walls, not willing to go places? What may change is, we may decide to jump into the car and stay at the Marriott in Cape Cod instead of jumping on a plane and staying at the Marriott in Athens.”

When Pandit isn’t immersed in the hospitality world through his work, he enjoys it during his free time, too. “I love traveling. I grew up in India, spent a couple of years in Europe, traveled around France, Switzerland, Greece … and I really enjoy Canada.” On the sports side, he loves playing tennis and says he enjoyed playing soccer in his “younger days.”

A big fan of reading, Pandit recommends a book he recently finished: "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World,” which he says offers interesting insights. “What's going to make you a true leader is being a generalist and exposure to different aspects of businesses. That allows you to grow and learn faster. And that's another thing that we do very well at Johnson & Wales. Our students are exposed to different aspects of learning, not just within hospitality, but also through our courses in business and the arts and sciences, for example. That gives them a well-rounded structure to face the global challenges.”