“We’re only as good as the folks we work with,” emphasized Richard M. Kelleher ’73 at the Department of Hospitality & Tourism Management’s (HTM) Annual Awards Dinner on April 4, held at the elegant Boston Park Plaza Hotel. Honored with HTM’s Distinguished Industry Leader award—Kelleher—CEO and principal of the Boston-based Pyramid Hotel Group—was one of eight awardees, including alumni, an HTM student, and the founders of Friendly Ice Cream. The gala event, with its dinner, awards ceremony, and vibrant gathering for networking, attracted 440 alumni, faculty, students, and other movers and shakers from Greater Boston’s hospitality community and Florida, Washington, D.C., California, and other states. “My key to success: Treat people with respect: you’ll never go wrong."
The event’s high-energy master of ceremonies, Laurie Stroll ’83, applauded HTM’s faculty as dedicated, cutting-edge educators. Isenberg’s dean, Mark Fuller, commended Isenberg as the top public business school in the northeast and the HTM department as a top-ten hospitality program nationally. And the talk of the dinner was HTM’s move next January from its current 100-year-old quarters to Isenberg’s new, $60M state-of-the-art Business Innovation Hub.
Living the American Dream
Introduced by Denise Coll ’75, Kelleher recounted a 45+ year career that brought him from working class origins in Arlington to entrepreneurial co-founder and chief executive of two powerhouse hotel organizations, Pyramid and Beacon. In 2017, Pyramid, with over 100 lodging properties, was the fifth largest hotel management company in the nation. With Kelleher as its president and CEO, Beacon, which was founded in 1983, changed its name to Doubletree Hotels Corporation after major acquisitions. Upon merging with Promus Hotel Corporation, Doubletree took the former’s name. With Kelleher as its president and COO, Promus expanded to 1,200 properties. Following its sale to Hilton in 1999, Kelleher moved on to Pyramid.
As an HTM student, “I never forgot my line employee experience while serving others at the New California Steakhouse in Amherst,” Kelleher recalled. Years later, while working at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, Kelleher vowed to build a hotel of his own in a vacant parking lot across the street. As head of Beacon, he made good on that promise, by erecting the 31-story Doubletree Guest Suites Chicago, later renamed Hilton Suites Chicago.
“I have lived the American Dream,” Kelleher told the gathering, recounting his $100 dollar per semester tuition and life-changing opportunities at UMass Amherst. “My key to success: Treat people with respect: you’ll never go wrong,” he continued. As one who walks the talk, Kelleher then electrified the gathering with his announcement of a $1 million commitment to the university from him and his wife, Nancy ’71.
In two other high-profile honors, the annual Stephen Elmont Award went to Fred Mitzner ’86 and a Special Recognition Award celebrated Rob McCarthy ’78. As Senior Vice President for ConferenceDirect in Washington, D.C., Mitzner orchestrates contract negotiations and selects sites for events and board meetings for high-value clients. Introduced by Bret James ’73, who applauded Fred’s negotiating prowess and passion, Mitzner described his career and personal progress as a moving train with key developmental stops. The UMass stop, he noted, conferred “lessons in academics, friendships, and networking. Next time you’re on the train, look around at fellow passengers,” he advised. “They just might change your life.”
As a founder and later chair for 17 years of HTM’s Alumni Leadership Board, Rob McCarthy ’78, “has been the glue that kept us together,” emphasized Jonathan Crellin ’87 in presenting a Special Recognition honor to McCarthy. “Through seventeen years of service on the board, Rob has excelled in fundraising, mentoring, guest lecturing, and networking with alums,” Crellin added. “It’s been a privilege, a tremendous journey,” remarked McCarthy, who is Founder and Principal of the Melan Hotel Group, a consultancy in Bedford, New Hampshire. “We created the board in 2001, when Google was three years old,” he recalled. “Since then the board has been an amazing constant in a world of fast and furious change.” McCarthy expressed gratitude to both his UMass background and work ethic for helping him and all his colleagues to embrace disruption and change.
Hard work and drive are important, but success in one’s career and life really comes down to the relationships that you make professionally and among family and friends, emphasized Outstanding Young Alumni Award recipient Jenny Dell ’08. A dual Isenberg HTM/Sport Management graduate, the former Red Sox NESN sideline reporter currently excels in similar roles in CBS’s college football and NFL coverage. Dell recalled serving as HTM’s student ambassador in 2007 at the National Restaurant Association’s annual show in Chicago. “Just this morning, I got asked to host the 2018 show,” she added. “For that and so much more, I am thankful to UMass for many, many relationships and opportunities.”
Hope of the Future; Inspiration from the Past
HTM junior Elizabeth Levy ’19, this year’s recipient of the department’s Stephen Elmont Alumni Scholarship, was no less grateful to the hospitality program. “It means so much to me to be part of a program that believes in and supports me,” she told the gathering. “UMass has lightened my financial burden and my classes, internships, and other activities are helping me to succeed.”
Finally, in a celebration of the hospitality industry’s roots, the ceremony bestowed its Lifetime Achievement Award on the centenarian founders of Friendly Ice Cream, S. Prestley Blake and CurtisBlake. (Pres’ grandson and Curtis’ son accepted the award.) In a poignant introduction, Mike Sacenti ’82 portrayed the brothers as dedicated entrepreneurs and innovators. From their first ice cream shop in 1935 to their 400th in 1974, and their sale of the business to Hershey in 1979, “Nobody worked harder,” observed Sacenti. “They were laser-focused on being the best. It was contagious; everybody felt it.” Their emphasis on innovation, Sacenti continued, embraced periodic advice from “a mastermind group,” including Tom Watson and the venerable J.C. Penney. Without question, the Blakes’ odyssey underscored a timeless ingredient for success in the hospitality industry—a premium on innovation and disruption.