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The School of Hospitality Business Alumni Association at Michigan State University
Honored Industry Leaders at its Annual Celebration of Leadership

Bob Habeeb Named Industry Leader of the Year, and Ed Watkins Inaugurated
as Spartan Hospitality Business Champion

(November 28, 2011, East Lansing, Michigan) -  In the luxurious setting of The Waldorf=Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in New York City, The School of Hospitality Business Alumni Association at Michigan State University hosted its annual Celebration of Leadership on Saturday, November 12.  The event honored the Industry Leader of the Year, Bob Habeeb, inducted this year’s Alumni Association Hall of Fame members, and inaugurated a Spartan Hospitality Business Champion, Ed Watkins.

In its 85th year, The School, an industry-specific School in the Broad College of Business at MSU, marked the occasion by unveiling a new set of dynamic videos aimed at highlighting The School’s unique history and showcasing its future directions.  Shown at the outset of Celebration of Leadership, the videos set an exciting tone for the evening.

School Director and Professor Dr. Ron Cichy (BA ’72, MBA ’77) introduced The Waldorf=Astoria General Manager Eric Long, who welcomed the gathering of close to 200 students, faculty, and alumni by complimenting The School’s ability to educate so many fine graduates, dozens of whom have served at the storied hotel.  “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up,” he said.  “You and the University have become such a strategic partner.”

Bob Habeeb is president and COO of First Hospitality Group, a Rosemont, IL-based hotel development and management company with a national reputation for cutting edge “people programs” and consistent financial growth.  FHG has been named in each of the past five years among Inc. Magazine’s “fastest growing companies in America.”  Bob has devoted much of his time to the American and the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Associations, even serving for two terms as the IH&LA’s chairman.  He has come to the MSU campus to speak to classes in The School, and has been named an Honorary Faculty Member, as well as The School’s Alumni Association 2008 Honorary Alumnus.

Addressing his remarks to the 60 students present, each of whom traveled to New York with funds provided by sponsorships from alumni and industry supporters, Bob said, “We are brothers and sisters in hospitality.”  He added, “Do what you love and love what you do; don’t do it for the money.”  Finally, he reminded the students to “Ring up your parents and ask them to laugh out loud.  You’ll remember it forever.”

Ed Watkins is executive editor for Lodging Hospitality magazine, and has supported The School’s efforts in a number of ways over many years.  He has covered The School’s increased emphasis on real estate development and thinking like an owner, as well as the recent establishment of MSU’s Hospitality Business Real Estate Institute.  Ed has also helped facilitate The School’s academic partnership of two major, annual investment conferences, the Midwest Lodging Investors Summit, and the LifeSTYLE/Boutique Hotel Development Conference.  Ed spoke to the students of the “next Steve Jobs” emerging from among their ranks, who, with innovation, creativity, and hard work will “transform” the industry.

This year’s Hall of Fame inductees, the “Class of Coaches,” included four alumni industry leaders from a variety of segments in hospitality business.  Each, through his or her career success, has burnished the reputation of The School.  And each, with selfless giving and role modeling, has furthered The School’s efforts to prepare the next generation of industry leaders.

Phil Hoag (BA ’67) is president of KB of Baltimore, Inc. He played football at MSU for the legendary Duffy Daugherty, along with legends such as George Webster.  But through many years as an entrepreneur and restaurant magnate, he has also been a coach, launching many of his own staff on to ownership of their own businesses and franchises.  Phil has owned and operated 40 Burger Kings in several states; developed and operated Duff’s Cafeteria, as well as two “table cloth” restaurants, Richards; and he is presently growing the Qdoba Mexican Grills brand in Maryland, with nine stores opened.  Phil has returned to campus several times as an Honorary Faculty Member, and when he addressed the students at Celebration of Leadership, he had an important message.  “Have fun,” he said.  “Work hard, but enjoy it.”

Bob Pierce (BA ’83) is the area general manager of The Dearborn Inn – a Marriott hotel.  One of eleven children, Bob worked his way through the School of HRI at MSU, and joined Marriott in 1985.  He rose through a number of management positions at various locations with Marriott, and has been in Dearborn since 2005.  On his return to the State of Michigan, Bob involved himself more deeply with The School’s Alumni Association, serving as a crucial member of its fundraising committee, and Appointed Board of Directors.  Bob has also hired School students as interns and openly acknowledged their maturity, professionalism, and enthusiasm.  He told the students in the room that “none of us is entitled to anything.  It is important to work hard and earn success.  The possibilities are endless.”

Houston Striggow (BA ’75) is chief financial officer with SusieCakes Bakeries, a collection of six highly successful All-American Homestyle bakeries in Northern and Southern California, founded and led by Houston’s business and life partner, Susan Sarich.  He serves on The School’s Entrepreneurial Advisory Council, has spoken in several School classes, and has recruited School graduates for placement in his companies.  He has been a generous donor to The School, most recently pledging $30,000 to name the Professor of Culinary Business’s office in The School’s newly-revitalized Culinary Business Learning Lab in honor of legendary Professor Dr. Lewis J. Minor.  He told students to study the book by restaurateur Danny Meyer, “Setting the Table.”  “At the end of the day,” Houston said, “our industry is about hospitality and customer service, not social media.”

Ana Maria Viscasillas Aponte (BA ’88) is founder of BTS Corporation in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and until earlier this year was the president and CEO of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau.  Her successes in over 17 years in that position are numerous. Under her leadership, membership in the Bureau increased 58%, and the Puerto Rico Convention Center was opened in 2005, providing the Island with the largest facility of its kind in all of Latin America.  It is estimated that the Convention Center produces over $125 million in business annually for Puerto Rico’s economy.  Ana Maria is a gracious host to School students who travel to Puerto Rico for educational spring breaks designed to feature tourism and international hospitality.  She also serves on The School’s Alumni Association Appointed Board. She urged the students to remember three things: “have fun; be strong and welcome challenges; and value teamwork and unity.”
Each honoree was presented by officers of the Alumni Association:  Marc Gordon (MBA ’73), chairman emeritus; Dan Burdakin (BA ’81), chairman; John Theuer (BA ’83, MBA ’83), president; and Billy Downs (BA ’88), vice president.  The awards ceremony was followed by an elegant reception in the Vanderbilt Room.
“We have a lot to celebrate this year,” said John Theuer.  “Our 85th anniversary, the new Culinary Business Learning Lab, MSU’s new Hospitality Business Real Estate Institute – but the reality is that we are really celebrating these individuals.  Our School produces movers and shakers in our industry, but it also relies on them.  And these are some of our finest.”
Celebration of Leadership is an annual tradition for The School, taking place during the International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show.  The students who attend from The School spend several days attending the show and participating in numerous professional development programs arranged by The School’s Student and Industry Resource Center Director Ms. Authella Collins Hawks. 
“WE” includes students, faculty, alumni, and industry partners.  “THE” reflects our 85-year expertise in Hospitality Business management and operations, and the addition of a real estate understanding and thinking like an owner throughout our curriculum.

About The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University:  We are The School

Recognized as the top-ranked hospitality business school, The School has a unique and independent position within Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University.  Celebrating its 85th anniversary year in 2012, The School has almost 10,000 graduates worldwide, including a number of leading academicians and industry executives who have earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees.  Founded in 1927, The School offers an exceptionally well-crafted curriculum, taught by innovative professors who are leading textbook authors, sought-after consultants, and respected researchers.

The mission of The School is
  • to INSPIRE continuous learning by empowering present and future managers to ACQUIRE knowledge, skills, and global Hospitality Business leadership positions
  • to CREATE knowledge by engaging in collaborative theoretical and applied research for the benefit of undergraduate and graduate students, Hospitality Businesses, and the community of hospitality management scholars
  • to ENGAGE our Hospitality Business partners through outreach and service, and to ENHANCE global Hospitality Business economic, community, and academic development and
  • to CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVE The School's global leadership position in Hospitality Business operations, development, ownership, and management.
The First, The Original, and STILL The Leader…The School of Hospitality Business.  We are The School™.

For more information, please visit us at

Lena Loeffler

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Also See: Michigan State University Research Website: 2011 Lodging Market Potential Index Available; Facilitates a Relative Comparison of the 25 Largest Lodging Markets Along Ten Dimensions / November 2011

The School of Hospitality Business Alumni Association at Michigan State University Honors Two Alumni with Lifetime Achievement Awards; Hospitality Educators Dr. H.A. “Andy” Divine (BA ’60) and Professor George Alley (BA ’59) Recognized / August 2011

Students at The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University Produce 60th Annual Les Gourmets Evening of Fine Dining for 200 Guests / April 2011

The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University Establishes a Real Estate Development Institute to Focus on Hospitality Business Real Estate Development and Ownership / February 2011

Spring 2010 Graduates of Michigan State's School of Hospitality Business Hear Kellogg Hotel's General Manager Joel Heberlein Speak; Student Remarks Given by The School’s Outstanding Senior Alexandra Clark / May 2010

Richard Farrar, VP of Owner & Franchise Services for Marriott International, Captures the Attention of MSU Students in The School of Hospitality Business / February 2010

The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University Receives Initial Grant from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation in the Amount of $1.3 million for the $5.8 million Culinary Business Learning Lab Revitalization Project / August 2008

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