The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University hosted its Alumni Association Annual Gathering of Leaders at the Hyatt Regency – Chicago on Monday, May 22, 2017.
The event honored Alumni of the Year John M. (BA Hospitality Business ’82) and Rebecca J. Duffey (BA ’82); Emerging Alumni Leaders of the Year Philip L. Zeller (BA Hospitality Business ’96) and Kurt Wisniewski (BA Hospitality Business ’94); and Honorary Alumnus of the Year Patrick Donelly. Annual Gathering of Leaders coincides with the annual National Restaurant Association trade show, which draws thousands of hospitality industry leaders, including School alumni. In addition, School scholarships for student travel allowed 10 student leaders to attend the show, Annual Gathering, and several other networking and educational opportunities.
John Duffey is the president and CEO of Six Flags Entertainment, the world’s largest regional theme park company. Prior to becoming president, John served from 2010-16 as the company’s CFO. Previous to that, he was EVP and chief integration officer of Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, guiding the integrations of that company with Dade Behring, where he had been EVP and CFO. John and his wife Becky met at MSU, where he studied accounting and she studied medical technology. Together they are well-known philanthropists, supporting many MSU initiatives and pledging a $1 million gift to The School to establish an endowed professorship.
Emerging Alumnus Leader Phil Zeller is the owner of Dale Carnegie Ralph Nichols Group, Inc. He is active in many educational endeavors, and with the Ralph Nichols Group has offered Dale Carnegie Training in southern Michigan for decades. In The School, Phil has created and offered a three-hour professional development program for student leaders each semester for several years. In addition, he generously provides discounted rates to 5-6 students (and faculty and staff members) every semester for enrollment in the full, 12-week Dale Carnegie Course taught in Lansing. The impact of these PDPs and the Dale Carnegie Course on these students is immeasurable.
Kurt Wisniewski has also had a significant impact on students. He is national account executive – branded solutions regional grocery with Starbucks. As such, he is charged with developing Starbucks licensed stores, food service, and office coffee business in lodging, grocery, gaming, healthcare, college and university, military, and business and industry. He developed the first Starbucks store on campus in Wells Hall in 2011! But just as important, Kurt comes to campus every semester to speak in HB 489 – Hospitality Business Strategy, bearing treats from Starbucks and wisdom from someone on the front lines of the industry. He willingly shares his company’s mission and values, business model, and innovations, and tells students, “Love, serve, care, and build relationships.”
Honorary Alumnus of the Year Patrick Donelly is the general manager of Hyatt Regency Hotel, Chicago’s largest hotel and the largest Hyatt in the world, with 2,019 rooms and more than 240,000 square feet of meeting space. He is responsible for the overall vision and future direction of this property and ensures its prominence as a lead employer, hotel, and destination by active involvement in the business community. Patrick’s biography – from learning the European style of service in fine hotels in South Africa to his 32 years with Hyatt – is an inspiration to students – a story of setting goals and meeting them through hard work, perseverance, and taking opportunities. He gives back to the industry as a volunteer leader of the boards of directors of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association and Illinois Restaurant Association. He also serves on the board of Choose Chicago, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and Greater North Michigan Avenue Association.
Members of the executive board of The School’s Alumni Association presented the awards at an elegant evening reception following a day-long meeting of the entire board at which new officers were installed and outgoing officers were acknowledged. Mike Rice (BA Hospitality Business ’91), who now assumes the role of chairman of the board, said, “Our School has an admirable history of producing alumni who have influenced the hospitality industry since in 1927. We thank our honorees for what they have done for our industry and for our students.”