On March 22, the Broad College’s School of Hospitality Business and Center for Ethical and Socially Responsible Leadership co-hosted the first annual Schmidgall Lecture Series event, centered on business ethics and ethical leadership.
With 25 years of experience in the lodging industry, David Lanterman, chief operating officer of White Lodging, was the featured speaker for the event, presenting to a full room of students, faculty and staff. He kicked things off by defining ethics in business: “Ethics is about doing the right thing when no one is looking,” he said. “Ethics should be the basis of your organization’s culture, and the culture determines how your organization, and you, make decisions.”
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The event was thought up by Ray Schmidgall, Hilton Hotels Professor of Hospitality Financial Management emeritus, to build upon the momentum and legacy of the Hilton Lecture Series, which ran every year at Michigan State from 1991 to 2019. Schmidgall originally helped launch this series as well, to address unique topics in hospitality from both business and academic perspectives.
“My research at MSU mainly focused on business ethics, so I understood the importance of challenging students to work and lead with ethics,” Schmidgall explained. “Events like the Schmidgall Lecture Series are an effective way for students to learn about pressing issues in the business world and connect with senior-level executives at successful corporations.”
Beth Hammond, managing director of the Center for Ethical and Socially Responsible Leadership, added, “Ethics impact all of us regardless of major and industry, and conversations like this lecture allow us to role model and shape future leaders.”
During the presentation, Lanterman emphasized the importance of treating employees well at the foundational level and addressing their needs at every step of the Q12 Employee Engagement Hierarchy, a model developed by analytics company Gallup. He walked students through the 12 questions of the pyramid hierarchy that corresponded to four stages in employee engagement in an organization: basic needs, individual contribution, teamwork and growth.
“A great work environment starts at the very bottom of the pyramid — basic tools and resources required for employees to do their jobs. You can only move on to the next question if the former has been fulfilled. If you can answer positively to every question, you have reached the peak of the mountain.”
He warned students about the dangers of aiming too high and too fast as a young professional, using the analogy of climbing a mountain: “The journey to the summit is not meant to be quick. Often, young and sometimes even old managers focus on the reengineering and rebuilding of an organization and lose sight of the basic steps and needs of their employees.”
Throughout the lecture, Lanterman incorporated quotes from Bruce White, the late founder and chair of White Lodging: “A great leader is not judged by the energy he creates with his immediate reports, but the energy he creates at the most entry levels of the organization, judged by how effective the organization is in his absence.”
When you are a leader, your presence and how you show up for your team is important. An effective and empathetic leader is someone who can also act as a learner, a listener and a friend. Good leaders understand that everyone has different potential and that everyone cannot be managed equally. A leader’s job is to push each individual to achieve their full potential instead of holding team members to the same level of standards.
Quoting the company’s founder, Lanterman continued, “The kindest thing you can do as a business leader is being honest with people and having hard conversations. The best leaders remove obstacles, not create them.”
He sent off students with a piece of advice: “Many people have told me that their biggest regrets are decisions that they made early in their career, playing safe and not stepping out of their comfort zones. Don’t settle. Put yourself in a position where you feel uncomfortable, because discomfort will pay off. Live somewhere you have never lived before, do things you are afraid of and make the most of your life right now.”
Despite not being an alumnus, Lanterman has a special connection to MSU: his first mentor in the hotel industry was Dan Burdakin (B.A. Hospitality Business ’81), former president of PMG Hotels. And Jeff Beck, associate professor and organizer of the event, said it was an honor to have Lanterman — along with his colleagues Steve Ransone and Dave Sibley — attend the inaugural Schmidgall lecture.
“David was an awesome speaker for the topic of this lecture. As a family business that stays true to its founding values and has a long-term relationship with The School of Hospitality Business, White Lodging was the best company to feature in this event.”