Growing up in Lansing, where MSU’s campus was as familiar and welcoming a place as his own backyard, Tom LaTour was exposed to enough experiences that his future could’ve taken off in any number of directions.
But it was his first job, as a dishwasher at MSU’s Kellogg Center at the age of 14, which captured his full attention and steered him in the direction of hospitality business.
“At that very early age, I was introduced to hospitality business in its most optimal format: a continuing education hotel,” LaTour says. “It was a very rich environment, which rewarded curious minds and people who wanted to work hard.”
Later, as a student in The Broad College of Business’ School of Hospitality Business, LaTour picked up on a certain emotional aspect to working in the Kellogg Center. It was a feeling he wanted to replicate.
It was the early 1980s, after nearly two decades of work for enormous hotel and food service brands affiliated with the airline and railway industries, when LaTour finally had his chance. Bill Kimpton, a hotelier who had just opened the first-ever “boutique hotel” in San Francisco, brought LaTour on as president of Kimpton Hotels and together, they began to fill this very specific niche.
“Joining Kimpton Hotels marked my departure from 1700-room hotels to much smaller 100-room hotels, where I could interact with every employee and every guest, every day,” LaTour says. He could focus on creating an experience, at properties that were small and uniquely outfitted, with amenities that aimed to delight — and make a hotel stay feel more like a stay in the stylish home of a dear friend.
“That was my ‘ah-ha’ moment, when I truly realized what hospitality was all about. It’s about making those emotional connections,” he says.
It was a moment that he’d been working toward for his entire career — and it was a moment that harkened back to his days at the Kellogg Center.
The decision to start giving back to the place that started it all was easy and obvious. “You reach a certain point in your career where you start turning your attention to how you can share your success with others,” LaTour says. And so, the LaTour Family Endowment Fund for Student Travel in the School of Hospitality Business was born.
“Ron Cichy — now director emeritus of the School of Hospitality Business — came up with the idea that the school needed a fund to help cover student travel, and it really struck a chord with me,” LaTour says. “I remember traveling to restaurant shows in Chicago and hotel shows in New York as a student. Those experiences had a long-term impact on me, and I wanted them to have a long-term impact on today’s students, too.”
Over the years, LaTour has continued to add to the fund, inspired by the notes he receives from students thankful for the opportunity to travel. “More money in the fund equals more airplane tickets, which equals more experiences for students,” LaTour says.