The School of Hospitality Business at MichiganAlumni Association’s Emerging Alumni Leader, Honorary Alumnus, and Alumnus of the Year awards recipients State University hosted its Annual Gathering of Leaders on Monday, May 19 at The Drake Hotel in Chicago, and presented its Alumni Association’s Emerging Alumni Leader, Honorary Alumnus, and Alumnus of the Year awards.

The annual event drew a large number of alumni, faculty, students, and friends of The School during the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show.  The memorable evening began with a welcome by School Director Dr. Ron Cichy (BA Hospitality Business ’72, MBA ’77), who said, “Tonight we honor four exceptional leaders.  But everyone in this room is also a leader in his or her own way.  So we gather AS leaders to HONOR leaders.  We also remember that we are in the business of CREATING leaders.”

Several past presidents of The School’s Alumni Association were on hand to help present the awards to this year’s recipients: Emerging Alumni Leaders of the Year Matthew D. Anderson (BA Hospitality Business ’09), Sales and Marketing manager for Hager Fox Heating and Air Conditioning Company, and Geoffrey P. Ryskamp (BA Hospitality Business ’06), director of Asset Management for Pebblebrook Hotel Trust; Honorary Alumnus of the Year Hasmukh P. Rama, chairman of the Board and CEO of JHM  Hotels, and president and chancellor of AURO University; and Alumnus of the Year Stuart Wolff (BA Hospitality Business ’82), executive vice president – Midwest for Acosta Sales and Marketing.

Introducing Matt Anderson, Dr. Cichy noted his success right out of college at the Capital Grille, and, most recently with Hager Fox, where last year he earned a Gold Stevie Award for Sales Manager of the Year, and has “rebranded” the 73-year-old company with new standards, processes, and staff development programs, as well as greatly increased sales over just two years.  Matt accepted the award giving thanks to his mentors, Professor Jeff Elsworth, Alumnus Phil Hickey (BA Hospitality Business ’77), and Dr. Cichy.   A member of the Alumni Association Appointed Board of Directors, Matt talked about “co-dependence” in positive terms, noting the importance of working together to make lives better.  Matt had been “given the gift of the Dale Carnegie Course,” and he described how it had changed his life and spurred him to work with other alumni to start an endowment in The School which would give students access to the life-changing course.  He introduced his wife, Kristy, and his mentor Phil Zeller (BA Hospitality Business ’96), Dale Carnegie master trainer.   He told the students, “Live hospitality, and go forth and serve.”

“Geoff Ryskamp,” noted Dr. Cichy, “is rising quickly in his career, known for his analytical acumen as well as his ability to work collegially and successfully in a field that is competitive and complex.”  A member of The School’s Real Estate Investment Management Advisory Council, Geoff returns to campus to teach the asset management workshop, because, as he told the students, “you may leave the banks of the Red Cedar, but MSU never leaves you.”  He thanked his original educator, his mother, for teaching him the meaning of hospitality, and his father for teaching him the value of customer service.  He noted the perspective-expanding experience of study abroad with Dr. A.J. Singh, and told the students to “get out of your comfort zones.  Position yourself for success by taking risks through openness to creativity.”

Dr. Cichy introduced H.P. Rama as “an international lodging icon,” who, while building and leading a major hotel company, also gave back to the industry, serving as chairman of the American Hotel & Lodging Association and establishing the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.  “The embodiment of the American dream, you are also an educator,” he said. “As president of AURO University, you are providing opportunities to thousands of people to live out their own dreams.”  Indeed, H.P. described the American Dream as “the belief, built of thousands of experiences, that an individual can come to America, and, through faith, hard work and dedication, can seize the opportunity provided by this great land of ours.” Professor Rama went on to say, “The quality of the aim of your life will define the quality of your life. You must learn to lead yourself, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Success will come to you through your commitment, actions, tenacity, leadership, and your passion.”

Stu Wolff is so devoted to MSU that he sent both of his sons there!  Aaron is a 2009 James Madison College graduate, and Josh (BA Hospitality Business ’13) graduated from The School, just like his dad.  Dr. Cichy introduced Stu describing someone who “regularly returns to campus to help in multiple class settings providing advice and wisdom about your segment of the industry (sales and marketing for food manufacturers, brokers, and distributors).  A generous benefactor who, with your wife, Elizabeth, established an endowment to assure that our students are exposed to industry conferences that can set them on their career paths. You represent The School beautifully.”  Stu thanked his family and the Alumni Association, and called MSU his “toolbox.”   MSU was the “foundation,” he said, “that helped me figure out who I wanted to be.”  His advice to the students started with the word “forward.”  He said, “It is about initiating and embracing change in order to prepare for the future, while always remembering your roots.”  Upon seeing his very first employer in the audience, Ken Hill (BA Hospitality Business ‘56), who hired Stu to work for Gilbert-Robinson restaurants back in the early 1980s, Stu said it is very rewarding to see people still involved in the School so many years later.  “Do what makes you happy,” he concluded, “because passion shows and is contagious.”

Before the evening’s conclusion, past and present leaders of The School’s Alumni Association paid tribute to Dr. Cichy, who in August will step aside as The School’s director after 26 years.  Dr. Cichy was presented with only the third “Spartan Champion” award ever given, and Alumni Association leaders past and present praised Ron’s energy and passion for The School and his success in guiding it to its position of leadership in hospitality business education.  It was then announced that the Ronald F. and Shelley G. Cichy Endowment for Hospitality Business Student Leaders (for Dale Carnegie Course enrollment) had, as of the end of the Alumni Association Board Meeting that afternoon, topped $100,000.

The entire ceremony concluded with a blessing from Father Larry McBrady, who explained that the basis of all religions is hospitality, citing an example from the book of Genesis in which travelers/strangers are welcomed into a home and given food and care.  He praised The School and all those present, saying, “You have a spirituality that is very present, whether you are aware of it or not.”

As in past years, the NRA Show was an opportunity for a select group of very fortunate School students to attend Annual Gathering of Leaders, participate in several professional development programs, and to experience the Show by staffing The School’s exhibit booth and attending the educational sessions.  And once again, SIRC Director Authella Collins Hawks arranged for the students’ travels and activities, and alumni and industry partners sponsored the students.

Coincidentally, the Keynote Speaker for the NRA Show was none other than Spartan Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who helped bring a national basketball championship to MSU in 1979.  The lucky students were able to attend his speech and even ask questions and get a photo with the fellow Spartan!