BIG FISH IN A SMALL POND, OR A SMALL FISH IN A SLIGHTLY BIGGER POND?

BIG FISH IN A SMALL POND, OR A SMALL FISH IN A SLIGHTLY BIGGER POND?

February 22, 2016
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If you are in any way connected with the larger issues of hospitality and a reader of this blog, you are familiar with the proposed College of Business at Cornell University. Being a long-time graduate of Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, I readily admit my education there made me the successful professional I have been for over 40 years now. Not bragging, merely admitting that I would not have been as successful without my Alma Mater.

Here is what the higher-ups at Cornell are proposing: The College of Business would combine three existing schools at Cornell – the Johnson School of Business (ranked somewhere in the high teens nationwide), the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management (ranked #10 nationwide) and the Cornell School of Hotel Administration – ranked #1 worldwide.

The thought behind this “merger” is a consolidation of resources resulting in greater productivity, quality of faculty, and overall better visibility as a… College of Business. What would have been wrong (save for the size of the business cards) with calling the new entity “Cornell College of Hospitality, Business and Applied Economics and Management”?  Shouldn’t the trailer of the movie show the star in order to attract ticket buyers?

Change is good. Change is very, very good. But change has to be based on deep considerations and justifications in order to make sense. When Mattel purchased The Learning Company, it made the worst mistake in its corporate history and ended up virtually giving away for free what it had paid $3.5 billion for. Interesting case study when Mattel decided that Barbie was eventually going to become obsolete and that tomorrow’s children needed intellectual stimulation. They turned out to be wrong on both counts, for lack of due diligence. CEO Jill Barrad was forced to resign.

I pray that the same does not happen to my Alma Mater and, that, once proven wrong, Cornell refuses to admit the shocking lack of due diligence.

Part of Cornell’s reasoning behind the purported change is the following: the School of Hotel Administration, as it stands today, offers a “not so well known” Masters Degree. A marriage with the Johnson Business School would add value and credibility.
I guess it depends whom you decide to believe: I have made it my career, for the past 30 years, to recruit the best and the brightest to run some of the largest or most complex hospitality firms in the world. When it comes to recruiting for very senior positions, one or all of these three words are what I look for at the bottom of the résumé: Cornell, Harvard and Lausanne.

If you want to study wine, you go to UC Davis. If you wish to become an engineer, you go to Carnegie Mellon. If you want to become a Hotel Executive, you go to Cornell (not the University, the Hotel School). I mentioned Lausanne as well, because I still believe the best hospitality expert will have graduated from Lausanne, Cornell…and Harvard. An MBA from the Johnson School of Business doesn’t come close.

Incidentally, once one reaches the C suite, is when a specific level of expertise fades away: a CFO who has done Cornell and Harvard (plus a CPA) can go from watching the money at Starwood to a similar job at Bechtel, etc. BUT, that same individual is unlikely to have reached his/her first CFO gig without the magic combination: BS from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, followed by a Harvard MBA.

Should we talk?

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