April 2, 2004

Statler Students Kick Off Hotel Ezra Cornell

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A cocktail welcomed top industry officials, Cornell faculty and alumni to The 79th Annual Hotel Ezra Cornell (HEC), which began yesterday evening at the Statler Hotel and will end Saturday evening. Finally after a year of planning, the almost 300 guests have arrived, and students can demonstrate their skills and abilities to possible future employers.

“A lot of people wonder why we spend an entire year planning one conference; I say that to myself sometimes,” said Howard Ho, education director for HEC. “But then I note the fact that we are full-time students and there is a lot of detail that goes into planning the entire thing and insuring that the conference goes as flawlessly as possible.”

The 13-member Board of Directors that lead HEC were elected by the Hotel School’s student body last May. According to the Cornell’s course guide, students, elected board members of Hotel Ezra Cornell, may receive up to 3 credits [per semester] in Hotel Electives for their participation in the planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling of HEC. Also the students must be Hotel juniors or seniors with a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.5.

Because student involvement in the weekend is completely voluntary, the success of HEC depends on the strong recruitment program. Volunteers are interviewed for function manager positions and then selected for different events depending on skill level. Function managers run all of the weekends food and beverage events. Board assistants and student teams are also chosen.

“How do thirteen students rally forty-percent of the Hotel School to get involved without credit?” said Gregory Norkus, the Board of Directors’ advisor. “It’s all about leadership for these thirteen students.”

Norkus has Bob Perry, an expert in leadership, work with the board in the fall to sharpen their leadership skills.

The current model of HEC has evolved since the first one was held in Risley Hall at Cornell in May of 1926. In the past, HEC had few educational activities and focused more on social alumni events. Three years ago, a market research program headed by Norkus evaluated the weekend’s structure and found industry leaders favored a more educational conference.

The 79th HEC conference has the strongest educational component to date, with high caliber speakers and valuable seminars. Guests anticipate the panel discussion called Brand and Portfolio Management in Hospitality that features the heads of the four most distinguishable hotel corporations in the world; Chris Cahill, the president and chief operating officer for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts; Matthew Hart, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Hilton Hotels Cooperation; William Shaw, president and chief operating officer of Marriott International, Inc.; and Barry Sternlicht, former chair and CEO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc.

The main challenge that this year’s board took on was to incorporate two guest chef dinners, a first time event that’s appealing to guests. Chief Floyd Cardoz is the executive chef of Tabla in New York City, which is a renowned restaurant that serves American cuisine with an Indian twist while Chef Dale Miller is a Certified Master Chef and the captain of the US Culinary Team. Miller is the executive chef and managing partner of the legendary Jack’s Oyster House in downtown Albany, N.Y. One hundred guests are expected at both these dinners Saturday night. The largest event, the Awards Banquet will have two hundred and sixty guests.

Each social event has it’s own theme such as the Charity Casino Night. All proceeds from this event will benefit Windows of Hope, which provides aid, monetary funding and scholarships to families of the victims of the September 11th tragedy who worked in food, beverage and other hospitality-related professions.

Archived article by Annie Ceccarini
Sun Staff Writer