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Hospitality Guides: Hotels Help, Helped By, Schools

No one sits at Pelican Hill—well, no one who works there does.

At morning meetings of the sales and catering team, everyone stands, everyone speaks—a subtle sign of the energy in the room. Each of two dozen members gives a pitch on how he or she will spend the coming day.

Managing Director Tom Donovan might as well be a coach courtside for all the time he prowls at the front of the room, nodding, reminding, expanding on and encouraging his staff.

Never Say No

Donovan goes through a daily newsletter, tells jokes, all of the 20 or so minutes an undercurrent of an idea running: Be ready.

“You’re only empowered to say yes,” said Donovan’s boss, Ralph Grippo, in an interview. He’s president of Newport Beach-based Irvine Co.’s resort properties division, which runs Pelican Hill, Hotel Irvine, Fashion Island Hotel and the company’s marinas and golf courses.

That’s the flip side of the century-old hospitality rule of César Ritz: “Never say no.”

“You have to do a lot more work, but if that’s what someone wants,” find a way.

The meeting, daily repeated resortwide across departments, was steeped in an ethos Grippo and hotel leaders developed and implemented, and employees are the way it gets done.

“You begin with the culture you want,” he said, “then find people who want to be aligned with it.”

Culture Clubs

Grippo, who spent 18 years with Ritz-Carlton Co. before joining Irvine Co. in 2007, said, “We can teach most anyone the tasks” of hospitality but not to “want to take care of people.”

To scout for such prospects, he and others in Orange County spend time at hospitality programs at California State University-Fullerton, California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, California State University-Long Beach, local community colleges and other institutions.

University of California-Irvine Extension will add courses to its online certificate in spa and hospitality management in June, and California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks introduces a bachelor’s in hospitality management and tourism this fall. The California State University Hospitality & Tourism Alliance in Pomona oversees 5,000 students at two-thirds of the system’s 23 campuses.

“Ninety-five percent of the hospitality degrees earned in California come from CSU,” said Director of Programs and Industry Relations Jodi Braverman.

OC employers that benefit include Anaheim Marriott, Monarch Beach Resort and Disneyland Resort (see Q&A, page 20).

Post-bachelor degree education is out there, too. Temple University in Philadelphia recently promoted its online master of science in travel and tourism program.

That’s Entertainment

Or you can go to Pomona, where the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly has a master of science in hospitality and tourism. Collins, which opened in 1973, is one of the oldest and largest programs in the U.S. It was named for James and Carol Collins in 1999 following a $10 million gift. The couple gave another $10 million in March to endow scholarships for “historically underrepresented” student groups and start a doctorate program in hospitality management.

The closest game in town is CSUF’s business school hospitality program, which produces graduates schooled in the nuts and bolts of running a profitable enterprise.

“We met with HR people and GMs who were really happy our students get these lower-division business classes,” said Executive Director Kim Tarantino. “Our graduates understand the business model.”

A hospitality minor is in process, and Tarantino said she’d like to add a certificate in the discipline.

Results-Oriented

Many of the 50 annual graduates go into local roles, including a former intern at the Orange County Visitors Association in Irvine who now works at Pelican Hill.

Students meet executives from firms, including Warner Music, LiveNation, Walt Disney Interactive and Irvine Co.’s resort properties.

Grippo serves on the program’s advisory board and works with the CSU alliance and Cal Poly Pomona.

“Over the years, we’ve hired more than a hundred students” from the programs, he said. “The beauty of these kids is their character and work ethic. They are working-minded, driven individuals. What we do is hard work.”

In his career he’s benefited from “people who have provided direction, helped me navigate my career, and I enjoy paying it forward, to provide insight from experience, give direction and guidance.”

The “rational business reason [is we] engage with them, mentor them … and they stay with us.”

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