A bucket list item crossed off

Yesterday, I was able to cross an item off my bucket list.

After four years of traveling to Ithaca, NY in the summer, I earned a Certification in Strategic Management from The School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. When I was a student at Mount Saint Vincent University in Nova Scotia, earning my Bachelor of Tourism and Hospitality Management, I would pour over the Cornell Quarterly Journals, filled with articles on current best practices in the industry.

Four years ago, during a Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS) Board meeting, I learned of an opportunity to attend a Masterclass at the hotel school and immediately began the application process. After I finished that first course, I knew I wanted to finish the entire certification. The networking that I have been able to do through the people I have met has been invaluable. It is amazing to sit in a classroom and hear the stories of how others run their businesses around the world. This year, my class consisted of operators from Jamaica, Argentina, Brazil, Kenya, India, Italy, Dubai, Kuwait, Guatemala, and the US. My professor for this course was Ali Kasikci, Regional Managing Director of Belmond, Ltd. (formerly Orient-Express Hotels). His responsibilities include the management of eight properties within the company’s portfolio: El Encanto in Santa Barbara, The Inn at Perry Cabin, Maryland, the iconic ’21’ Club restaurant and bar, New York City, La Samanna, St. Martin, Maroma Resort and Spa, Riviera Maya, Casa de Sierra Navada, San Miguel de Allende, Copacabana Palace and Hotel das Cataratas, Brazil.

These courses take place during three full days of learning – early starts and late evenings. However, there is downtime as well. I was happy to have my friend Heather, General Manager of the Embassy Suites Hotel in Memphis, back in my class again. We were also staying at the same hotel, so had fun getting caught up since last year, and even made it to the Hanger Theatre in Ithaca on the second night, to see their opening-night production of “Around the World in 80 Days”. It was very well done and I’d recommend it as an activity if you are in this area!

The courses I had to take to achieve this certification were Strategic Hospitality Management, Strategic Marketing for Restaurants and Hotels, Strategic Financial Management, and Strategic Leadership in Turbulent Times. Each course was an amazing learning experience for me.

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First day of class

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The content of the course gave me lots of food for thought – especially for use within my own classroom

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Class time with Ali Kasikci

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Heather & myself, reunited and enjoying the sunshine at the opening reception after the first day.

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Professional Development Participants networking during the opening reception.

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Stowe Shoemaker, professor of Strategic Pricing for Hotels: Leveraging Consumer and Marketing Knowledge to Enhance Revenue, Heather, myself, and Ali Kasikci, professor of Strategic Leadership in Turbulent Times

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There were many questions and discussions

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Professor Kasikci was a wealth of knowledge

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Heather’s group, presenting on best practices for performance reviews, and how the process can be improved.

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Myself and Richard. He is the Director of Food & Beverage for Sandals Resorts in the Caribbean. We were finding new ways to improve internal communication.

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Opening night reception at the Hanger Theatre in Ithaca for their play, “Around the World in 80 Days”

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The view from my hotel room at the Hilton Garden Inn, Ithaca. It is such a beautiful setting.

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I loved this slide.

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Receiving my Certification in Strategic Management

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Heather & I were the only two in our class to receive our full certifications this session. Hers is in Strategic Financial Management for Hotels.

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Can’t wait to hang this!

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And my course certificate.

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Heather & I enjoyed a celebratory dinner at Moosewood Restaurant before saying our goodbyes.

I am so thankful to TIANS and to my family for enabling and encouraging me to pursue and complete this dream. During class, we were asked, “Have you done anything in the past three years that you will talk about for the rest of your life?”

The answer for me is yes.

I completed a certification in Strategic Management from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.

 

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Ithaca or bust

I’ve had some pretty bad luck with delays and cancellations the past three times I’ve flown. I’m writing this blog post from my seat on the Greyhound Bus, traveling from Binghamton to Ithaca, New York. I should be in class at Cornell’s Hotel School, but my travel plans have totally gone awry. I left Halifax yesterday at noon. My flight there was delayed, but only by 20 minutes, and I had a two hour scheduled layover in Philadelphia, so I wasn’t concerned. The flight was smooth and I had a whole row to myself.

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Pretty clouds on my way from Halifax to Philadelphia

When I arrived in Philadelphia, I took the shuttle from one terminal to another, arriving in lots of time to catch my flight. It turned out that that flight was delayed due to air traffic congestion. I had a bite to eat at an ipad café, and found it interesting to watch people not interact with one another. Random strangers were sharing tables with one another, but no one was talking.

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The ipad restaurant in the Philadelphia airport. Interesting but slightly disturbing

When it came time to board my flight, with four people left in line, the agent at the desk informed us that only one of us could board because the plane was overweight. I was next in line, but gave up what would have been my seat to a woman from Munich who said that she was a guest speaker at Cornell early this morning. The desk agent assured the rest of us that we would be on the next flight out, at 7:00.

I was tired and frustrated by this time, but sat patiently to wait it out. I decided to go back to the bar and have a glass of wine, when I received an alert that the flight we had been put on was cancelled. I immediately went to stand in a line with well over 100 people, all who had been affected when more than just my flight was cancelled. At the same time, a man came by with a 1-800 number so that we could contact the airline directly. The agent I spoke with asked me if I could see Gate F17 and told me if I left the line and got there right away, she had confirmed me on a flight to Elmira, and that there were six or seven seats still available.

I did what she said and arrived at the gate within minutes., along with some fellow passengers who had done the same thing. I gave the agent my confirmation number and said I was confirmed on the flight; I just needed a seat number. Guess what that meant? I, along with five others (maybe more) was now flying standby. I was wild.

That flight also was delayed and I felt empathy for the ticket agents with so many tired and frustrated people just wanting to get where they needed to go. To make a very long story short, five people who had been booked on the same flight earlier in the day showed up at boarding time, and the five of us who were on standby were told we had no chance of getting on the plane. It was 11:00pm by this time.

The course I’ll be taking at Cornell, “Strategic Leadership in Turbulent Times”, is the last in a certification I have been earning over the past four years. It is a condensed course, taught in just a few intense days, and if you miss time, you may not be able to complete the course. Our family has over $3000 on the line this week; I knew I had to get to Ithaca.

The options that the airline was going to give those of us who were stranded were either try to fly standby (to Elmira) at 10am this morning, or take a confirmed flight to Ithaca at 2pm. Provided there weren’t any delays, that would mean I would miss most of my first day, and not get credit for the course.

Two of the gentlemen I had been waiting with (for those of you in the NSBBA, they reminded me of Gerry Roberts and Larry MacCormack) decided to rent a car and drive to Elmira. I figured that would get me closer than I was in Philadelphia, so I tagged along. We took a shuttle to the Hertz station and stood in line, reassuring one another that we should be on the road by midnight. I kid you not – we were next in line when the agent announced that they were out of cars!! By this time the heavens had opened up and it was thunder and fork lightening as we ran through the parking lot to get to another rental company. The manager of Avis happened to be driving by and picked us up to take us to the office. He was a great manager, because he told us we could take that particular vehicle since our things were already in it and we wouldn’t have to get back out. We were finally on our way in teeming rain and a lightening storm.

I did have fleeting misgivings about riding with them, but they both had Canadian connections, so I figured it was okay, although D’Arcy didn’t seem reassured when I texted him to tell him what I was doing… They were each going to visit family in upstate New York. Rick was a retired engineer with two children, six grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. He was in New York from Texas to celebrate two of his grandchildren graduating from high school, and has a daughter who graduated from Cornell. Paul, our driver, was an anestheiologist from Phoenix. He had five kids ages 22-6, and was visiting his father who has alzheimers. We found lots to talk about to keep each other awake, although they encouraged me to nap so I would be fresh for school.

We stopped in Binghamton at 3:30 am, where Rick had arranged for his son-in-law to pick him up. After checking the map, I decided to find a hotel in the area so I wouldn’t have to backtrack to get to Ithaca in the morning. We said farewell to Paul, who refused to take any money for the drive, and Rick & his son-in-law took me to find a hotel. We stopped at the Marriott and they came in with me to be sure I would not be stranded. Bea, the night clerk took one look at me and said, “I have one room left. It’s reserved, but they haven’t called to cancel, and you look like you need it more than they do. Let me see what kind of rate I can get you.”

Knowing I was in good hands, I hugged Rick and his son-in-law goodbye, gave them my business card, and told them if they are ever in Nova Scotia, they have a free place to stay. Meanwhile, Bea was already looking for modes of transportation to get me to Ithaca in the morning. She even walked me to my room at 3:45 am. I’ll be writing a glowing Trip Advisor review for her!! She went above & beyond for me!

Once in my clean room with a king-sized bed, I sent a message home to say I was safe, called my hotel in Ithaca to tell them what happened and let them know I would be honoring the rest of my reservation, then booked a Greyhound Bus ticket for the morning before trying to get three hours of sleep. Despite my comfort and safety, I did not really sleep and was awake for the day long before my alarm went off. I called US Airways to tell them I would not be using the rest of my ticket today, and to make sure the return portion of my ticket would still be valid after the fiasco. I let Cornell know what was going on and they told me to get there as soon as I can; many people have been having travel issues this year. I hope to be there by morning break – and hope to stay awake during class.

A bright spot in all of this is that Heather, a woman whom I became friends with during class last year is also in this class and we’re booked in at the same hotel. She also had issues coming from Memphis, and apparently still has no luggage. She’s going to save me a seat in class.

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Celebrating Heather’s birthday at last year’s course

I was thinking in bed that it’s ironic that the course I’m taking is called “Strategic Leadership in Turbulent Times” as getting there was certainly turbulent, and I had to be strategic, flexible, and nimble with my plans, parallel to the skills that business managers need in this economic environment. (At least I had time through all of this to get my pre-course case studies completed!)

I will be happy to get into the classroom and for the learning that will take place this week. I’ve almost arrived safe & sound, and in the end, that’s what matters.