Nearly 600 School of Hotel Administration (SHA) students, faculty and supporters honored two industry legends and the school’s outgoing dean June 7 at the eighth annual Cornell Hospitality Icon & Innovator Awards.
Humor, humility and ingenuity were recurring themes during the awards dinner in Manhattan.
Ted Teng ’79, president and CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World, was given the 2016 Cornell Hospitality Innovator award.
He said 40 years ago he left the College of Engineering to transfer to SHA.
“I learned more than I realized at the time because of some great teaching by some caring and nurturing professors,” Teng said. “They cared more about students learning than just teaching. … While my transcript shows I was a ‘C’ student, I was not a ‘C’ person. And as a matter of fact, none of us are.
“For the educators and employers, if you want a breakthrough in your teaching or business results, you may actually find them in your misfits. The nonconformists. The discontents. They don’t seem to play by the rules. They may not be performing well by the rules. They may be your undervalued assets,” Teng said.
Isadore “Issy” Sharp, founder and chairman of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, said he was accepting the 2016 Icon of the Industry award on behalf of the 45,000 employees who work at his 93 luxury hotels worldwide.
Sharp broke from his prepared speech by telling Teng, “I quite agree with you about ‘C’ students. I never got that high. To me, school was a playground.”
Sharp stressed how the Golden Rule and ethics have played a major role in his successes.
“The most essential element that I believe underwrites all aspects of success is ethics,” Sharp said. “For me, a business agreement is more than a legal contract. It’s a relationship rooted in trust, and trust is the emotional capital of a company. It can turn one-shot deals into long-term relationships.”
Also honored was Michael D. Johnson, who will conclude his 10-year tenure as dean at the end of this month. He will become provost at Babson College.
“Cornell will benefit for generations from the work you’ve done,” Lee Pillsbury ’69 said while introducing Johnson.
During Johnson’s tenure, there has been a 10-fold increase in corporate philanthropy and all debt has been retired, Pillsbury said.
The college also boasts a job placement rate of 95 percent among its graduates.
Johnson thanked the Cornell community for all it gave to him, his wife, Jill, and their three sons: Alex ’12 (Dyson), Andrew ’15 (SHA) and Thomas ’19 (SHA).
“What a gift to our whole family,” Johnson said of their Cornell experience. “We’ve had a great 10 years, and we will be friends forever.”
Jon Craig ’80 is a writer based in Westchester County, N.Y.