|Mastering hospitality and business.|
It's not often that a child who dreams of becoming an astrophysicist goes into the hospitality industry, but that's exactly what Pawan Kapoor did. Pawan, a native of India, grew up captivated with the universe and enchanted with math and science. But his life took an unexpected turn when, after high school, he saw a newspaper ad for a hospitality program and, on a whim, took an entrance exam. He got in to the program, and soon discovered his true calling was right here on Earth—serving others through hospitality.
Pawan soon found a way to merge his interest in math with his passion for hospitality. After graduating from a joint program from the Taj Group of Hotels' Indian Institute of Hotel Management in India and the University of Huddersfield in England, Pawan came to the U.S. to obtain a joint master of science in hospitality management from Hilton College and a master of business administration in finance from the Bauer College of Business. He graduated in 2006 with a near perfect GPA and won the Dean's Graduate Award from both colleges. Today, he works in asset management and acquisitions for Westmont Hospitality Group, one of the largest privately held hospitality companies in the world, and crunches numbers and evaluates the universe of hotel acquisitions for a living. Every day he comes to work, Pawan says, he knows he's in the right place.
You were accepted to five graduate programs in hospitality management in the U.S. Why did you choose Hilton College?
Hilton College offered me a scholarship even before I got my admission letter from the University. I took that as a big sign the College was practically calling out to me. The Hilton brand is a big deal by itself, but I also realized that Hilton College is the only hotel school with a fully functional hotel on the premises, giving students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience. I was coming from a similar setup in my undergraduate program, so I fully appreciated the importance of having a running hotel on campus. That really says "we teach hotel management."
What was your experience at Hilton College like? What valuable information and experience did you gain?
In addition to my classes, I was involved in several student organizations, and that really gave me a well-rounded experience. At UH, I was a member of the Graduate Indian Student Organization, and at Hilton College, I participated in the Graduate Student Association, Par Excellence and Gourmet Night. I also served briefly as a graduate student representative on the alumni board and occasionally volunteered for the Hilton Ambassadors. I also was a graduate research assistant and was awarded a teaching fellowship. I worked for Dr. JéAnna Abbott, who introduced me to industry research, and wrote a couple of papers with her that were published. These activities were a big part of my education—I learned through teamwork in live situations, dealing with people and managing resources. All that experience was invaluable for me. My classroom education was important too—some classes in particular were really exceptional, including Negotiations with Dr. Abbott and Finance with Tom Lattin. My education has been very relevant in shaping my current career. Also, on a personal note, I met my wonderful wife Camille at Hilton College … we were grad students together and worked in GSA and for Gourmet Night Fire and Ice 2005.
Why did you pursue a joint master's program in hospitality management and business?
Hilton College's graduate program is unmatched in terms of imparting in-depth knowledge of the hospitality industry to students. In the program, students have many opportunities to practice this knowledge while simultaneously developing a well-rounded personality and a deep sense of what the culture of hospitality means in real life. I wanted to take it a step further and give this knowledge a sharper business edge, and was thrilled to learn that I could pursue the program at the Bauer College at the same time. After considerable soul-searching, I made the decision to pursue the joint program. It took a good amount of time and effort, but it enhanced my business profile like the icing on a cake.
How has your Hilton College education enhanced your career?
Hilton College provided me with incredible networking opportunities—I can connect all the jobs I've had since graduation back to the College. For me, those connections, along with the industry's recognition of the Hilton College name and respect for its graduates, are irreplaceable. And some of the courses I took have been really important in my career. My Negotiations class, for example, wasn't taught "textbook style." Dr. Abbott had us negotiating simulated—and might I add complicated—business scenarios between two people, dealing with situations, contesting and supporting individual ideas and strategizing to achieve the best solution. That's what you do in the hospitality industry—you deal with people and situations and try to generate the best outcome possible. And my Finance class … that really grabbed control of me. After that class with Professor Lattin I knew what I was missing in life, and I started actively pursuing opportunities in the real estate and finance sector of the hospitality industry.
Tell us about your career path since graduation. What are the highlights?
Just before graduation, I started working at Four Seasons Houston on the finance team. After that, I got an opportunity to work with Dr. Stephen Barth's HospitalityLawyer.com, where I was responsible for strategic planning and development. Then, two years ago, I was hired by Westmont Hospitality Group to be on their asset management and acquisition team. The team looks at potential hotel-acquisition opportunities and we also look at a variety of issues in asset management, making sure our assets have the necessary resources to stay competitive in an increasingly demanding marketplace. Overall, it has been quite fulfilling.
What is most rewarding about your career?
My career makes the best use of all my education and work experience in the hospitality business—prior to starting my master's program at the College, I worked in the industry for more than four years. Having a career that takes advantage of my education and experience gives me a unique sense of achievement, which I feel is quite rewarding in itself.
What advice would you give to students who want to pursue a similar track?
Understand your course material, especially in accounting and finance. Extract the best from the program. Participate, not only in classes, but also get involved in organizations at the College. Make friends, because you and your classmates are bound to be the hospitality leaders of the future, and you'll need those connections. Grab as many opportunities as you can to work in a hotel and learn how everything works—and try working in as many departments as possible. The more you know, the more it will help in the future. Seek out internships, training assignments, projects and contacts with people in the field.
Why should prospective graduate students consider attending Hilton College?
The exposure to industry and the important contacts you'll get at Hilton College cannot be matched anywhere else, at any college, period. Take the Hospitality Industry Hall of Honor, for example. Every year, at the induction ceremony and events, you are guaranteed to meet the "who's who" of the hospitality industry. These leaders spend time talking to the students, and students also get the chance to ask questions of them. And there are a number of other events that inspire and even potentially provide career opportunities. The College also has a newly renovated library, computer labs, state-of-the art kitchen labs and an acclaimed faculty under the leadership of Dean John Bowen. The newly renovated Hilton hotel is great for those who desire some practical work experience, and the College also offers many internship and job-placement opportunities. Whether you are looking to do world-class academic research or you are simply looking to take your career to the next level in the industry, the College truly offers you the best of both worlds. There's just no other program like Hilton College out there.