Hometown: Born and raised in Detroit
Education: B.A., communications and public relations (minor in English), University of Detroit Mercy, class of ’83
Career: Worked his way up sales ladder at Hilton; served as regional VP of sales and marketing for U.S. southeast and central regions before assuming his current position. Co-chair of the United States Travel Association (USTA) Meetings Mean Business Coalition and board member of other industry organizations.
When and why did you become involved with the hospitality industry?
After I graduated from college, I was a waiter at American Vineyards, a fine-dining restaurant at Hilton at Walt Disney World. One day, Bob Dirks, the regional vice president, came to do a hotel review. I waited on him, and he asked for a vodka martini—shaken, not stirred. Two months later, he came back. Before he had a chance to order, I got him the same drink and said, “Welcome back.” He looked at me, looked at my name tag and said, “Larry, you’re going all the way to the top.”
What accounts for your success in the hospitality industry?
It’s important to have the insight to know what people need before they need it. When I go to a great hotel, people anticipate my needs or react in a very positive way when I request something. This makes a person feel special. We’re in the hospitality business, and need to love our jobs to act that way. A lot of young people aspire to get into the hospitality industry, but not all of them have a passion for it. And they can’t expect to enter the industry making a manager’s salary; there’s massive competition for management jobs. My advice is to enter at the ground level, to understand what the industry is like and to enjoy the foundations of the business.
What are some of your current responsibilities with Hilton Worldwide?
Part of my responsibility is to get involved in a lot of different things. I need to be very flexible in how I spend my time. My challenge is to find as much quality time as I can, and be out there seeing customers and others. I like it, but it’s challenging. In terms of industry relations, one of the things I talk about is the whole idea that meetings matter. There’s an under-appreciation of who meetings serve; they serve everybody.
Why did you become involved with the Meetings Mean Business Coalition and what do you hope to accomplish during your term as co-chair?
My involvement was a direct result of what happened in September 2008. We had faced challenges before, but nothing quite like what happened then, when there was a massive reduction in travel and entertainment, and meetings were cancelled left and right. Roger Dow [president and CEO of the USTA] and others got together to get people on board and be productive with the messaging; the industry did a good job of it. A lot of people were saying that meetings are a waste of time, and the campaign message was that if you want to lose another 1 million jobs, just keep talking.
Has the message changed recently?
During the past five years, the message has developed from being reactive to proactive, but I think a lot more needs to be done; we need to get in front of issues more and enhance people’s awareness of the positive things in our industry. There is great value in getting people together face to face. Just about everything that is valuable is a result of person-to-person meetings. Strong ties are created and partnerships develop when people meet and look each other in the eye. There’s really something magical about people getting together and sharing a vision.
Did the industry’s financial struggles increase collaboration among competitors to get the word out?
It definitely did. People came together, but we can’t simply wait for a bad thing to happen to organize. We need to work hard to bring our message to the table and constantly stay after it. If politicians say negative things about the meetings industry, there need to be repercussions, because these negative things lead to people not getting paid and losing jobs, which end up affecting everyone.
What have been some of your main professional achievements?
First, I don’t take the credit for a lot of my individual achievements; my work is always done by a team, and I’m fortunate to have had great bosses and great teams. The foundation of my success has been integrity; I’ve had some great coaches and mentors, and I knew that if I handled myself as well as they did, I would help the company grow. From an industry perspective, I’ve been involved in a lot of things that I’m proud of, such as campus hospitality programs, which now are offered by many universities. They help us gain credibility as an industry with defined professions.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My wife and I have two daughters, one in college and one in high school. I love spending time with my family and playing golf.