Dean's Leadership Series examines new challenges for restaurant industry

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Dean Johnson and panelists at the Dean's Leadership Series at Rosen Shingle Creek.

Nearly 100 restaurant industry leaders and scholars met on Monday, March 16, at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida to address “Navigating Restaurant Profitability in the New Economy." The event, part of the Dean's Leadership Series at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, was co-sponsored by the National Restaurant Association and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, as well as Bench Events, China Grill Management, HotelWorld Network, Parasol Marketing Group, Philips Hospitality, and Pogo Corporation.

Cornell alumnus Skip Sack ’61, Chairman/Partner, Classic Restaurant Concepts, graciously introduced his classmate, Harris Rosen ‘61, President/COO, Rosen Hotels & Resorts, and highlighted Mr. Rosen's philanthropic interest in the Tangelo Park program, where he provides preschool education and college tuition to neighborhood residents. The mild-mannered Mr. Rosen then came to the podium to accept a gift from the school and share some of the history of the Rosen Shingle Creek property; his local involvement with the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at UCF, which went from just 75 enrolled students to over 2500 since his generous partnership with them; and then introduced Dean Michael Johnson who moderated the afternoon’s panel.

The panelists included:

  • William Fisher ’60, MBA ’65, PhD ‘68
  • Darden Eminent Scholar in Restaurant Management, Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central Florida
  • David Sherwyn ’86, JD ‘89, Associate Professor of Law, Cornell School of Hotel Administration
  • Stephen Sawitz ’79, Keeper of the Legend, Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant
  • Donald Strang, III, ‘80, CEO, Strang Corporation
  • Alex Susskind, MBA, PhD, Associate Professor, Cornell School of Hotel Administration
  • Dawn Sweeney, CEO & President, National Restaurant Association
  • Nicholas S. Vojnovic ’81, President, Beef O’Brady’s.

Dean Johnson engaged the panelists in a discussion about tactics for enhancing/maintaining revenue generation and traffic during this time, strategies for reducing costs and streamlining operations, ways to engage employees, and what the Employee Free Choice Act would mean for the industry. Professor Fisher shared various value-add tactics to lure in customers during this time while Professor Susskind highly recommended that executives partner with human resources to better train employees to act as the “stewards of resources” in order to be more sustainable, create better efficiencies and cut costs. Mr. Strang provided a franchisee perspective for the discussion, Mr. Vojnovic shared his input from a franchisor view, and Mr. Sawitz commented from an independent restaurant stance. Professor Sherwyn explained the Employee Free Choice Act, the pending legislation in the U.S. which aims to amend the National Labor Relations Act and establish an easier system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations. This act would allow employees—rather than the employer—to decide whether to hold a secret-ballot election. Ms. Sweeney then tacked on how the National Restaurant Association is strategizing and organizing against this proposition and how people can get involved if they’d like to do so.

Following the panel, the guests gathered at an outdoor reception where they continued to ask questions and network with one another.

Stay tuned for information on the 5th Dean’s Leadership Series in NYC in November 2009.

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