MBA Student Creates New Evaluation Tool for The Leading Hotels of the World, Ltd.
By Sherrie Negrea
Saniya Gandhi, MBA ’15 arrived at the Johnson School in the summer of 2013 with one goal in mind: to work in the field of hotel development.
A native of Thailand, Gandhi had just spent three years managing the design and development of a family-owned hotel in the heart of Bangkok. After graduating from the University of Chicago with a major in economics and South Asian studies, she had explored architecture at Harvard for a summer but found her passion for hotels after working on her family’s new venture.
“With hotel development, I was able to use both my analytical and creative sides,” she says.”It was the perfect blend for me.”
It’s not a surprise that Gandhi, coming from an entrepreneurial family, sought out The Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at SHA, a few months after she enrolled at Johnson. Working with Mona Anita Olsen ’04, the institute’s assistant academic director, she created the foundation of a mentor network to connect hotel students and SHA alumni. In January, Olsen reached out to Gandhi to conduct an independent study project collaborating with The Leading Hotels of the World, Ltd. (LHW), a consortium of 430 luxury hotels worldwide.
Over the spring semester, Gandhi developed a hotel engagement scorecard to help the company evaluate the extent to which member properties were using LHW’s services, including its loyalty program, reservation system, and worldwide sales network.
After interviewing company executives and managers of a sample of its hotels — in locations from South Africa to the Caribbean — Gandhi created a tool that would allow LHW to quantify each hotel’s performance, based on its engagement with its services, in a score of up to 100. In May, Gandhi and Olsen presented the project to LHW’s executive team at its headquarters in New York City.
“She absolutely went above and beyond our expectations,” says Hakan Ozakbas, director of analytics at LHW, who oversaw Gandhi’s work for the company.
The independent study project was the first to be offered by the Pillsbury Institute, which develops academic courses in entrepreneurship and networking programs that connect SHA students with alumni. Olsen, a visiting assistant professor in SHA, set up the independent study so that it would include weekly objectives while also allowing some leeway for the project in case Gandhi’s research took an unexpected turn.
“Similar to an action plan for a startup, an independent study requires a core structure for deliverables and outcomes,” says Olsen, who wrote a case study with Gandhi on the hotel engagement scorecard. “But you need to embed some flexibility in it, because you don’t know what information is going to be relevant as you dig deeper into understanding the company.”
For Gandhi, the project was her first opportunity to work in the hospitality industry in the United States. “It was such a wonderful experience and provided me with a unique perspective into the industry,” she says. “I feel very fortunate to have been able to learn from LHW and Mona Anita.”
Last summer, Gandhi interned at Auberge Resorts, a hospitality management company headquartered in Mill Valley, Calif. that manages and owns luxury hotels. During her internship, Gandhi worked on development and design for new and upcoming luxury projects.
In the last year of her MBA program, Gandhi will continue to lead a new organization she launched with a classmate last fall — the Johnson Hospitality Industry Club. She envisions the club providing a bridge for MBA students and programs in the Pillsbury Institute.