Harris Rosen ’61: A leader of industry and community

December 3, 2014

The Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series (DDLS) brings prominent industry professionals to speak at SHA most Fridays during the fall semester. For 2014, students work in pairs each week to research, meet, and profile featured speakers, and then guest-blog here about the experience.

This week’s student authors are Jay Lindseth ’15 and Taylor Meadows ’16.

After spending time with Mr. Harris Rosen ’61 recently, we learned that he brought more than just industry expertise to the stage as a DDLS speaker; his community service efforts distinguish him among industry leaders.

The night before the presentation, we joined Mr. Rosen for a lovely Mediterranean meal at Taverna Banfi. During dinner, he shared anecdotes from his career in Orlando. One in particular involved giving Bill Marriott a tour of his new hotel, Shingle Creek, which had the largest column-free ballroom at the time. Mr. Rosen joked that a few years later, the Marriott Orlando expanded their ballroom to be just slightly larger than Shingle Creek’s.

Aside from talking about Rosen Hotels and Resorts, Mr. Rosen also discussed his work in the Orlando neighborhood of Tangelo Park, which he “adopted” in 1993. The program he established enables children from Tangelo Park to attend preschool and college for free. He believes a good education begins with preschool and that is why his program places so much emphasis on early childhood education. He has put about $10 million into the program so far.

Due in large part to Mr. Rosen's program, the graduation rate at the Tangelo Park high school is now 100%, having been  only 40%.

Mr. Rosen believes education levels the playing field for the next generation. That if, for instance, two students graduate from Cornell, no one cares what neighborhood they were from, because they now have the same education and the same opportunities. Mr. Rosen’s program also mentors the parents so they are comfortable helping their children with school work. The graduation rate at the Tangelo Park high school is now 100%, having been only 40%.

After seeing such success in Tangelo Park, Mr. Rosen hopes to expand the program into other underserved communities in the United States. He says that what it has infused in the Tangelo Park community can be summed up in one word, and that word is hope. Mr. Rosen will be announcing his next neighborhood project in January when he is honored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation in Atlanta.

His talk was formatted differently from most. Rather than being introduced by the dean’s assistants, EJ and Isabella, and then giving a speech, Mr. Rosen was interviewed by them. But the format wasn’t the only difference we noticed in this week’s DDLS. Mr. Rosen has a unique leadership style; he chooses to run hotels only in Orlando because he enjoys seeing his properties every day. He also believes that when you own the hotel you are managing, you do a much better job. You care more because you have more of an investment in the property.

What Mr. Rosen's program has infused in the Tangelo Park community can be summed up in one word: hope.

Mr. Rosen spent his early years out of college working with Walt Disney in California. After being let go (he says it was because his “ears are too small”), he decided he never wanted to work for someone else again. Mr. Rosen shared insight for those looking to be an entrepreneur: he believes that while you can learn management skills, you cannot learn risk-taking.

Not only has Mr. Rosen infused hope in the Tangelo Park community, but he also infused hope in all of the students in DDLS: hope to be among the next generation of leaders, in both industry and community.

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