“A truly unforgettable learning experience:” the MMH Master Class

By Sara Kim MMH ’13

After a finishing a seemingly never-ending week of exams, followed by heartfelt goodbyes to the CNI Singapore cohort, a group of 25 students from the Master of Management in Hospitality program made their way down to sunny Florida for the annual MMH Master Class. This year’s course was organized by Hotelie alumna Tricia Taylor, ’95, general manager at the historic Breakers resort in West Palm Beach.

Prior to our arrival, we were divided into six groups according to our career interests—Resort Activities and Experiences, Bungalow Business Plan, Property Utilization, Restaurant Concepts, Spa Business Plan, and Sustainability. All of us were eager to apply our newly acquired knowledge from Cornell to the relevant real-world consulting projects.

Although we each arrived at the Breakers resort individually or in small groups, we all shared the same amazed sentiment when entering the immaculately maintained property—“What did we do to deserve this trip?” However, it was not the palm-tree-lined driveway, perfectly manicured lawns, or the grandiose Renaissance-inspired lobby that would be our lasting image—these images were easily dwarfed by the experiences that Trish Taylor and the entire Breakers staff arranged for us over our three days there.

The evening of our first night, we were welcomed with a cocktail party and dinner on the main lawn of the property. The events gave us students an opportunity to network and mingle with the staff and management. All our expectations for this event were far exceeded as the Breakers staff arranged for croquet and bocce on a lawn that was fit for a PGA golf course green. A welcoming of this caliber aroused the excitement among us students for what the rest of the trip entailed for our group projects.

We began the next day with a breakfast presentation in one of the conference rooms, explaining the Breakers management and operational philosophies, which provided a very useful and insightful overview of the privately owned property. This was followed by a hotel tour that led us through the labyrinth of back-of-house hallways, storage, and facilities, truly revealing the immense physical space and operational power required for this caliber of hotel. Following the tour, the hotel staff organized a lunch at one of the 11 hotel dining outlets, where we met with our project directors. To say we were eager to repay the hospitality through our reports would be an understatement.

Each group met with directors and managers and was introduced to the specific areas for which the company sought our input. This time gave us an opportunity to discuss and ask questions about specific areas of our consulting projects. For example, the Restaurant Concepts team was presented with two food and beverage outlets that are slated for renovation within the next few years. Although both establishments are strong revenue generators, the food and beverage department asked us to observe and evaluate both sites for potential recommendations—to be a fresh set of eyes. Following our meeting with the department leaders, we stopped by both restaurants and held meetings with staff, observed operations, and enjoyed the wonderful food and drink.

On our last full day, each group started early—ready for the opportunity to trail the staff and to gather data for our specific projects. The Restaurant Concepts team trailed both front- and back-of-house staff for in-room dining service and the breakfast service at the iconic Circle Breakfast Room. During this time, my group members and I trailed servers and managers and interviewed the various members of the staff. We found it truly impressive how much each and every employee sincerely respected and enjoyed working for the company. Staff members were very much aware of their clientele’s wants and needs and accommodated each and every request. Upon finishing our group trails, we were treated to a beachfront bungalow experience, continuing the luxurious treatment we experienced throughout the week.

Our final day we knew our incredible journey was reaching its conclusion. We had a morning wrap-up meeting with the hotel executives, including a Q & A session in which we discussed the hotel’s management philosophy, direction, and future projects. All the information we gathered from our experiences, observations, and meetings with the staff were to be used for extensive consulting reports, which were to be handed over to each department director in February. After the morning wrap-up session, we were disappointed to leave, but all felt a great sense of appreciation for being allowed to live a brief working life of luxury for a few days. I know that all the students in the Master Class share my gratitude to Tricia Taylor and the entire Breakers staff for providing us a truly unforgettable learning experience.