Hospitality execs bring industry experience to DePaul

Kristin Claes Mathews
March 16, 2017

Popular restaurants, bustling hotels and prestigious conferences attract visitors to Chicago for business and pleasure every day. A growing number of DePaul students are preparing to enter the hospitality industry, and a new program is connecting them with local leaders from two iconic Chicago firms, Lettuce Entertain You restaurants and Hyatt Hotels.

Launched last fall, the Executive in Residence program at DePaul University brings executives into the School of Hospitality Leadership to network with faculty, advise students and connect them with Chicago's world-class hospitality industry.

The first cohort of the program includes Lettuce Entertain You executive partners Jerrod Melman and Marc Jacobs; and Paul Daly, area vice president for Hyatt and general manager of the Hyatt Regency O'Hare.

Wealth of hospitality industry is 'people'

"When the executives are here, the students light up and are engaged at a different level," says Misty Johanson, director of the school and associate dean of the Driehaus College of Business. Other hospitality programs around the country need to build facilities to expose students to the industry, but DePaul innovated a different approach, explained Johanson.

"We are blessed that our students have Chicagoland as a lab for learning in the field. And industry partners want to be part of the daily activities in the school. So we've brought the wealth of the local industry here, and that's its people," Johanson says.

DePaul's School for Hospitality Leadership began offering its degree programs in 2010 and has grown quickly in size and reputation. With about 300 students, the school is business-focused and has a highly personalized career-development component. Johanson says the Executive in Residence program is among the first of its kind in hospitality higher education. For the executives, the residency is an opportunity to influence young leaders who will shape the future of hospitality in Chicago.

Chicago is a 'hospitality town'

Daly, a 25-year veteran in the hotel industry, says there is a "natural connection" between DePaul and Hyatt, which has its global headquarters in downtown Chicago, not far from DePaul's business college. A founding member of the school's advisory board, Daly says interactions with students keep him engaged with his work. "Their enthusiasm helps me stay focused and reenergizes me," he says. "It's great to bring students to the hotel, listen to their ideas and introduce them to Hyatt."

Most DePaul graduates stay in Chicago, and Melman sees the residency as a way to keep talent local. "Chicago is more than just a great food city, it's a hospitality town," says Melman, who graduated from DePaul in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in communications before joining the family business. "What I love about this program is DePaul helps students understand the career realities of this industry and focuses on getting them ready for real jobs in our community."

Melman has opened more than a dozen restaurants, including HUB 51, Three Dots and a Dash, and RPM Italian in Chicago and Washington, D.C. "Building relationships early on benefits us and it benefits students," he says.

A hallmark of the program is one-on-one sessions where executives counsel students on career choices. "Today's marketplace is different, and millennials are different," says Jacobs, who also sits on the school's advisory board. "While employers are definitely interested in classroom experience, students also need to be trying new things to see what they like - and what they don't like - before they graduate."

Jacobs is encouraging students to do just that, and he knows firsthand about the importance of hands-on experience. He started at Lettuce as a busser in 1991 and worked his way up, training as a line cook and taking on increasing roles in leadership. He went on to open several popular Lettuce restaurants including Antico Posto, Foodease market at Water Tower Place, Ema and Beatrix.

"We're helping students to be more career-focused so when they're done with the program, they're going to more quickly find the avenue that's right for them," Jacobs says.

Companies sponsor their executives' time at DePaul and support student engagement activities throughout the year. Daly sees the residency as a "growth opportunity." He mentors students in DePaul's chapter of the American Hotel Lodging Association, helping them think through strategic goals and fundraising. Recently, Daly worked with the student club before a big competition, and they won second place nationally.

"From a career perspective, it's been neat to see the commonality between what we see in the industry and what's being taught at DePaul," Daly says. :The curriculum and its programs are spot on, and we are there to advise on trends and changes in the field. It's been a fun journey so far." 

Read related news:

Study finds DePaul hospitality program best in Illinois

New grant from the Marriott Foundation aims to develop next generation of hospitality leaders