|By Robert A. Nozar H&MM Editor-in-Chief
If education is the lifeblood of the future of the global hospitality industry, then it is people such as Ronald Cichy who are the hearts that pump it through the system.
For Cichy, the director of, and a professor with, The School of Hospitality Business (the italicized "The" is done by the school) at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., not a day goes by that he does not refer to, or is in consultation with, alumni of the university. He said it is his belief that the best representatives of a program such as his are the graduates whose work ethic personifies what the college is all about. Indeed, Cichy has a large number of grads from which to choose if he decides to show current students how a diploma from this particular hospitality program can lead to success in an industry that grows in importance every day.
Alumni and other industry leaders visit this pastoral campus nearly every week of the academic year to share their expertise with the people that Cichy and his academic staff are preparing to unleash on the hospitality business. For Cichy, the belief is strong that MSU graduates are sufficiently prepared to step right into important industry roles, but the reality is embraced that the achievement of a diploma merely gives these students entree into an industry where they will now begin to pay their dues.
"Regardless of where our students come from, they leave here with a
strong Midwestern work ethic," Cichy said. "They know the value of learning
over the course of a lifetime, the value of giving-often becoming mentors
to others-and the value of working hard and working intelligently." Prior
to his current position, Cichy was director of educational services for
the Educational Institute of the American Hotel & Motel Assn. He also
served on the faculties of the University of Denver and Lansing (Mich.)
Community College. Cichy earned his doctorate, masters and bachelors degrees
in the very classrooms
"I love Michigan State and everything it stands for," he said. "I firmly believe this school is the leader in hospitality education."
Cichy went to elementary and secondary schools in Roman Catholic classrooms and was heavily influenced in his learning by several of his great aunts, who are Felician nuns. One of those aunts, in fact, authored a history of Poland.
"Throughout my childhood, she would bring me reading and study material,"
Cichy said. "That's where my love of learning began."
That Cichy is at MSU is hardly surprising, given his lifelong passion for the school. At age 15, Cichy visited the MSU campus and fell in love with the place. He was already interested in the hospitality industry by the time he entered the school as an undergraduate in 1968. He remembers that era as a more noble time.
"Back then, if we were in the streets protesting, it was about civil rights or the bombing of Cambodia," Cichy remembered. "Today, they riot over not being able to drink at tailgate parties."
Perhaps they are not as noble in their politics or social concerns, but Cichy still sees a lot of potential in the students of today for an industry that will need strong leaders as it embarks on a new century.
At age 22, Cichy was working as a hotel manager and discovered the need the hospitality industry had to be strongly involved in the local community, a philosophy he nurtures and teaches.
"A hotel must be a good neighbor," Cichy said. "It must be actively involved in a variety of community-service projects, not just to project a good image in the local area, but because it is the right thing to do."
When Cichy finished work on his masters degree, he determined that teaching was what he wanted to do, and it was food that he wanted to teach, but while he was well versed in the business aspect of the industry, he was not so strong in the science of food. So in 1977, he entered a program in food science and was teaching food courses at MSU. He did a dissertation on the study of food quality.
After a year, Cichy got married and headed west to Denver, where he
helped start the University of Denver's MBA program. A little while later,
when Cichy's wife was offered a job in Boston, the couple headed east-but
they didn't quite make
"We stopped in East Lansing where [E. Ray] Swan [then the director of EI] offered me the job of director of educational services," Cichy said. "It was in 1984 that I set a 10-year goal to be a director of a major hospitality program." There was a catch: Cichy still needed to learn the hotel side, and luckily he began working on that need immediately-lucky, because this guy who bleeds Spartan green was about to see the ideal position open. It was 1987 and a search had begun for a director of MSU's hospitality school.
"My goal was 1994, but here it was, 1988, and they chose me," Cichy said. "I had strong connections to the hotel and restaurant sides, and they saw that I was committed to the industry and to education."
As Cichy tells it, the school had gone through a lot of pain in the previous four years, so his first task was to revisit the mission statement. Since 1988, he and his staff have raised more than $8 million in new funds. It is a program that continues to grow and Cichy gives most of the credit to the success of its alumni.
"Our focus since 1988 has been leadership," Cichy said. "Our faculty are leaders in their disciplines and our alumni are leaders with their companies. "We have been successful because of a two-core belief: One is that hospitality is first and foremost a business, and all we do has a business dimension. We stress the need to make a profit. The other is the belief that by doing good [works], your business will do well."
Cichy said MSU's students learn the importance of charitable acts, consisting of common themes of feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and helping children, which Cichy describes as the segment of the earth's population that is taken advantage of the most. Events that take place under the auspices of The School of Hospitality Business are done with part of the goal being to support local charities.
"In the hospitality industry, we need a balance," Cichy said. "There is nothing wrong with being profit-oriented, but we must avoid the pitfalls that come from being overly materialistic. Part of the hospitable in hospitality is based in the need to look beyond the monetary profits and see the profit that comes from doing good things for other people." One of the most important goals Cichy and his staff have as educators is to instill that lifetime love of learning, and to help MSU's students recognize the rewards that come from that attitude.
"We look at a skill set and allow [our students] to be productive,"
he said. "We are not producing students that necessarily want the big time
right away. They are willing to roll up their sleeves. We tell them they
should expect choices throughout their careers, and we provide the tools
to make the most of those choices."
"A leader who people want to follow is one who recognizes the value of generosity over wealth, wisdom over arrogance and intelligent choices over a memorized list," Cichy said. "Collectively, this industry is not investing in the future. By encouraging our youth, we could double our work force. It is time to get away from the mindset that says we have only to worry about this quarter's p&l."
Students from The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University
will never have that profit-only philosophy as long as Ron Cichy is in
charge. No wonder he insists on italicizing the "The."