Students from The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University enjoyed a productive trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico last week, generously hosted by School Alumnus and Hall of Fame member Hugh A. Andrews (BA 71, MBA 72), Chairman of International Hospitality Enterprises, Inc. (IHE).
His administrative assistant, also a School Alumnus, and Emerging Alumni Leader of the Year for 2006, Ruben Estrada (BA ’00), was the “logistics expert,” arranging for a number of professional development opportunities for the students, and taking time from his busy schedule to spend hours with them during their site visits to six hotels in Puerto Rico. Each of the students is a member of The School’s Real Estate Investment Club.
“Mr. Andrews’ company is the leader in the refurbishing of old, historical properties and making them stunning, unique, and profitable – while also respectful of that special history,” explains School Director Dr. Ron Cichy (BA ’72, MBA ’77), who, with The School’s Director of Academic Programs Dean James F. Rainey, also traveled to the island to meet with Hugh. “The students are serious about careers in the hotel real estate and development segment of the industry, and Hugh is a master in that field. He is known for his management, operations, real estate, and ‘thinking like the owner’ practices. This was a wonderful opportunity for students to learn from the best,” says Dean Rainey.
Each one of the students is also enrolled in The School’s Real Estate and Development Specialization. Directing that program is Dr. A.J. Singh, who took care to explain that this was not simply a pleasure trip to the Caribbean. “Ruben designed experiences for the students which were meant to challenge them and help them grow in this field they have chosen.”
Indeed he did. They met with Alfredo Arroyo, the manager of the La Concha Resort, toured the property and participated in a presentation on its history and its current market. They met with Sigfrido de Jesús, the manager of Casino Del Mar for a tour and an analysis of casino operations. Hugh’s current project, the rebuilding of the Hotel Vanderbilt, was another stop in the itinerary, with a presentation by Assistant to the President Ricky Diaz, and a 4-hour discussion of the financials, market, and viability of condo-hotels.
Another day brought a tour of TripAdvisor’s number one rated hotel in Puerto Rico, Hotel El Convento, and a meeting with General Manager Efraín Rosa. There was also a tour of the Doubletree San Juan with General Manager Yodil Cabán, and a discussion of real estate financing with Financial Advisor John Richardson.
They weren’t done. They also toured Courtyard Isla Verde Beach Resort with General Manager José Padín. The students met with Peter Hopgood, IHE’s vice president of sales and marketing and Brett Mizner, Expedia market manager for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, to discuss the Caribbean hotel market – independent vs. branded hotels, in particular. A tour followed of the Condado Palm Inn with General Manager Miguel Rivas and a lengthy talk with IHE Vice President of Finance César Hernández about project financial structures.
The meetings were eye-opening for the students. Junior Daniel Dyer (BA ’14) says, “IHE’s portfolio caters to a wide variety of markets, and each of them does it in a very unique way. Many of the hotels are currently undergoing some form of development through renovations or additions, and we were given the chance to learn the strategy behind each project and its expected return for IHE.”
Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences was the gourmet dinner in the Boardroom of the Hotel Vanderbilt with Mr. Andrews, Dr. Cichy, and Dean Rainey, during which Hugh talked to the students about international hotel management companies and shared his story of developing hotels in Puerto Rico.
“Mr. Andrews is truly a visionary within our industry,” says Real Estate Investment Club President and Hospitality Association CEO Paul Finstad (BA ’13). “Words cannot express our gratitude for taking part in this trip of a lifetime. The knowledge we gained in only one week was incredible, and built on our classroom studies.” Freshman Dylan Ciraldo (BA ’16) agreed, saying, “I feel so lucky to have been granted the opportunity to meet with Mr. Andrews and to tour all the properties. I am very grateful for his time and generosity.”
It wasn’t all work and no play. On their final full day on the island, the students were treated to an all-day excursion on Hugh’s yacht, The Barracuda, where they joined students from the University of Puerto Rico and Ruben’s family for a day of swimming, sunning, and getting to know each other.
Meanwhile, Dr. Cichy and Dean Rainey shared quality time with Hugh, a truly valued alumnus, who years ago coined what has become The School’s mantra: “Think Like The Owner.”
“Hugh’s interest in our students, his unique position in the hotel world in Puerto Rico, and his generosity in sharing his time, advice, associates, and yacht (!) is truly appreciated,” says Dr. Cichy. “He is a dear friend and a gem among our many wonderful alumni.”
For his part, Hugh emailed Ron later, “Your kids make The School shine!”
Demurring, Ron says, “They aren’t ‘my kids,’ though I would love to take credit for their brainpower, ambition, and maturity. They are every inch Spartans, and they conducted themselves beautifully.”