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Michael Nowlis is the newly elected chair for two years for HSMAI Region Europe

Nowlis has a broad background in the travel, tourism and hospitality industries. A US citizen who lived in Europe for 30 years, Nowlis held numerous management positions in the hospitality industry, at both the corporate and unit level. His career has focused primarily on the luxury segment, having held management positions at The Waldorf-Astoria in New York and the Hôtel Beau-Rivage in Lausanne, Switzerland. He also served as Corporate Director of Food and Beverage Operations for Guest Quarters Hotels (since acquired by Hilton Worldwide).

Nowlis has enjoyed a 40 year relationship with Cornell University serving three full-time appointments (New York City, Paris, Ithaca) and numerous adjunct assignments.  He most recently served as Associate Dean at Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. He previously served as Dean of the Center for Corporate and Professional Education at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey (USA). 

From 2006 to 2013, Nowlis served as Director of the Senior Executive Program at London Business School.  Prior to LBS, he spent 13 years as Director of the Institut de Management Hotelier International (IMHI), a hospitality-focused MBA program based in Paris. During his tenure at IMHI, the institute was jointly administered by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and the Ecole Supérieure de Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC).

Nowlis is an active management consultant, providing business advisory services to multinational corporations, government agencies, academic institutions and trade associations in the hospitality industry. 

Q: Who is Michael Nowlis?
A: Michael Nowlis thrives on helping emerging and established leaders develop their personal and professional potential. So many people go through life without fully realizing the talent they have and the opportunities available to them. I am on a passionate mission to help professionals understand their capabilities and open their eyes to professional horizons they might never have considered.

Q: What does HSMAI mean to you?
A: HSMAI in Europe has been an important part of my professional life for almost 25 years. I have been a member and served as a director of several professional associations. They have all been valuable in some way but HSMAI has consistently served as a beacon of lifelong learning, trend spotting, leadership development and industry networking unlike any other membership organization I know. I love collaborating with people who are excited about their industry and about their colleagues. After attending their first HSMAI event, new members frequently comment on the sense of inclusiveness, excitement and electricity they feel.

Q: What will you bring to the table as the chair of the board of directors?
A: We have the great fortune of being supported by an all-star board of directors, a series of enthusiastic advisory boards and an incredibly professional executive team. We all have to channel all the enthusiasm and energy into productive results. This requires four things. We will ensure that we communicate the new post covid strategy to serve as the HSMAI – Europe roadmap. Second, since communication is critical we will ensure that the board, executive leadership, members, and advisory boards have a clear vision of our new strategic objectives and how we intend to get there. Third, it is our responsibility to work with the executive team to secure the human and financial resources to achieve our ambitious goals. Lastly, I will be leading from behind with humility and integrity, President & CEO Ingunn Hofseth and I serve as the public faces of HSMAI Europe.

Q: You have a demanding job. Why did you accept to serve as the chair of the HSMAI Region Europe Board of directors?
A: We all suffer from time poverty and life is full of choices. I try to identify how I can have the greatest impact for the time and effort invested. In tennis, we call this the “sweet spot”. At this critical moment in history, the hospitality industry is emerging from the greatest crisis of the last century. I think I can make the greatest contribution to reviving economic health and generating employment through my work at HSMAI-Europe.

Q: You have a strong academic background. How do you see HSMAI Europe and the hospitality industry as a whole benefiting from that experience?
A: A fish doesn’t know it’s wet because it spends its entire life in water. Similarly, hospitality practitioners are so consumed with the day-to-day exigencies of operating their business that they find it challenging to identify game-changing innovations that revolutionize the industry. In contrast, academics wake up each morning with one mission: to create new knowledge and identify more effective and efficient ways to employ enterprise resources. The most transformational developments in the recent history of the hospitality sector (revenue optimization systems, real estate financing vehicles, digital distribution systems, etc.) were conceived by academic researchers before being adopted by industry.

Q: What are your personal strengths?
A: I have never been the smartest or most creative person in the room. Whatever success I may have achieved has been a result of unbridled passion, profound curiosity and an evangelical mission to help others recognize and realize their potential to succeed.

Q: What does it take to become a successful leader in today’s hospitality sector?
A: Regardless of your professional role or industry sector, there are four essential characteristics you must possess to succeed in business today. First, you must be a great team player and a supportive colleague. Second, you need to have deep expertise in something that creates real value. Third, you’ve got to be an inspirational visionary — a leader, a teacher, a coach, a communicator, an imagineer.’ Fourth, you need to be a businessperson obsessed with pragmatic outcomes and results.

Q: HSMAI Region Europe will reactivate the Mike Leven Mentor Programme. Please share your thoughts on mentorship.
A: Developing students and emerging leaders is critical to the future of our industry. There are limits to what young professionals can learn in school or from management development programs. There is no substitute for the experience and wisdom that seasoned leaders can share with talented, upcoming professionals. Providing advice, posing difficult questions and sharing stories of success and failure can help catapult the careers of young managers. The greatest satisfaction of my career has been witnessing the professional success of professionals I have mentored.

Q: How do HSMAI members benefit from the HSMAI Region Europe?
A: There are five principle ways that members benefit from their HSMAI Europe membership. First, by providing a vast array of professional development opportunities: in person conferences and workshops, online seminars, white papers, reports and other learning tools that keep executives up to date on industry trends. Second, members take advantage of HSMAI’s many skills development programs to become a Certified Revenue Manager, Certified Digital Marketer or Certified Sales Executive. Global hospitality companies recognize HSMAI certification as the industry standard attesting to competence in complex management skill sets. Thirdly, HSMAI Europe serves as a center of commercial activity where professionals and companies explore and consummate real business agreements. Fourth, HSMAI Europe recognizes excellence and innovation in hospitality through various high-profile awards. Lastly, the HSMAI Europe membership is an unparalleled resource to network in the hospitality industry. Individual and corporate members use this extensive network to connect with those who have mutual interests.

Q: Could you tell us what a typical day at work looks like?
A: There is no typical day. I work for several global companies and leading universities. Emerging from the pandemic lockdown, I am returning to a busy travel schedule with diverse projects in various geographic locations. I couldn’t sit at the same desk everyday as part of a work routine. I love the variety of continually collaborating with different people on diverse projects.

Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: Working with incredibly smart and fun people from whom I continue to learn and grow.

Q: Which industry leaders do you look up to?
A: Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work with some of the world’s legendary hoteliers. I had the privilege of working for Frank Wangeman, Managing Director at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and Walter Schnyder, General Manager of the Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne. Both of these icons were larger-than-life figures in the history of hotelkeeping and taught me much of what I know about the luxury hotel industry. I am also tremendously proud of my former students who are leading the global hotel industry today: Puneet Chhatwal, CEO Taj Hotels (previously CEO Steigenberger); Olivier Chavy, President RCI Exchanges (previously CEO Mövenpick); Nicolas Castanet, CEO Easy Hotels (interim); Thorsten Kirschke, President Carlson Rezidor APAC. These industry leaders were once my students but today I am learning from them.

Q: HSMAI Region Europe will launch a new initiative in September – The Student Council. Please share your thoughts on this project.
A: As hospitality professionals, we have an obligation to develop the next generation of industry professionals. For HSMAI Europe, educating and mentoring students and emerging leaders is not a peripheral activity. It is central to our mission and to the recovery and future of the global hospitality industry. While the council will be run by students, HSMAI Europe will provide the resources, network and learning support to ensure it’s success.

Q: Any final thoughts?
A: The great futurist Alvin Toffler observed that “The illiterate of the 21st century are not those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” This will be the key to your future personal and professional success. In these challenging but exciting time, HSMAI Europe is here to support those who are eager to learn and aspire to lead.

Photo: Michael Nowlis

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