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Renowned lecture series resumes with visit from industry icon

FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management resumes renowned lecture series with visit from industry icon
By Lazaro Gonzalez

Hospitality industry giant, Michael A. Leven, spoke to FIU hospitality students, followed by an engaging Q&A session. His visit to the school on January 30, 2019 marks the revival of the school’s Michael E. Hurst Distinguished Hospitality Leaders Lecture Series.

Co-founder of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, the largest hotel owners association in the world, Leven today serves as CEO of the Georgia Aquarium after a very successful career as a hotel executive and entrepreneur.

He began his career in 1963 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. Through the years, he climbed to the highest executive levels and ran the franchising businesses of companies like Days Inn and Holiday Inn. He has reinvigorated multiple hotel properties, including the Las Vegas Sands, and he also founded and sold a successful hotel franchising business.

As he recounted his professional journey of more than five decades, Leven encouraged students to focus on developing diverse skills and knowledge about different areas of the industry and to be willing to take risks. “Brains are not a substitute for hard work. You have to believe that the work ethic you put in is going to amount to something,” he said.

“You should not fear failure because making a mistake is not failure. Making a mistake can be a learning experience. If you never do things because you fear making a mistake, you’ll never do anything.”

Dave Bordes, a junior hospitality management student, was part of a selected group of students who shared an intimate lunch with Leven. “It’s a tremendous opportunity being able to meet and speak with Mr. Leven. He gave us some unbelievable insight into how to best serve our customers, and his perspective on how Artificial Intelligence will shape the industry in future years is invaluable.”

The FIU Michael E. Hurst Distinguished Hospitality Leaders Lecture Series was established in the 1990s to bridge the gap between the classroom and the boardroom. Since then, more than 100 of the world’s most recognized and respected industry leaders, including FIU graduates, have come to inspire and share their experiences and insight with FIU hospitality students.

“Having Mike Leven on campus to meet and share his experiences with our students was a privilege. We are committed to enhancing our students’ experiences while they are at FIU, and this is just one of the many different ways that we are engaging our students with our industry,” said Dean Michael Cheng.

The late FIU professor Mike Hurst created and implemented the distinguished and now endowed lecture series. He was a successful restaurateur, industry leader and educator. He served as president of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and chairman of the NRA Education Foundation.

For more information about the Michael E. Hurst Distinguished Hospitality Leaders Lecture Series, visit