Hotel industry offers ‘opportunity of a lifetime’

Emily Rasinski

Valerie Ferguson, vice president and managing director of Loews Philadelphia Hotel, spoke to students at Eastway’s first floor lounge last night.

Credit: Andrew popik

“You do not find your career,” Valerie Ferguson said. “Your career finds you.”

Ferguson spoke about her journey from humble beginnings to current vice president and managing director of the Loews Philadelphia Hotel yesterday as a part of the annual Schwebel Lecture Series.

The purpose of the series is to bring leaders in the hospitality industry to the university so students can learn from their experiences.

About 150 students, administrators, faculty and community members attended her speech, “Lodging as a Vital Force in the Economy,” in the first floor lounge of Eastway Center.

“She is a wonderful role model and advocate for college students in our major, especially for women and the diversity component,” Mary Dellmann-Jenkins, director of the School of Family and Consumer Studies said.

Ferguson spoke about her experiences working her way up in the hotel industry as well as her predictions for the future of the industry. She mentioned that in the future the front desk will function only as a concierge service. All checking in and out will be done through the Internet, Ferguson said.

“I am very bullish about the future of the hospitality industry because I believe this industry presents the opportunity of a lifetime for young people,” she said.

Rachel Lynn, one of this year’s recipient of the Frances Schwebel Solomon Hospitality Food Service Management scholarship, agreed.

“I was most inspired about how the industry is growing,” she said. “That’s a good thing for me.”

Ferguson said the hotel industry provides many opportunities in the hospitality management profession.

“The hotel industry is one of the last industries that truly represents the American dream,” she said. “It’s what we make of out of the opportunities and challenges.”

Barbara Scheule, associate professor of hospitality management, said the lectures give hospitality management students a renewed excitement and enthusiasm in their chosen field.

“It helps them focus their career goals and gives them an opportunity to say, ‘They did it and I can do it too.’ You see that kind of glow,” she said. “They walk away excited.”

Lynn, junior hospitality management major, said Ferguson’s rise to the top was impressive.

“She went from something so small to become vice president of the company,” she said.

Provost Paul Gaston introduced Ferguson by naming a few of her awards. In 1993 she was voted National Woman of the Year by the Network of Executive Women in Hospitality, in 2003 she received Above and Beyond Award by the Lodging Investment Conference, and in 2000 she was one of the Top 100 Women in Corporate America by Ebony.

Scheule said that the series began after the Schwebel family donated money to the school in the early 1990s with the purpose of bringing in key leaders in the hospitality industry to the university as well as providing scholarships to students. The first lecture took place in 1993 with former White House chef Henry Haller.

Contact fine and professional arts reporter Emily Rasinski at [email protected].