Written by Verden Salvador
Dr. Mark Warner has been with the Tisch Center since 1997. He was first the Head of the Graduate Programs before becoming a full time clinical professor. Before coming to New York University, Dr. Warner spent 20 years in the Air Force and then was the Chair of the Hotel and Restaurant Department at the University of New Haven. He will be retiring from full time faculty in January 2017 and will continue on as an adjunct professor. In honor of his long-time service to the Tisch Center, we recently interviewed Dr. Warner to learn more about what brought him to NYU and what his hopes are for the future.
Take us back as far as you can remember. Where did you grow up? What did you study in school?
I was born in Ithaca, New York. At that time, my Dad was teaching at Cornell’s School of Architecture, but when I was one year old my parents moved us to New York City. There, my Dad started working for an architectural firm and my Mom was taking care of my brother and me and eventually went on to teach English. We lived there for about 6 years, then moved out to Nyack, New York. I spent most of my school years there until I graduated from Nyack High School.
I then went to Monmouth College in Illinois, a small liberal arts school, and earned my B.A. in Business and Economics, minoring in history and accounting. After, I went on to Cornell’s Hotel School, but its policy at the time was that entrants to the Master’s degree program had to have completed the undergraduate degree in hotel administration from Cornell. So, I obtained a second bachelor’s degree from Cornell. I got married after completing this second bachelor’s and then started my master’s degree. At that time, I received a letter from the president of the United States stating that I was being drafted. After a semester of graduate school, I left Cornell and went to Texas for Air Force Officer Training School and then went to pilot training. While I was in the Air Force and earning my Master of Arts degree in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior, I started my Doctorate in Public Administration which I completed just after leaving the Air Force after a 20-year career.
What were your hobbies? What were your interests?
In high school, I was on the swimming and golf teams and I still enjoy these sports. My Dad taught me how to play golf which I do enjoy. When I was in the Air Force, I flew several different aircrafts including the T37, T38, T39, and B52. I am also interested in political science, international relations, technology, and science fiction books.
Growing up, what was your exposure to the hospitality industry?
My father was an architect; he used to share his drawings and ideas with me. He designed many hotels around the world such as the Trinidad Hilton, the Martinique Hilton, the Caribe Hilton, the Athens Hilton and many others.
When I was 10, I visited the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico and was able to take a three-hour tour of the back-of-the house. I saw the places that guests never get to go; it was fascinating. When I taught Lodging Structures and Strategies at the Tisch Center, I used to ask students when they knew they wanted to go into hospitality; what moment or point in their life made them make that decision. For me, it was this tour.
What were some of your early experiences in the hospitality industry?
I worked in a lot of different places before the Air Force. I did internships, or practice credits as Cornell called them, in various departments like housekeeping and food and beverage control. When I was at Monmouth College, I was a busboy. I liked food and beverage more than rooms, but it all works together to satisfy the guests. It is obviously much more complicated than what I thought hospitality was when I was 10. You quickly learn most basic principles of hospitality like location and its importance, taking care of your employees, exceeding guest expectations, and you carry these principles with you for the rest of your career.
Could you tell us more about your time in the Air Force?
I went to Air Command Staff College, a 10 month long school with international officers from 50+ different countries. There was a 6-week course on regional studies. I’ve always been interested in history and politics, so I enjoyed learning all of the international relations and seeing their importance.
I went to many different military schools: Pilot Training, Instructor Pilot Training, Air Force Academic Instructor School, Air Command and Staff College, Cross-Cultural Communications, and National Defense University.
I understand Dr. Robert A. Beck was your father-in-law. Could you tell us a little about your relationship with him and how that affected your hospitality career?
My father in law, Robert A. Beck, was Dean of Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration from 1961 to 1981. To me, he was a pillar of the school’s development and had a vision for what he wanted it to become. After retiring from Cornell, he went to a graduate School called ESSEC outside of Paris, France, to establish Cornell’s hotel program there, and to teach. He then taught at Florida International University. He really loved staying involved in alumni events and giving talks all around the world. There is now the Robert A. and Jan M. Beck Center dedicated to him and his wife at Cornell’s Hotel School.
What brought you to the Tisch Center?
The University of New Haven (UNH) was looking for a Chair for their Hotel and Restaurant Management program as I was leaving the Air Force. I became their Chair and was there for 8 years. While I was there, Professor Sharr Prohaska was the Chair for the Tourism Department and Dr. Lalia Rach was the Dean of the School. Dr. Rach went on to become the founding Dean of the Tisch Center in 1995. Professor Prohaska left UNH in 1996 to be the Director of the Undergraduate Programs at the Tisch Center and in 1997 I left UNH to be the Director of Tisch Center Graduate Programs.
Since being here, what roles have you held and what courses have you taught?
I was the director for Graduate Programs for ten years and now, have been a full-time Clinical Professor for ten years. During that time I’ve taught so many different courses over the years, including Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the graduate level, as well as Asset Management, Applied Research, Advanced Research Seminar, Hospitality Finance, Internships, and Independent Study and others. I’ve also taught Hotel and Tourism Accounting, Financial Management, Business Development II, Business Development III, Rooms Division Management, Lodging Structures and Strategies and Internships at the undergraduate level.
When you came here, did you have a vision for what the Tisch Center would be like today?
Hospitality is different from other disciplines because it is constantly changing. In history courses, if you are teaching a course on the History of the French Revolution, you are teaching the same course with very few changes as it is history that will not change. One of Dean Rach’s goals in building the Tisch Center was for students to be able to “manage change.” I believe this goal should always be there in a list of goals for the Tisch Center; to be able to constantly adapt and prepare our students for what the future may bring.
Today, we have “disrupters” like Airbnb. It will cause everything to change, and it is not the only change happening now. It forces you to constantly look at the curriculum. You ask yourself, what are students going to be faced with five, ten years down the road? Are they prepared? Exploring change and appropriately adapting to this change is what makes a curriculum dynamic, new and up-to-date.
I also used to think that liberal arts classes didn’t have a role if I was majoring in hospitality. One day, I sat with my father who made a case that every class I took could by related to hospitality. Psychology teaches you about individual behavior (consumer behavior), Sociology teaches you about group behavior (market segments), music can feed into the events and entertainment industry, and on and on. This changed my entire outlook on academia and the importance of these classes in today’s Tisch Center curriculum and the Liberal Arts Core.
What are some of your fondest memories of the Tisch Center?
Graduation is always fun to attend. It used to be in Washington Square Park at one point, but now it is at Yankee Stadium. It’s a huge festivity; there are tents set up on the infield, people are taking pictures, big boards displaying the speakers or saying congratulations. All of the students are celebrating with their family and friends.
Also, the annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference was always a major event at the Center, as it is today. It was and is a great way to update ideas and knowledge that enhances classroom discussion. The conference keeps your mind up to date by refreshing current trends and looking to the future.
What will you miss most about the Tisch Center?
I’m really going to miss the process of change and curriculum development. I loved seeing the industry change and adapt and coupling the changes and trends to changes in the curriculum.
I’ve always thought that teaching should be about delivering content and ensuring that the students can take something useful with them as they graduate and start careers. They should be able to critically think about what they’ve learned and apply what they have learned in the classroom and during their internships.
I will also miss my association with everyone (students, faculty, and administrators) at the Tisch Center. It has been great.
What piece of advice would you give to current and future students of our program?
In your career, look for your passion. That includes discretionary time and your family time. Find the career area that, when you wake up in the morning, it’s not the money that drives you – it’s enjoying the challenge, enjoying the industry. You should not just sit there and be unhappy with your career. Find the passion and you should be on your way in finding life-time happiness.
Hospitality and tourism gives you a wide array of things you can do. Don’t like the hours? Do something with fewer hours. Don’t like being on your feet? Find something where you can sit. There are so many different areas of the industry that something will fit you. Explore what you like and don’t like during your internships; be honest with yourself. Overall, happiness will accelerate your career. If you’re happy, then your attitude is right. If your attitude is right, then you will be successful. Enjoy the future!