Written by Verden Salvador
Paul Biederman has been with NYU for 22 years. He has seen hospitality and tourism go from a small department with one program to the world-renowned Center that it is today. Professor Biederman will be retiring from adjunct faculty at the end of December, so we took this opportunity to talk to him about his experience at NYU.
Q1. Could you tell us about your background?
I was born and grew up in suburban New Jersey and went to Rutgers University where I completed both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Economics. After graduating I spent some time in the army, moved to NYC and then went on to work first at a labor union, then later at a non-profit research group and after that as an economist at IBM. I didn’t enjoy the reverse commute from NYC to Westchester (where IBM is based), so I started looking for other opportunities. I answered an ad in a newspaper for an economist position – which turned out to be with Trans World Airlines, TWA (now part of American Airlines) – and it completely transformed my life. After a few years, I became their Chief Economist, and served in this role for over 20 years. I was mainly responsible for revenue forecasting but also became involved with scheduling, marketing, pricing, and so many other things on the sales side of the business. Also, despite working full-time and traveling on business, I was able to earn a Ph.D in Economics from the New School. It took me eight years to complete, and my dissertation was later turned into a book.
Q2. What first brought you to the Tisch Center?
In 1994, TWA moved from New York to St. Louis, and because I had been with the company for 25 years, I was able to qualify for an early retirement package. Shortly after leaving TWA, I joined NYU through a friend who knew someone at McGhee who knew of the opening.
At that time, the Tisch Center was just a small department situated at the Midtown Center in a cramped space. There was only one graduate program and it centered on hotel asset management and real estate. As we began to grow, the university provided us with more resources, and this led to the establishment of the Tisch Center – as we know it today – and Dr. Lalia Rach was hired as the founding Dean. As the Center hired more staff and expanded its programs, I transitioned from administration to an adjunct faculty role, and I have been teaching ever since. I will be retiring at the end of this month, which marks 22 years of my association with NYU.
Q3. Before TWA, did you ever think you would go into tourism?
No, I didn’t. I had traveled on my own before working at TWA, but this job was really a lucky star. I answered a blind ad in the newspaper – they didn’t say what company they were. I just answered it and got the job. Two years in, I became the chief economist. It completely transformed my life. It was a lot of fun, I met my wife while on a weekend trip in London, and I got to travel the world essentially for free.
Q4. Of the places you’ve been, which are your favorites?
I think the ones that stand out in my mind right now are Easter Island, South Pacific; Patagonia, South America; and the Galapagos. I love visiting France. I also love visiting Greece because my wife is Greek, so once I leave NYU we will definitely be spending more time there. In total I have been to 85 countries, 48 states, and all of the National Parks west of the Mississippi so it’s hard to pick my favorite places off the top of my head, but these are the ones that stand out right now.
Q5. Destinations still on the list?
We haven’t been to Tibet, but I’m not sure if we will because of the location’s altitude. Bhutan has a little lower altitude, so we will probably get there. I would also love to ride the Trans-Siberian railroad.
Q6. What courses have you taught and which was your favorite course to teach?
Apart from asset management and law, I’ve probably taught almost all of the courses, both hospitality and tourism, on the graduate and undergraduate level. I’ve also taught economics, both macro and micro, in GSP which is now Liberal Studies, and in the College of Arts and Sciences. I really think my favorite courses to teach would be tourism courses. I especially like teaching undergraduates because they are more impressionable than graduate students.
Q7. What are some of your fondest memories of the Tisch Center? What will you miss most?
I always liked going to the school-wide graduations. They used to be held in Washington Square Park but there was a year and a half when the park was closed, so they moved it to Yankee Stadium, where it’s been ever since. In addition, it is always fun connecting with students, meeting them outside of the classroom to chat over lunch or coffee and discussing their plans. I have a lot of former students that I remain in contact with. That’s what I’ll miss the most.