Hospitality veteran gives students food for thought

KENNESAW, Ga.  (Sept. 3, 2015) — What does Airbnb and Uber look like in the future for…

Georgia (Sep 11, 2015)KENNESAW, Ga.  (Sept. 3, 2015) — What does Airbnb and Uber look like in the future for the hospitality industry? That’s one of a dozen questions that Kennesaw State students asked industry veteran Michael Leven during a guest lecture in Prillaman Hall auditorium Sept. 3. 

Nearly 200 students in the ‘Intro to Hospitality’ course listened intently to Leven, whose career has spanned more than 50 years in the hotel industry. Leven, who is currently CEO of the Georgia Aquarium, retired from the Las Vegas Sands Corporation as president and COO in 2014.

In April, Leven gave $5 million – the largest single gift in University history -- to the newly named Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality at Kennesaw State.

Leven talked about his first job after college, in 1960, when he worked in sales promotion at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, where he says he “didn’t know a ballroom from a men’s room.”

He spent most of the hour-long class answering a gamut of questions from students. 

“How is running an aquarium like running a hotel?” asked KSU student Sophie Scher.

“It’s a hotel for fish, but the best thing is they don’t complain,” Leven answered, which was met with a roomful of laughter. Leven serves as CEO of the Georgia Aquarium in a volunteer capacity.

Other students found themselves looking for advice, such as Will Howard (above) who asked about finding mentors, and Lydia Cuyler, who asked, “How do you define yourself as a brand?”

“I think I’m consistent and people know what to expect. My brand is: I am who I am. And you are who you are. You can improve your brand, but you can’t change who you are,” he said.

Trovonte Brown, a resident assistant at KSU, said he became interested in hospitality from having a job as a resident assistant. Brown, who likes the simplicity of working with people, asked, “How do you become a person of value when you are the one in trouble?”

“I’ve been in trouble for 54 years,” Leven laughed. “Eventually, you will find someone who likes that characteristic. You’ve got to be who you are. Cut out the complications. You have to simplify it to get down to the real issues.”

Leven spoke about the connection between airlines and hospitality, how new businesses like Airbnb or Uber are absorbed into the industry, and how to handle rejection.

“You have to go to the graduate school of work. You may not get to where you want to be the first time, but you have to be somewhere.

“Take only the next job that builds your resume, not just the one that gives you more money. You need to build your career step-by-step. Every one of the jobs I’ve held gave me more learning, more experience and built me up for the next one,” he said.


- Tiffany Capuano; Photos by David Caselli 

Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit