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Hilton Senior VP of Development discusses global hospitality industry with students

School of Tourism and Hospitality Management students heard a firsthand account of a hospitality career that led Hilton Worldwide's Bill Fortier across the country several times and into development projects in South America and elsewhere during an Executive in Residence presentation Oct. 18.

In a fashion similar to the school's many Executive in Residence events, Associate Dean Elizabeth H. Barber and two students, junior Lindsay McLeod and senior Michael Olmo, welcomed Fortier, Hilton's senior vice president of development in the Americas. Moderator Greg Stafford, general manager of Hilton-operated AAA Four Diamond Inn at Penn, then asked Fortier a series of questions before a packed auditorium in Tuttleman Learning Center.

During the hour-long event, Fortier recounted a more than 20-year career that began at the University of Houston's Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, took him into real estate and finance in Denver, brought him to the Marriott corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md., then landed him back in his home state of California, first for a promotion within Marriott and then for a position with his current employer, Hilton.

Fortier emphasized to students the importance of finding a job they love and constantly seeking opportunities for advancement. While interning in Houston, he quickly learned he disliked hotel operations, so he worked with his professors to re-position himself in real estate and finance, for which he continues to have a passion. Later in his career, he left a secure job at Marriott with opportunities for steady advancement for a more dynamic role in what was then the much smaller Hilton.

"I would never have had the opportunities I have today if I hadn't made that leap," said Fortier, who now oversees what Stafford called an "empire" of new hotel development in dozens of countries.

Fortier also discussed his commitment to sustainability and the prospects for new professionals entering the hospitality industry. "Growth in domestic full-service hotels is steady," Fortier said. "And if you're willing to go abroad, the opportunities are limitless."

The hospitality industry, he assured students, is rapidly growing. American hotel franchises are expanding quickly and areas such as Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South America are enjoying an unprecedented boom. "We are even erecting a first- class hotel in Iraq," Fortier said.

He also reflected upon the value of his own hospitality education - noting that hospitality schools' hundreds of required internship hours are invaluable - and commented on the energy and enthusiasm of STHM's students and staff. "I've visited a number of schools," Fortier said. "But the passion at STHM is greatest."

- Carl O'Donnell