Chris Burdett (’90 Hotel & Rest. Admin.) has actively participated with WSU since 2004 and has held the following positions: School of Hospitality Business Management Advisory Board member 2004-present, Board Chair 2010-2012, Carson College of Business National Board of Advisors member 2005-present, and National Board of Advisors Chair 2015-2017. Read his full bio.
What was your most positive or transformational career experience as an industry leader and why?
In the winter of 1995, I just finished building out my fifth quick service restaurant (QSR) with my best friend and partner from WSU and was getting antsy to return to the hotel world. I reached out to what was, at that time, someone who I thought could help me get back into hotels and potentially let me work for him directly. Over lunch on a monster snow day in Seattle, Andy Olsen offered me a job as a consultant with The Chambers Group, the company he founded after leaving Laventhol & Horwath in 1990. There are few times in your life where you meet people that you know can make a major impact on your career if you are willing to listen with an open mind. Without Andy and his daily direction and advice over a dozen years, I am certain I would not be where I am today. He was not only a mentor, but a friend.
How has the School of Hospitality Business Management impacted your industry?
I think there are several ways we are seeing the impact from the SHBM. Two, however, stand out. The SHBM graduates are exceptionally prepared to be managers and leaders in the hospitality industry. This is critical to the success of the SHBM program’s reputation. I would place WSU hospitality students against any other program in the country with regard to operational oversight, character, and knowledge of business fundamentals. Secondly, I would also say the SHBM’s ability to pivot within hospitality is also critical to its success. The creation of programs such as wine and beverage business management and the Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living are all impacting our industry in major ways. I remember the very first meeting on the senior living program and thinking it was not going to be an easy process, given the nuances of higher education and exponential growth of the industry. Thankfully, leadership in the dean’s office recognized an industry with such a potential for growth, along with those driving the agenda such as Dr. Nancy Swanger and senior living industry icons like Granger Cobb, Jerry Meyer, and Bill Pettit. WSU has a funded institute that is now, and will continue to be, the industry leader in senior living education around the world.
What advice would you give to hospitality students?
Keep an open mind when it comes to the industry we all love. One thing I tend to hear repeatedly in student interviews is their narrow view of opportunities in hospitality. I frequently hear “general manager,” “restaurant owner,” or “event planner,” but what I always tell them is that our industry includes so much more. Be prepared to think about what it takes to own, operate, build, sell, invest, and manage whatever it is in this industry that you might find interesting—from franchise sales of national hotel brands to the attorneys who specialize in contract negotiations. From large multinational hotel real estate investment trusts (REITs) to the industry analyst who sets valuations for publicly traded restaurant chains. There are thousands of opportunities in our industry around the world. I vividly remember my dad telling me that if I could work in a restaurant, I could go anywhere and live anywhere, and frankly, he was more than right. He sparked an interest in an industry that really can take you anywhere.