2017 Hall of Fame Inductee, School of Hospitality Business Management
Larry Culver, retired hotel owner, developer, and hotel management company president
Larry Culver (’64 H&RA) established the Larry and Vickie Culver Hospitality Fund in the Carson College of Business to help support a School of Hospitality Business Management (SHBM) staff position to create internships and relationships between the school and the hospitality industry. He has served on advisory boards for the college and SHBM, and he served the WSU Foundation for over 25 years. He has earned some of the Foundation and university’s highest honors for his leadership and service, including the Weldon B. “Hoot” Gibson Distinguished Volunteer Award (’13), the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award (’99), and the Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award (’17). He has also served on numerous subcommittees for the development of WSU properties, including the WSU golf course.
What was your most positive or transformational career experience as an industry leader and why?
Growing up, I learned about food service when I helped my grandmother cook in a high school. After graduating from WSU, I started my career as a food service manager, and that led to becoming a restaurant manager. I realized if I wanted to grow professionally, I had to become a hotel manager. Choosing that path opened opportunities to develop my leadership potential and apply the skills I learned at WSU. My most transformational experiences evolved from learning how to launch and fund a new business. Learning diverse aspects of business development, including construction design and architecture, working with outside partners, and negotiating development contracts, was instrumental to my career and leadership success. In 1974, I became a business owner when I started Innco, a hotel management company in Wichita, Kansas. After gaining this critical experience, one of my most pivotal professional experiences was being asked to become one of the original franchisees of the Residence Inn product, which has grown to over 800 hotels worldwide. In 1982, I founded InnVentures Inc., a company that manages and develops hotel properties, including Marriott and Hilton brands. Today, InnVentures features nearly 50 hotels in 13 states. One thing I’m very proud of: most of the original staff is still there, and many are Cougs.
How has the School of Hospitality Business Management impacted your industry?
The hospitality school taught me the basics of business and gave me the tools, confidence, and positive outlook to work through the phases of growing a business—and take risks. I really believe taking risks can be the difference between success and failure. The hospitality program introduced us to some of the brightest minds in industry including hospitality professionals Jerry Burtenshaw, Chris Marker, Andy Olsen, Professor Terry Umbreit, and Chris Burdett, as well as other business leaders who support WSU, such as Scott Carson. Developing students’ professional networks is one of the hospitality program’s most valuable assets.
What advice would you give to hospitality students?
- Learn to work as a team versus as an individual. I was impressed when former WSU President Sam Smith changed curriculum across WSU to embrace team activities.
- Keep a positive attitude and carry it forward. If you are positive about what you do, you will grow.
- Secure a quality internship. If we can grow companies’ interest in the Carson College, a reciprocal relationship will emerge. As student interns do well, businesses will be more apt to provide more internships, scholarships, and job offers.
- Take risks and move your ideas forward.
- Get back of house experience early in your career, including front desk, night audits, restaurant, or bakery. All of this is critical training and will make you a better manager.
- Be part of an opening team whether a restaurant or hotel.
- Don’t burn bridges—maintaining good relationships will benefit you later in your career.
- Start early in giving back to your alma mater and explore volunteering in nonprofits. The people you’ll meet will benefit you in lots of ways throughout your life and career.