Hospitality Leadership Program Seeks to Strengthen One of Florida’s Largest Industries

hospitality leadership program

The HLP is a 16-week online course designed for the working professional.

(Feb. 6, 2020) – Life is too short to work 80 hours every week, but many leaders in the hospitality industry believe that is what it takes to run a successful operation. 

According to David O’Neill, those doing well in the industry understand it doesn’t have to be that way. As Director of the Bishop Center for Ethical Leadership in USF St. Petersburg’s Kate Tiedemann College of Business, O’Neill recently helped launch a new professional training program that promises to help hospitality leaders better manage their employees, business operations and time. 

The Hospitality Leadership Program (HLP) is a 16-week online course broken into easy-to-digest modules designed for the working professional. Through topics like conducting high-impact meetings, developing leadership processes and cultivating customer loyalty, general managers and hands-on business owners are given resources to help lead in what is typically a hectic and fast-paced industry.

“What we learned is that it can be chaos working in hospitality,” said O’Neill. “If you haven’t built a strong team and a strong culture, you’re going to be working 80 hours a week putting out fires and not getting the results you want. This program can help leaders grow their business and stress less.”

About 18 months ago, representatives from the hospitality industry asked the University how it might help address the high turnover rate that seems to be keeping people from pursuing long-term careers in hospitality. The problem is multi-pronged, O’Neill and his colleagues recognized, but a focus on developing a stronger organizational culture through leadership education can make a big difference. 

“Our premise is that people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses,” he said. “So, the program is targeted at leaders in hospitality – specifically general managers and hands-on owners, the folks that create the culture that can inspire employee- and guest-loyalty.”

The HLP curriculum draws on the experiences of current, successful executives in local hospitality with a wide range of expertise, including Viviana Levya, Human Resources Director at The Vinoy Renaissance and Jeff Gigante, Co-founder of Ciccio Group. Through recorded narratives and guest speaking appearances tied to the core content of the program, these “executives-in-residence” bring a diversity of voices together for the participants to learn from. 

“We’re building a learning community of practice, not just a training program,” said Miguel Miranda, lead instructor for the HLP, who boasts 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry.

For Kevin Scott, General Manager of the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa and whose 20 years in hospitality has taken him from resorts in Singapore to San Francisco, the HLP offers a unique opportunity to brush up on leadership skills and learn from his peers.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been back in school,” he said. “But the program’s orientation got me pumped up to be surrounded by like-minded individuals that really want to grow professionally and personally, and then ultimately grow their businesses.”

Jason Brunetti, who runs Forbici Modern Italian, a Roman-style pizzeria in Tampa, said he hopes to develop leadership skills that allow him to lead his employees in the right direction. Although Brunetti has opened restaurants in the Hamptons and Manhattan, New York, Forbici is considerably larger than his previous ventures. As such, he said, “it’s important for me to learn how to control the chaos, communicate with staff and keep a positive vibe.”

One key benefit of hospitality training is its positive impact on Florida’s tourism industry, which attracts more than 116 million people each year and helps fuel the state’s economy. “Tourism is the heart of the economy in Florida and Tampa Bay,” said O’Neill, noting that tourism and hospitality are intricately linked. “People come for the beaches and culture, but they come back for the experiences they have at our restaurants, hotels and attractions.”

In conjunction with programs like the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership at USF Sarasota-Manatee, the University is helping to support the workforce education needs at every level of this vital industry. O’Neill stressed that the HLP will prove to be an asset to the local economy by making sure hospitality professionals are able to provide exceptional services to locals and out-of-towners alike.