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Thirty years of Executive MBA experience
Putting their heads together

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James Fyffe '76
Leland C. Pillsbury '82
Patrick J. Balthrop '96
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  Leland Pillsbury '82
  Leland Pillsbury '82 boards his Raytheon Beechcraft Premier in Baltimore. He and his spouse, Mary, have been flying for more than five years.

EMBA Profile: Leland C. Pillsbury '82

Suite success

Kellogg EMBA experience opens doors of opportunity in hospitality industry for '82 alum

By Rebecca Lindell

Leland C. Pillsbury launched his business career at age 16, pouring milkshakes and serving hamburgers at a Howard Johnson's in Ithaca, N.Y.

Four decades later, the former soda jerk is still in the hospitality industry, only now he sits atop a $1 billion conglomerate with interests around the globe.

The force behind his trajectory: his 1982 Kellogg EMBA degree, which Pillsbury says opened his eyes to a world of business opportunities.

"Not only did it give me a new set of skills, but it gave me a very broad perspective," says Pillsbury, co-chairman and CEO of Thayer Lodging Group. He is also chairman or co-chairman of TIG Global, the largest online hospitality marketing company; Thayer Insurance Group, a commercial insurance company; EMC Venues, a resort and conference center representation firm; and HQant, a hospitality and finance consulting company.

"It's all the same field, but I've moved across many different parts of it," Pillsbury says. "It was the perspectives and knowledge I gained at Kellogg that enabled me to do that."

At the time he enrolled in 1980, Pillsbury had just become general manager of the Marriott Resort in Lincolnshire, Ill. "It was at an ideal point in my career," he says. "I'd just been given a lot of new responsibilities, and the Kellogg format and content, and the strength of the faculty, made it obvious that this was the right place to go."

As a service professional, Pillsbury was particularly impressed by the Kellogg School's devotion to customer satisfaction. "The Allen Center had just opened and there was a very clear focus on making people happy," Pillsbury remembers. "The course content, the faculty, the food, the schedule — everything was organized around the students' needs."    

Pillsbury's class was filled with men and women from many different industries. The diversity of views and experiences opened his eyes to new ways of approaching his own field. He recalls racing back to work to apply his new knowledge.

"Every Monday at 8 a.m. was the 'tear it off and start all over' meeting," he says. "We'd say, 'OK, what are we going to do differently this week?' And we did. We took the concepts I learned over the weekend and said, 'Let's put them to work today.'"

Among the lessons Pillsbury found particularly useful were those of Kellogg marketing guru Philip Kotler, who was sharing much of his new research on segmentation and strategy with the class. Pillsbury applied these insights to the Linconshire Marriott's theater and watched it grow to become one of the largest subscription-based theaters in the country.

Later, Pillsbury was named vice president of strategy at Marriott's headquarters. There, he created many new brands and extensions that dramatically increased the company's market share. "That was stuff that came right out of Phil Kotler's mouth, and I could cite six or seven examples of that," Pillsbury says.

Along with the fruits of his Kellogg education, Pillsbury also enjoys a network of friends and business associates. In September, in fact, he planned to meet classmate Phil Schneck at the Ryder Cup golf tournament in Ireland. And two of Schneck's children, who were grade-schoolers while the men were enrolled at Kellogg, now work for Thayer companies.

"That's what Kellogg was all about for me," Pillsbury says. "Lifelong connections and lifelong learning."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University