Degree: Master of Management in Hospitality
College: Cornell University School of Hotel Administration
Long-term career goal: Own private equity firm.
Most admired professional: Leland Pillsbury, co-chairman and CEO of Thayer Lodging
Tu-Uyen Do can't walk into a hotel these days without thinking about her future. Do, who graduates in late May with a master's of management in hospitality from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, constantly evaluates a hotel's operation and thinks of how to improve its value.
“The front desk gives people the first impression,” Do says. “I look at how they lead me to the room, but it all starts at the front desk.”
Do will pursue a career on the real estate side of the hotel industry after graduation. She wants to work on acquisitions for a private equity firm.
“I want to do research on which are good sites to acquire,” Do says. “It's more about acquiring lower-tier hotels and adding value and making them middle-tier and selling in five years. I think a lot of times certain hotels are in a good location, but they are not managed correctly. There are so many opportunities to buy a hotel and add value to it.”
Adding value could mean creating a meeting room, improving service or doing a better job of managing hotel charges, Do says. That includes higher rates when demand is greater and lower rates when demand is soft, but it also means keeping an eye on competitors.
In early 2007, Do worked as an intern in acquisitions and asset management for Oxford Lodging in San Francisco, where she researched potential locations for acquisitions. Later in the year, she worked with an acquisition and development team for Thayer Lodging in Maryland, helping with research and touring hotels to analyze their feasibility for deals.
Of all the real estate sectors, the hotel industry is the most difficult, Do says. Office and retail have stable leases, but hotels require daily revenue, she explains.
“If you can deal with the hotel business, you can deal with any kind of business,” Do says. “It is so complex. That makes it exciting. I think it is a very interesting career because it encompasses analytical skills and intuition. It is not just calculations. It's how you think the economy is going to do, and risk-taking.”
Do came to the U.S. as a 5-year-old when her parents emigrated from Vietnam. While attending high school in San Jose, her interest was piqued by a summer hotel program sponsored by Cornell, part of an effort to reach out to minorities. “That opened my eyes to hospitality work,” she says. “I didn't know at the time if it would be a career goal.”
Do attended the University of California at Berkeley, earning a bachelor's degree in economics with an emphasis on statistics, which helped her understand real estate models. While at Berkeley, she worked at the front desk of a local hotel, which gave her insight into hotel operations and helped lead her to Cornell.
At Cornell, Do has focused on real estate finance and investment. Analytical studies helped her understand the current economic turbulence, she says.
Besides benefiting from the class work, networking at Cornell has given Do a chance to meet industry leaders and alumni. “Although it is a big school,” Do says, “it feels like a smaller environment because they reach out to you.”