Imagine getting behind-the-scenes insights on a corporate acquisition that creates the world’s largest hotel company — from an experienced and articulate executive who helped make it happen.
Or working in student teams in a race to solve analytics problems — using real-world, anonymized data from one of the world’s top advisory services firms.
Such things happen in the Pamplin College of Business. Learning first-hand about practical business issues and challenges and gaining experience in problem solving under imperfect conditions are two important benefits for students that result from Pamplin’s collaborations with business.
Business schools and businesses have long cultivated connections with one another for mutual gain. At Pamplin, companies have contributed funds to endow scholarships and professorships. Beyond that, they have sponsored a variety of programs and events; offered leading practices, methodologies, and case studies for instructional use; supported the activities of their employees as campus guest speakers and advisory board members; and prioritized the college in hiring.
The benefits include innovative, technology-focused learning experiences for students and faculty; updated curricula reflecting industry and societal needs; market-ready graduates with in-demand skills and knowledge like data analytics; and research that better contributes to the understanding and practice of business and management.
Kevin Lane (ACCT ’95, MACCT ’00), a principal at Deloitte & Touche LLP and a cabinet member of the Pamplin Advisory Council, says such relationships are appealing to his organization from a couple of perspectives.
“On a transactional level, people are the engine of our business, and the Pamplin College feeds us high-performing talent every year. Virginia Tech is a top strategic recruiting source for the Deloitte U.S. firms,” Lane says.
“At a more strategic level, Deloitte has a vested interest in contributing to the development of future business leaders. Like Virginia Tech, we want to push the boundaries and help develop the most talented leaders of the future.”
Pamplin maintains close ties with a number of companies. This cover story spotlights the experiences and views of Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Rob Torpey (BIT ’02, COMM ’02) and Marriott’s Dave Roberts (not an alumnus, but a Hokie regardless).
Investing in the future
“I envy the access and the resources students have today.”
When Rob Torpey comes to campus, he can’t help but marvel at the wealth of opportunities and resources students get now that he didn’t have as an undergraduate. To him, they are material evidence of the benefits of industry-university collaborations.
“There were not as many corporations holding events, making classroom visits, recruiting, and networking,” says Torpey, a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting LLP, “and I envy the access and the resources students have today to help them understand how corporations and industries work, and make a more informed career decision.”
What helped him in the job hunt, he says, was having a foundation in experiential learning (through the co-op program), an interdisciplinary education, and study abroad. “That all happened organically and with a bit of luck rather than being a recommended focus to entering students, based on university strategy, like it is today.”
Such amenities as the living-learning communities and the labs and collaborative spaces of the New Classroom Building were not around in his student days.
“These are the types of environments Deloitte uses to collaborate with teams and clients every day. It is great to see how the infrastructure and support for students and faculty is evolving and more aligned with how industry is innovating,” he says.
“In my opinion, this demonstrates that industry/corporate influence such as Deloitte’s is having a tangible impact on the student and faculty experience. We at Deloitte are helping to move the needle on that.”
Building relationships with university leaders, faculty, and staff, he says, “allows us to stay closely connected to the needs of the university and students.”
Supporting long-term strategy
Deloitte supports the university’s long-term strategy, based on transdisciplinary learning environments and areas of strength.
“Students one day should be able to choose their degree program paths in a custom fashion that breaks down college silos and aligns to industry and the mix of marketable skills needed to succeed beyond Virginia Tech,” Torpey says. “For example, if I want to be a data scientist, I will choose a grouping of classes from Pamplin, Science, Engineering, and so on.”
He adds: “We are proud of Deloitte’s long-standing relationship with Pamplin. Pamplin has our largest footprint at Virginia Tech, in terms of overall support, advisory board participation, faculty relationships, student programming, and financial support.”
Deloitte and its network of member firms employ more than 700 Virginia Tech graduates worldwide.
Deloitte, Torpey says, hopes to continue to invest in Pamplin to help shape the student experience, particularly in data analytics. “We are expanding our thought leadership on campus through innovative analytics-based programs and stronger relationships with analytics faculty.”
Torpey has been helping to guide Pamplin’s Center for Business Intelligence and Analytics, including serving on the search committee for the center’s new executive director.
He is “extremely proud” to be able to give back to Virginia Tech, especially by mentoring students and “giving them insight into what we do at Deloitte on a daily basis,” he says.
“There is an incredible passion for Virginia Tech and the Hokie Nation. No matter where I am in the world, when I see that logo, I know I am in good company.”
Not an alum or a VT parent
A chance meeting years ago led to Dave Roberts’ first visit to Virginia Tech, and the Marriott International executive has kept coming back.
Roberts, a senior vice president who oversees revenue management, topline analytics, and sales systems for Marriott, returns to Blacksburg nearly every semester as a guest speaker in classes taught by hospitality and tourism management professor Rick Perdue.
The two met at a conference more than a decade ago. “He was keenly interested in how we do things at Marriott,” Roberts recalls, “and I was interested in his teaching and research topics, so we had lots to talk about.”
Roberts says he was impressed then with the professor and Virginia Tech’s hospitality program, “especially their focus on industry engagement and industry relevance.” His regard has only grown since.
“The HTM program at Virginia Tech is outstanding. I say that with no bias, as I’m not an alum, nor am I a VT parent,” says the graduate of Cornell (bachelor’s and master’s in operations research) and Northwestern (MBA).
“One of the many things I admire about Pamplin students is their intellectual curiosity. Frequently, a topic I’m presenting will lead to questions about a wide range of related issues,” says Roberts, who also participates in research discussions with Ph.D. students during his visits.
Roberts has covered a wide range of discipline-specific topics as a speaker in Perdue’s classes, as well as larger strategic issues — including Marriott’s news-making acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts in 2016. He was quite involved in the anti-trust work to get regulatory approval for the deal.
Hearing directly from someone who worked on that deal was indeed “very exciting,” recalls Aly Littlejohn (HTM ’18). As new hires, however, she and Sean Saunders (HTM ’18) especially value Roberts’ discussion on revenue management.
It’s a topic that is “super important for all those studying hospitality to understand,” says Littlejohn. The recent graduate, who moved to San Francisco to start a job at Hilton, also appreciates being able to compare the two hotel companies’ approaches to revenue management.
Saunders, who had already accepted a position at Marriott when he attended Roberts’ talk, has found it very useful — especially how the company “handles the peaks and valleys of hotel occupancy and how it balances transient, group, and contracted rates.”
As a sales manager, he says, “we work closely with revenue to not only book business, but book the right business. As sales and revenue go, I use what I learned on that day, and in the course overall, daily.”
Revenue management is the most interesting field in the travel business, Roberts says. “There are so many different aspects to it, and it is important for students to hear about what people and departments actually do in the workplace and to get a sense of the different roles as they consider potential career paths.”
Department head Nancy Gard McGehee says Roberts exemplifies an outstanding partnership: Marriott executives make “numerous visits each year to our classes to guest lecture on cutting-edge business techniques and share behind-the-scenes insights on what it’s like to be part of the biggest player in the hospitality industry worldwide.”
Beyond their effects on students, the executives also influence faculty teaching. Roberts, has over the years, made him “a much better teacher,” Perdue says.
“His guest lectures always challenge me to think of ways to improve both the content and the assignments in my courses.”
Ties between Marriott and Pamplin’s Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management go back many years.
The company provides scholarships and internships and hires many of the department’s graduates in operations and corporate positions. Marriott executives have participated actively on the department’s advisory board, which currently includes the company’s global HR officer Ty Breland and accounts sales director Robert Hayes, both of whom are Virginia Tech alumni.
Creating a state-of-the art lab
The Marriott Foundation this summer awarded a $2.1 million grant to build the HOKIE Lab, a state-of-the-art hospitality teaching and research lab in the proposed Global Business and Analytics Complex.
The Marriott Foundation previously endowed a professorship in the department to help it translate hospitality research and best practices into classroom teaching and learning applications. Juan Luis Nicolau, an award-winning teacher and internationally renowned scholar whose research interests include individual choice behavior and firm market value, was named the Marriott Professor of Revenue Management in 2017.
Roberts, who serves on an advisory board of Cornell’s hotel school, says Marriott certainly benefits from its bonds with academe. “I want Pamplin students to be thinking of Marriott as a great place to work, and I’m happy to say we’ve hired some outstanding graduates.”
He himself finds ideas for his work resulting from the stimulating discussions with students and faculty. Those conversations “force me to think differently about various business topics we face and, I think, help me do my job better.”
McGehee and her faculty “are always interested in learning our approach and discussing the future of hospitality and their role in it,” Roberts says. “They are such an impressive team.”
—By Sookhan Ho