Larry Korman, the visionary who built the AKA luxury residential hotel brand with his brother Brad, delivered this commencement speech about the hospitality industry to the 2016 graduating Class of Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, adapted here for print:
A few months ago I visited the Yotel Hotel in midtown Manhattan. The only thing in the lobby was a gigantic robotic arm that’s only purpose was to place one’s luggage on a shelf.
I was given a ticket, told to go to the third floor, swipe a credit card at the kiosk, get a room key and go to that room. When I opened the door, all I saw was a sofa and a sink. I was told that the sofa pulled out into a bed and the sink pulled down into a shower.
My first thought was where is the TV and where is the toilet, and hopefully that sink doesn’t have a third function! My second thought was that the hospitality industry is changing dramatically and rapidly.
When you entered as freshman the largest transportation and hospitality companies in the world, Uber and Airbnb, were just evolving. And neither one of them owns a single car or room.
They harnessed innovation and technology to transform the way we think, the way we live and the way we dream. To paraphrase Charles Darwin, “it is not the strongest that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Forget thinking outside the box; there is no box, just as the world is not flat. You have to envision a blank canvas with infinite possibilities.
I cannot recall a more compelling time to enter the world of hospitality. You have the opportunity to create the next new era of innovation.
Pursue your passion with patience, perseverance and pride. By doing so your work will feel like play, and it will ultimately pay. And I do understand that many of you have accumulated significant debt, but please keep in mind that there are many forms of compensation. Enjoying what you do, liking the people with whom you do it and feeling good about what you are trying to accomplish have a lot of worth.
Have the courage of your conviction. Always listen to your head, heart and gut.
Today, your passion fuses officially with purpose. You are well prepared for the challenges and opportunities ahead, as you are graduating from one of the finest universities in the country. I wish each of you the best of luck in not just succeeding on your mission but also in truly enjoying the journey.
Go forth and innovate.
The Korman family, long-time supporters of Drexel, recently gave the university an $8-million gift to repurpose the Korman Center and create the Korman Quadrangle.