Hanson Takes Reins at NYU Hotel School

There couldn’t be a better model for a hotel school dean than Bjorn Hanson, who last month was named divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. He succeeds Lalia Rach, who will return to teaching at NYU following a year-long sabbatical.

Topping Hanson’s list of qualifications is his reputation as a research geek with a PhD from NYU. During his nearly 20 years heading up the PricewaterhouseCoopers hotel practice, Hanson employed a research-based approach to his professional assignments and to his frequent, nearly-always on-the-mark analyses and forecasts for the hospitality industry. His goal was always to align research with the practical needs and realities of the hotel industry.

But in the past few years, while serving as a professor at the Tisch Center, Hanson may have found his true calling: preparing young people for careers and leadership positions in hospitality and tourism.

“While I was at PwC, I chaired the Center’s advisory board for seven years, and while I enjoyed the time I got to spend with students, it was limited,” says Hanson. “After I retired, I looked for a way to remain engaged, and teaching at NYU has been a great way to become even more involved with the students.”

Hanson takes the dean’s position with a specific set of goals for the Center. First is to better manage its relationship with various elements of the hotel industry. “We work with a number of companies—some provide guest speakers, some are patrons or sponsors of the NYU investment conference, some hire our students, and many of the companies are involved in multiple ways,” he says. “My goal is to enhance our industry relations overall. It may mean reducing our relationships with some companies or developing more complete relationships with others.”

Hanson also wants to increase the Center’s involvement in what he calls “applied scholarly research, which aren’t necessarily incompatible terms.” Under this model, a faculty member from the Tisch Center and a non-hospitality NYU professor with expertise in a specific subject might team with a senior executive from a hotel company with which the Center has a relationship. “The goal would be to create and co-author research that is timely, scholarly and relevant to the industry,” he says. Eventually, Hanson would like to launch a research journal at the Center.

Final goal of Hanson is one all managers share: growth. “There are great opportunities to increase the size of the Center, but we’ll only do that if it doesn’t do anything to impair its academic quality,” he says. “Lalia has created a large, successful and renowned, hospitality program in a major global research university. If I can maintain the program she initiated and at the same time grow, add additional research and strengthen our relationships, that will be a great success.”

NYU’s hospitality program is unique in its approach to curriculum. All NYU students, including those in the Tisch Center, are educated in the liberal arts as well as their areas of specialty. For hospitality students, 60 of 128 credits of coursework are in liberal arts studies.

“It creates a challenge for us at the Center to employ our 68 credits wisely,” says Hanson. One innovative solution is a three-course series on business development that covers a wide range of hospitality-related technical subjects. “These are topics every hospitality student needs to cover but which don’t necessarily require a full course to do so.”

For his part, Hanson plans to continue to teach at least one, perhaps two, courses each semester. He’ll lead an introductory course for hospitality freshmen in the fall and a senior-level course in the spring. “So if I stay in the job long enough, I’ll have students during their first semester in the program and in their last.”

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