Portraits of industry greats greet you as you enter the marbled space of the Hospitality Hall of Honor Gallery located in the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. There is a chapel-like quality to the space that holds images of industry icons, like Walt Disney, Ernest and Julio Gallo, Col. Harlan Sanders, and now, University of Houston Hilton College alum Doug Brooks.
“That’s what’s so cool about the industry,” Brooks said. “You have all these diverse people in the same place, all working toward the same goal and the leaders can make a real difference in teaching you about life and responsibility.”
Brooks is chairman, president and CEO of Brinker International, a world leader in restaurant casual dining. He is the first Hilton College alum inducted into the Hall of Honor since its inception in 1996.
“The hotel restaurant college didn’t find me; the restaurant industry found me,” he recalls of his beginnings in the industry. “I love people. I loved the feeling of teamwork. Making people feel special—that’s the goal of the hospitality industry. You create emotional connections with your guests and your team members by making them feel special.”
The emotional connection was made with Brooks during his first jobs in the industry—dishwasher and busboy at age 13. He lost his father when he was very young. He says the industry leaders, and later academic leaders, became role models to him, teaching him not just the business of the hospitality industry, but the art of dealing with people and developing leaders.
“The restaurant industry is the largest private employer in the country—13 million people—so, we have this amazing responsibility to teach young people about growing up,” he said. “We can impact the next generation of leaders larger than any other industry.”
Brooks, a 33 year veteran of the industry, stays involved with the college, speaking to and mentoring students, as others in the industry did for him.
“I’m humbled and honored, and, honestly, I now have the opportunity to live up to the recognition that I probably don’t deserve but I’m incredibly proud to accept.”
The Hospitality Hall of Honor is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston. I’m Marisa Ramirez.
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