Inaugural UNT summit focuses on meeting retail, hospitality industry workforce challenges

Thursday, September 28, 2023 - 10:10

FRISCO, Texas — Executives and others with some of the largest retail and hospitality corporations in the North Texas region gathered for the inaugural UNT Next Generation Intelligence Summit, hosted by the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism. The event was hosted at the Omni PGA Frisco Resort, which co-sponsored the summit that highlighted the emerging roles of artificial and other types of intelligence within the retail and hospitality industries.

A breakfast session was attended by C-suite and other executive leaders as well as CMHT Advancement Board members, including Jeff Smith, vice president and managing director of the Omni PGA Frisco Resort, and Rich Last, a founding partner at Axcelora — a Fort Worth-based sales management consulting firm.

Last called CMHT and its academic programs the region’s “best kept secret.”

“We need to expose (corporate) senior leadership to what’s going on at UNT and the best way to do that is to bring them together around some topics that … are on the minds of the CEOs in retail and hospitality,” he said.

Next-Gen Intelligence

According to CMHT Dean Jana Hawley, the idea for the summit was born when it was determined that nearly 200 hospitality and retail companies are either headquartered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area or do $10 million in­ volume here annually. 

The purpose of the event, Hawley said, was to bring executives together to network and discuss various workforce challenges facing the respective industries as well as to share curriculum details and other information about UNT and CMHT so that companies will consider students and alumni when selecting candidates to join their teams.

“Our students are very well-prepared,” she said.

That preparation was demonstrated by UNT senior Rachel Richards, a CMHT hospitality management major and a founding member of the CMHT Leadership Academy. As part of the “thought leaders” panel discussion, she spoke about the importance of intergenerational intelligence in the workplace.

Richards, who is scheduled to graduate in 2024, speculated that on-the-job pairings of members of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and Generation Z (1997 through 2012) may prove powerful given the knowledge and experience typically possessed by the former and innovative thinking often exhibited by the latter.

“When you put those two things together and when you have mutual respect and humility, I don’t see how that can go wrong,” she said.

Other thought-leader panel members, who discussed the critical business pillars of inclusivity and artificial and emotional intelligence, were Ivonne Kinser, founder of the marketing company Vantage Innovation Lab; Amrit Kirpilani, founder and CEO of software solutions provider NectarOM; and PGA of America COO Craig Kessler.

Kirpilani tackled the topic seemingly on most minds at the event: the impact of artificial intelligence on various business processes.

Retail and hospitality executives are “feeling the labor crunch” when it comes to hiring for such areas as call centers and guest-relations positions, Kirpilani said. “So, we start to think about opportunities for AI to scale that conversation.”

Following the event’s conclusion, CMHT Advancement Board member Erin Hogue, chief merchandising officer for the retail chain Buff City Soap, said the summit “was a great opportunity for the community and businesspeople to see the quality of students that are coming out of the University of North Texas. … Connect our community and connect our students and some amazing things can happen.”

UNT News Service
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