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.”

Diddy Drops In

The second half of the Next Generation Intelligence Summit was attended by industry executives, CMHT faculty, board members and select students, among others. It featured a keynote address by Robert Chin, president and head of spirits for Combs Global, which is owned by hip-hop legend and business mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs.

A Frisco resident, Chin is recognized as a brand intelligence expert who has spent the entirety of his career in the wine and spirits industry, including a stint with E&J Gallo Winery, where he helped build the company’s digital practice and shopper-marketing organization.

Chin said corporations must employ generational intelligence as part of their operations. He explained that this is the first time in history when five generations of workers — members of the Silent Generation, ages 77 to 95, through Generation Z — may interact in the workplace.

“I think there is a human propensity to latch on to things that have worked in the past and not really evolve, but we have to evolve,” he said.

Chin’s speech paused briefly to accommodate a virtual appearance by Combs, who Zoomed in to address summit-goers from an undisclosed location in Southern California.

Combs shared some of the wisdom he’s garnered about emotional intelligence (also called EQ) while building his business empire, which includes the labels Combs Spirits, the Sean John apparel line and Bad Boy Entertainment, among others.

“Something that we really don’t talk about enough is we hire (people) for their IQ but when we work with people, we have to deal with their EQ,” Combs said.

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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