Leland and Mary Pillsbury announce plans to donate $15 million to the Cornell Hotel School
New York, N.Y., November 13, 2006 - Leland "Lee" Pillsbury and his wife, Mary, have announced plans to donate $15 million to the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in what will be the largest single gift ever made to the school and one of the largest ever in hospitality education. The gift will be used to support the Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship, providing students with the skills and ability to think like entrepreneurs.
"I am very pleased to be able to give back to the school that has meant so much to me. It was through my professors and my fellow students that I was able to develop as a businessman and an entrepreneur," Lee Pillsbury said. "Entrepreneurship and innovation have been crucial to the evolution of the hospitality industry, and will continue to be. Through this gift, Mary and I endeavor to help the school guide and inspire future generations of entrepreneurs who will find their own creative ways to move the industry forward."
"The Cornell Hotel School has long had an entrepreneurial component to its teaching and has produced many entrepreneurs successful in new ventures, family businesses and corporations," said Mary Pillsbury. "Lee and I are delighted to help the school build on this successful record and elevate this commitment to a new level."
The Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship is a platform for knowledge about forming new hospitality businesses, managing small and family-run businesses, franchising, corporate venturing, new venture funding, and innovation. Now with the Pillsburys' gift, Hotel School leaders will work with alumni, other industry captains and the Cornell academic community to further strengthen entrepreneurship at the school.
"On behalf of Cornell University and the Hotel School, I extend my deepest appreciation and gratitude to Lee and Mary for this transformative gift," said Michael Johnson, dean of the Cornell Hotel School. "We look forward to working closely with the Pillsburys to build a world-class entrepreneurship institute befitting our commitment to leadership in hospitality management education."
A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Pillsbury earned his B.S. degree from the Hotel School in 1969. He then joined Marriott Corporation where he worked under the tutelage of several Cornell Hotel School alumni, including the late Bud Grice '53, Bus Ryan '54, Todd Clist '64, and Steve Weisz '72. By age 27 Pillsbury was running a 500-room hotel at the airport in Bloomington, Minn., and by age 36 he had become Marriott's youngest-ever executive vice president. Pillsbury would go on to lead Marriott's entry into the time-share business, launch Fairfield Inns, and oversee the acquisition of Residence Inns. During his tenure, the number of Marriott hotels increased from 125 to over 700.
Pillsbury retired from Marriott in 1989 to start Grand Heritage Hotels, a manager of historic and unique independent hotels. Two years later, he sold the company so he could concentrate on investing in hotels. Pillsbury teamed up with friend and former Marriott colleague Fred Malek to launch Thayer Lodging Group, under which they opened their first venture fund in 1991. Since then Thayer has produced exceptional returns for investors in that fund, as well as for investors in three subsequent Thayer funds. Today Thayer manages total assets exceeding $2 billion.
In addition to Thayer Lodging Group, Pillsbury has founded several other companies. TIG Global specializes in Internet marketing, enabling its client hotels to keep direct control of their customers' data. EMC Venues arranges corporate meetings and events at hotels, conference centers and resorts. Thayer's newest venture is a web-based central reservations platform for China's domestic hotel industry, being created through a joint venture between Thayer and Jin Jiang Corporation of Shanghai, China's largest hotel company.
Pillsbury has been most generous in sharing his wisdom and resources at Cornell. He has been a guest lecturer many times at the Hotel School and served repeated terms on the University Council. Thayer Lodging is a corporate partner to the School's Center for Hospitality Research, and Pillsbury is the founding sponsor of the Partnership Center at Cornell's S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management.
The Pillsburys' gift comes less than one month after Cornell University launched, "Far Above...The Campaign for Cornell," a five-year capital campaign that aims to raise $4 billion for the university and its Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.