Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management Department Head and Associate Professor Phil Xiang interviews Ty Breland ’98, M.S. ’01, Ph.D. ’04, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Marriott International, Inc., during the Wells Fargo Distinguished Speakers Series event on March 27. Photo by Andy Santos for Virginia Tech.

Ty Breland ’98, M.S. ’01, Ph.D. ’04, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Marriott International, Inc., spoke to the future of the workplace and hospitality industry during the Wells Fargo Distinguished Speakers Series event hosted by Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business on March 27.

The Wells Fargo Distinguished Speakers Series provides Pamplin College of Business students, as well as the entire university student and faculty/staff population, with opportunities to interact with prominent business executives and learn more about real-world business issues to broaden their classroom education.

Participating in a fireside chat with Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management Department Head and Associate Professor Phil Xiang, Breland spoke about his career, how his Virginia Tech experiences have helped shape his professional trajectory, and offered unique insights into the future of hospitality and the workplace at large.

Breland shared his memories of being a “triple” Hokie, earning his Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and Ph.D. – with a specialization in industrial and organizational psychology – from Virginia Tech. 

“When I first stepped onto the Virginia Tech campus, I met people from a wide array of backgrounds with diverse mindsets,” Breland explained. “There is a passion, a tenacity, and a resilience that this University engenders to its students.”

These characteristics are important for recruitment, according to Breland, and are also part of the reason that Virginia Tech is among the top five schools from which Marriott International hires.

Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel company with nearly 700,00 associates across 8,300 properties and corporate offices, is the top employer of the Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management and has been involved in supporting the department for many years. This past December, Marriott International was presented with the Pamplin Corporate Ambassador Award for their continued long-term support. 

“The reason we recruit Hokies is that they don't give up,” he explained. “Our business is a fun business but a hard business. You have to have that resiliency and grit to be successful. That’s something that I think this institution put in me.”

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Marriott International hires across university departments, computer science, management, finance, marketing, decision sciences. Starting this spring, a new course is being offered to students across all Virginia Tech disciplines, HTM-1984 Special Study: HTM Careers, to provide exposure to the opportunities in his industry in addition to its core discipline, hospitality and tourism management. Marriott International provided instrumental support with access to their managerial personnel as guest speakers ranging from property operations, human resource management, revenue management, marketing and strategy. 

From recruiting Pamplin graduates to providing students with top-notch experiential learning opportunities to supporting faculty and Virginia Tech’s burgeoning Global Business and Analytics Complex, Marriott International and the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation continues to strengthen Virginia Tech’s hospitality and tourism management educational ecosystem.

An important part of that ecosystem is diversity, which Marriott International recognizes. After leading the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020, Marriott International was named to the DiversityInc Hall of Fame, the first hospitality company recognized with such an honor.

The DiversityInc Hall of Fame list recognizes companies that are driven, based on company-submitted data, in six key areas including leadership accountability, human capital diversity metrics, talent programs, workforce practices, supplier diversity, and philanthropy. According to DiversityInc, Marriott International has consistently championed diversity, equity, and inclusion and has been recognized for its talent development programs with an extensive list of notable and lifetime achievement awards.

In his role as executive vice president and chief human resources officer, Breland leads the company’s global HR function, inclusive of talent acquisition, learning and development, compensation and benefits, organizational capability, and HR operations across 138 countries and territories. He brings a particular focus on diversity and inclusion and employee engagement and well-being while cultivating an innovative hospitality workforce of the future.

Breland, who also serves as a member of the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management Advisory Board, emphasized the importance of adaptability, resilience, and community in navigating the rapidly changing landscape of the workplace and hospitality industry, using the COVID-19 pandemic as an example.

“We lost 90 percent of our revenue in 48 hours,” he said. “You can model anything and everything, but you never model losing 90 percent of your revenue. We instantly had to go into a room and figure out what we were going to do. There are a lot of learning opportunities in those moments.”

Breland discussed how Marriott International navigated the pandemic, citing the importance of adaptability and coming out stronger on the other side. He noted how the company shifted its focus to new business avenues like its co-branded credit card service. He also talked about how the company embraced the three C’s – curious, courageous, and connected – to run the business more effectively and collaboratively, setting the company up for long-term success.

Regarding the future of work and the workplace, Breland emphasized opportunities for companies to embrace flexibility and choice for employees to develop their own schedules and working arrangements. However, he advised students to strive for in-person work interaction to gain important learning moments, relationship building, and mentorship, which is especially valuable early in a career.

“As you establish yourself in an organization, it’s important to build relationships, and finding the right blend of being in-person and remote is important aspect of this.” he said.

On the subject of technology, Breland discussed how it is shifting and augmenting work as we know it.

“I don't see technology replacing jobs,” Breland said. “I see it as shifting work. I think what you are going to see is a shift that takes place around how work is done. Instead of us having to build things, we are going to need to be better at analyzing data.”

Breland commented on what he sees as an “incredibly bright outlook for the hospitality industry.” He noted that the industry has rebounded due to “revenge travel,” or travel aimed at recuperating time lost to the pandemic.

For the next generation of business leaders, Breland noted that “the opportunities for entry-level to senior-level professionals are endless, not just in hospitality and tourism management, but across every expertise.”