Spotlight Story

Ed Skapinok: Thought Leadership in the Hospitality Industry

Ed Skapinok MBA 04 was bitten by the hospitality bug early: he started working at his first hotel, bussing tables and delivering room service, when he was a sophomore in high school. 

“I knew I eventually wanted a career in business, and a guest at that hotel helped me realize that marketing was the right field for me,” he remembers. “I talked the hotel’s general manager into creating a part-time position in the sales department that I could do after graduating high school, and I enrolled at Diablo Valley College. Shortly thereafter I was promoted to corporate sales manager at a sister hotel, and a year after that invited to join a regional office of the parent company, InterContinental Hotels Group. I was very young, just 22 years old, and working as a national account manager for what was then the largest hotel company in the world.”

Skapinok continued to work during the day, and enrolled part time at Cal State Long Beach to complete his bachelor’s degree.

“Despite my professional advances, I maintained the attitude that my career wouldn’t officially start until I had earned my MBA,” he says. “In my mind, all of the work experience I was accumulating was just gravy.”

A corporate reorganization gave Skapinok a promotion to director of key account sales, and he became more involved in global matters affecting the hospitality industry. He was appointed to the Global Business Travel Association’s hotel committee in 1998 and a year later to the editorial board for Business Travel News, where “I started being considered a thought leader, getting published in trade journals and speaking at industry conferences.”

Skapinok completed his B.S. in marketing and, a year later in 2000, enrolled in the GSM’s part-time MBA program.

“Although I intended my graduation three years later to be the beginning of my career, I was already the vice president of sales for Marin-based Larkspur Hotels & Restaurants,” he says. ”I graduated on a Saturday and went simply went back to work the following Monday!” Skapinok worked for Larkspur for eight years before joining Hostmark as vice president of sales & marketing and moving to Chicago in 2011. Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International recently named him among the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing and Revenue Optimization.

What are you passionate about in your work? 

It’s very important to me that the work I do impacts the future of my business. I’ve been most successful doing that by developing people and building winning teams. I once went two years with zero turnover—except for promotions—in my sales organization, and I’m very proud of that.  I’ve also moved beyond just looking to build a competitive advantage for my employer and have become passionate about improving matters that affect the livelihood of my entire industry, 

Where is your career headed? What do you hope to achieve professionally? 

Work has always been about measuring my potential. I see myself transitioning from a senior sales and marketing executive to a CEO, where my skills and experience will enhance the capabilities of the right organization. I have also pictured ending my career as dean of a small business school as a means of giving back.  

How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success? 

The hotel business has many entry-level positions and it is possible to ascend to management levels solely on experience and with little to no formal education. There aren’t many people with advanced degrees in the field, and my MBA  gives me a certain level of credibility, especially with institutional investors who own or are looking to purchase hotels. Capturing, analyzing and using data is so critical in business today. I feel very prepared to do that after my experience at UC Davis.

How are you a game changer? Or, how are you making a positive impact in the world?

I always try to bring a fresh and innovative approach to my work. I hate red tape and other obstacles that hurt performance. The travel industry allowed—no, bred—intermediaries that do a better job of marketing to our customers than we do on our own. The Expedias of the world and other third parties have driven up the cost of doing business to alarming levels, eroding hotel margins by as much as 30 percent. I’m dead set on reducing the cost of sales for our industry and have put that as the number one priority for an industry board that I chair. Also, while mine is a minority opinion on this subject, I embrace disruptors like AirBnB. I believe that if you’re not comfortable embracing disruptors, then you’d better find a way to become one.

What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

Being named one of the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing and Revenue Optimization is a very special and humbling career highlight.  

Your favorite GSM memory? 

As a Working Professional student I used to carry books and notes with me everywhere I went in case I found myself with even just five or 10 minutes of spare time and could get some schoolwork done. I recall waiting for my family to join me immediately following our graduation ceremony and being uneasy because I felt like I was wasting time standing around when I should be doing homework.  hen it dawned on me: I don’t have any more homework!

Anything else?

I started boxing in my 30s and set a goal to participate in the Golden Gloves boxing tournament. Look for that update in 2018.

How do you support and participate in the GSM now? 

A Chicago alumni group has surfaced, and I follow their activity on Facebook. Unfortunately I have experienced schedule conflicts with all of the face-to-face gatherings so far but plan to join the group at a social outing sooner or later.