Welcoming Remarks at the 2013 FTA
Spring Dinner at Shenzhen
Welcome to the Second Annual FTA “A Spring
Evening in Shenzhen with Very Special Friends”.
We gather in New York City spring and
fall, and annually at New Delhi, Singapore,
Shenzhen, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Bangkok,
Mumbai, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City
to recognize hospitality excellence; in the
names of those whom we honor, provide
scholarships at schools of higher hospitality
education; and to make charitable contributions.
industry is only as strong as the wisdom,
vision, compassion and actions of its leaders;
leaders who define excellence for the benefit of
all those who look to them to know the way to
realize their dreams and ambitions and not be
In the end we are judged not by whom we
include, but by whom we exclude.
Great leaders inspire and teach all those
who seek to be included, because serving the
least of us is truly the highest calling and the
only measure of service from the heart.
This evening we come together to announce the
2013 FTA Hospitality Awards for Excellence and
the scholarships in the names of those whom we
recognize; and to donate to charity.
This is truly a very special evening for
us all and I thank you for joining us, because
as I say at every FTA dinner, YOU are the
the deeper meaning of why we come together is
really at the very heart of why the hospitality
industry is so special to those of us who have
come to consider it our calling.
Hospitality is about SERVICE and in particular,
Service is truly the Highest Calling.
It is not what we do for ourselves, but
what we do for others that are the measure of
our worth to humanity: And simply because it is
the right thing to do: Not for personal
truth is that we are free to dwell at any given
moment in as beautiful a place as our hearts are
open to loving others and our willingness to
serve them without regard to our advantage.
Life is a series of micro steps from the time we
arrive to the time we depart and the quality of
our life is but a reflection of the quality of
our contribution to the peace and happiness of
others: It is not about pleasing ourselves or
collecting “things”: It is about serving others
and after one’s basic, personal needs are met,
allowing what remains of what comes our way to
pass through our fingers for the benefit of
those less fortunate.
While I have nothing against luxury
goods, when it is your time to pass from this
life, do you want to be remembered for your
collection of Rolex watches or your charity for
those less fortunate?
I am confident if Mother Teresa or
Mahatma Gandhi was given a Rolex, they would
have honored the gift for 24 hours and then
offered it to someone they thought would cherish
So, why should we be any different?
I ask you to consider making charity your
way of life, rather than an annual after thought
for a tax advantage.
ask everyone to please remember those less
fortunate, especially the estimated 500,000
refugees at the United Nations camps in Kenya,
which is running out of water and food; not to
mention the now 50,000 refugees in camps in
South Sudan, some of whom are without water; and
the 1,000,000 refugees from Syria. And the
poverty and suffering in Pakistan, India,
Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Cambodia,
Vietnam and everywhere else; as well as the
massacres taking place in Africa and the Middle
A recent report by UNICEF and the World
Health Organization says that annually at least
7.5 million children under the age of five die
from preventable diseases. The suffering of so
many continues, as does their need for your
compassion, including the recent natural
disasters and floods around the world.
On a recent Clinton Global Initiative
panel carried on the BBC & CNN International,
Deepak Chopra said 50% of the Earth’s population
is living on USD$2.00 a day; and 20% is living
on USD$1.00 a day.
So, I ask you to consider your
comfortable lives, and accordingly, open your
hearts, just a little bit more to those less
fortunate and in need.
while the few luxuriate on the finest of
culinary delights at Five Star and other such
comfortable hotels & resorts, the many go
wanting; and some go wanting to starvation.
Is this the envisioned world of
Voltaire’s Candide “….the Best of all possible
I think not.
We as a
Human Race can and must
was born into an upper-middle class,
American family with both upper class society
standing as well as lots of money.
My family had a very prosperous food
distribution business in Albany.
I was sent to the finest schools; we
belonged to the “old money WASP country club”,
which quietly discriminated against everyone who
was not exactly like us, because of their race,
religion, education, income and neighborhood.
We had a live-in combination maid & cook,
plus a cleaning lady who came on Thursdays to
help with the heavy cleaning.
We vacationed at fashionable resorts in
Florida; my parents went on luxury cruises
around the Caribbean and from the west coast to
I was sent to ballroom dancing classes; I
attended all the area society cotillions both
charity and debutant; I was sent off to one of
the best prep schools in New England beginning
with the 8th grade, where I found
myself academically and I awakened to my skills
as a writer.
I was taught that all of these advantages
and all of my energies should be spent towards
retaining and carrying-on the family name and
standing; and to selfishly hoard as much money
and as many conspicuous possessions as possible
to grow the family reputation.
It was all about hoarding wealth, power
and our social standing at the expense of all
Our charity was to appear generous; and
to seem to have an altruistic, social
consciousness; not to mention the annual tax
benefits for our charitable contributions.
The ego of the family and my own ego were
to be constantly massaged.
when I realized that I needed to move to NYC to
achieve the kinds of success my family expected
after my prep school, university and graduate
school education, in October of 1974 I found
myself in the Bronx at Hunts Point, the token
gentile at a very successful, but aggressive
Jewish food distribution business.
And it was this experience that changed
my understanding of discrimination forever: For
instead of discriminating against the Jewish in
Albany, the Jewish in the Bronx were
discriminating against me.
I learned for the first time in my life
what it felt like to be the object of
discrimination with few options of avoiding it
on a daily basis.
I must say it was one of the most
important lessons I have ever been privileged to
today, I do the reverse.
I draw no salary from my consulting
business: I have converted my business into a
We give away to those less fortunate all
our monthly and annual company profits, leaving
no reserves, except just enough to keep our
business checking account open at the bank.
We help some families and students weekly
with funds for food, housing, tuition and daily
necessities; we help others monthly; and yet
others at year’s end, depending on what remains
And via our FTA dinners we now give seven
annual $2,500.00 scholarships in the names of
those we honor in equal partnership with the
schools benefitting, resulting in most cases in
$5,000.00 scholarships, as the schools match our
donation; and a total of $1,000.00 or more per
FTA dinner to charity from a portion of each
dinner’s proceeds; with a total of $1,500.00
being donated at New Delhi, New York City Spring
& Fall, Mumbai and as well at Hong Kong.
no longer worry about my social standing: I am
simply a Soul, temporarily residing in a body
vehicle; and just like everyone else, doing my
best to get by.
I only replace clothing if it can no
longer be sewn or repaired, for appearances mean
very little to me now.
I would rather be judged by the openness
of my heart to all others; by my compassion for
those less fortunate than myself; and for my
deeds, rather than my words.
will not be with you in years to come, for my
time is nearing its closure in this life in this
I already sense the call of what is to
come and I welcome it, for coming and going is
what we all must accept, if we are to remain
grounded: The only question is “when we pass”;
not “if we pass”.
the Buddhists have a beautiful saying, “One
never knows which comes first, the next morning
or the next life”.
I pray that as a result of our coming
together this evening for higher purposes,
namely recognizing human excellence, providing
much-needed scholarships for students of limited
means and charity for those less fortunate
through UNICEF and Habitat for Humanity
International, that we will all be reminded that
people are more important than things and that
we all wake-up in the morning in THIS life; but
rededicated to devoting our lives to serving
others, simply because it is the right thing to
do; and not for others to praise us or to cater
to our ego.
Service with an Open Heart and Right Intention
is the foundation of our hospitality industry:
So, from this moment forward, let “Service unto
Others” be your mantra, until it is your time to
wake-up in the NEXT life.
Thank you very
And Now I
ask for just a few more moments of your time.
Saving A Cambodian Family-Everyone Can Save
Someone or Some Family
story began on 6 December when I came across
them on the street in Bangkok, shoeless, very
dirty, hardly and barely clothed.
They were staying on a cement slab
underneath the outdoor staircase over Sukhumvit
Road that connects The Westin Grande Sukhumvit
with The Sheraton Grade Sukhumvit.
All their worldly possessions were in
five, small plastic shopping bags: They really
looked a though they could use a good, warm
So, through a nearby Thai student
interpreter (the mother only speaks Cambodian
and Thai), I was able to invite them as a family
to be my guest at the McDonald’s just 100 feet
down the sidewalk adjacent to The Westin.
The mother nodded “Okay”.
And I must say, they ate as though they
had not eaten in quite some time.
I believe I was back to the counter four
times between more Sprite & Coke, French fries,
sandwiches; and of course, ice cream desserts.
Thankfully, there was a large wash sink
in the restaurant, which allowed everyone to use
the much-needed liquid soap and hot water; and
for mom to clean her baby.
in the brief 30 minutes we spent in McDonald’s,
I realized how truly desperate were they and
that I had to do more; which is our mission at
FTA, to serve others, especially those less
The baby badly needed disposable diapers
and as they had nothing in the way of soap,
toothpaste, whatever, so we went shopping next
door at the Tops Market.
Afterwards, I took them all next door to
Robinson’s Department Store to buy them
clothing: And about 90 minutes later, when we
left the store, they no longer looked like
beggars on the street, but a normal, happy
family, nicely clothed, the 12 year old girl
with her first doll and the 2 year old boy with
his first educational toy.
I then offered them 200 Baht (about USD
$7.00) for taxi fare to wherever they were
staying at night.
But the mother looked confused: And as
the taxi driver spoke English, he explained to
me that she was telling him that they were
living under the nearby staircase; they had no
place to stay.
What to do?
So, I marched them four blocks to the
Nana Chart Youth Hostel and I paid for a safe,
clean two bedroom, air conditioned room for them
for 8 nights, until I had to return to the U.S.
for the Christmas holidays.
And every morning I would arrive at about
8:00am and we would all have breakfast together;
every lunch I would return and we would eat
something on the street; and every evening I
would return to take them to the same, nice,
casual restaurant for a wholesome dinner.
And when I left for the U.S., I gave her
enough cash to return them safely on the buses
to Cambodia; and for food until I could fly to
Phnom Penh the first week in January and get a
better handle on their true situation and attend
to the acute dental and medical needs of both
the 6 year old boy and the 12 year old girl.
rest is an even longer story, but suffice it to
say, I had no idea of how bleak, how desperate
was the small, filthy, unsanitary, unsafe, dark,
cinder block, single room they rented for $25.00
per month including limited electricity and a
water pipe for the toilet plastic wash basin
(but the water was unfit to drink); all this
down a long, dark, depressing hallway off a dirt
road to Hell.
I slept on the cement floor with them for
one night, before deciding I could not let them
live like this a moment longer.
with great thanks to financial contributions
from industry friends such as
with Micros (Kevin
would you kindly stand
to be recognized) and
John Sciarrone with
Ecolab (who could not be here with us
this evening) and both logistics support and
many, many special favors by
Area General Manager, Sofitel Cambodia and his
Team (our base at Phnom Penh until we
could find them a fit place to live), and with
about $25,000.00 to date of FTA direct charity
from our dinner revenues (Including a portion of
tonight’s dinner revenues); and with the
invaluable help of so many wonderful Souls I met
along the way from Batambang, Cambodia where
they lived (about a 10 hour taxi ride from Phnom
Penh); and all the way to Phnom Penh, the family
is now in a safe, clean apartment in a very nice
residential area of downtown Phnom Penh; the
children are at last in a wonderful, nearby
public school; and they look just amazing in
their blue and white school uniforms.
six year old has now had under general
anesthesia in an operating room four of his baby
teeth removed, which had become infected with
his left cheek swollen like a balloon and he was
in constant pain.
Everyone has now had medical examinations
by an MD at the Chenda Clinic in Phnom Penh,
including blood tests, which revealed that none
of them were protected from Hepatitis; so they
are now all inoculated and the baby even
received the two doses of a vaccine not
administered after birth; plus they were given
other medicines to take in case they have any
internal issues from their poor diet and lack of
And they all had eye exams by an eye
doctor at Chenda Clinic; and as a result, the
mother and 12 year old daughter finally have the
reading glasses they needed so badly, but never
thankfully, at our recent FTA Saigon dinner, we
found our “Operation
O’Brien with Treasury Wine Estates, who
completely funded the 12 year old girl’s facial
surgery to remove 5 hideous, red tumors that
were growing in size, the result of untreated
Tuberculosis at age 3; and though the surgical
scar will take some time to heal, she can at
long last smile without feeling self-conscious.
And recently at Singapore, Andrew met with me
and handed me the funds to cover the family’s
Cambodian Passport applications, so they will at
last have comprehensive identity documentation
as well as the ability to travel.
And our Hong Kong
Disneyland Angel is our dear friend,
Rudolf Muller, Executive Chef, Hong Kong
At our Singapore dinner, when he heard
that the first trip the family will be taking
with their new Passports is to Hong Kong
Disneyland, Rudy immediately said they would do
everything possible to help make the experience
one to forever, fondly remember.
Rudy, would you please stand and be
And with Rudy this evening is
Director, Food & Beverage Operations, Hong Kong
Diane, would also please stand to be
recognized, as I am sure you are supporting Rudy
in helping the family.
But we still need a
Dragon Airways Angel,
to cover the roundtrip, economy airfares; so, if
that Angel is among us tonight, it would be my
honor to shake his or her hand.
addition, the mother, Toeng Ly has had no means
of transportation for herself and her three
Children; and so, likewise, thankfully, we most
recently found our “Honda
Motorcycle Angel” in
Henry Phua, Managing Director, visMarketing.
And Henry is with us tonight; so,
Henry, please stand and
continue to be other Angels who have contributed
towards the family’s sustenance.
so now you know how we spend some of the
revenues we collect from our many valued dinner
sponsors across Asia Pacific and at NYC; and of
the many compassionate Souls, like Andrew, Henry
and Rudy who have helped us and continue to help
us succeed with our most recent direct
humanitarian effort in Cambodia.
Thank you very much for
your kind attention.
And one final footnote
children desperately needed a loving, caring
father; and the mother very much needed a
loving, providing husband.
And so one day in late January, the last
night we were staying at the Sofitel Phnom Penh
before moving them into their apartment; and
with the two oldest children soon to be in
school; and their lives beginning to become
stabilized, the 12 year old girl, with the
others standing around me, looked up at me and
And I looked into her eyes, knowing this
was a very, very important moment in time: In
fact, a life-changing moment.
I smiled broadly and replied “Yes, Pa”.
And from that moment, I was officially
adopted by the family.
I became the father of the children and
the husband of the mother.
And now whenever I am home, I arise at
5:00am Monday through Saturday, to be sure the
children are up at 6:00am; and at 6:30am I ride
the “tuk tuk” to school with Mr. Sna and the 6 &
12 year olds; and I even help feed the 2 & ½
year old baby some of the time. So, if you want
to find me from now on, when I’m not at one of
our 12 annual FTA hospitality industry
humanitarian dinners at NYC Spring & Fall or
across Asia Pacific, just come to Cambodia.
are sending Toeng Ly USD$260.00 per week to
sustain them, which includes the children’s
USD$24.00 per week school breakfast & lunch
money; and the USD$12.00 per week for our now
trusted friend, Mr. Sna, the “tuk tuk” driver,
to pick them-up in the morning and bring them
home from school every day; and last but not
least, paying the monthly rent and utilities,
amounting to about USD $930.00.
So, while we will continue to shoulder
this humanitarian effort from our dinner
revenues month in and month out, as there is
only so much to go around, there continues to
be a continuing need for more Angels to help us
Toeng Ly and the children; so if you would like
to know the easiest way to make a contribution,
just see me tonight and I’ll give you the
you very much.