Welcoming Remarks at the 2012 NYC Fall Awards Dinner


Welcome to the Twenty-First Annual FTA “A Fall Evening in New York with Very Special Friends”.  We gather in New York City spring and fall, and annually at Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Bangkok, Mumbai, Shanghai, Hong Kong and now as well at Shenzhen, Saigon and New Delhi 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.


An 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 left behind.  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 present the 2012 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 dinner.


But 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 Excellence.  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 recognition.


The 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 it.  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.


I 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 soon 700,000 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 East.  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 disaster here in NYC and the 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 $2.00 a day; and 20% is living on $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.


I 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 Hawaii.  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 others.  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.


And 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 learn.


But today, I do the reverse.  I draw no salary from my consulting business: I have converted my business into a social entrepreneurship.  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 upon audit.  And via our FTA dinners we now give six (and beginning in 2013, seven) annual $2,500.00 scholarships in equal partnership with the schools benefitting in the names of those whom we honor, resulting in $5,000.00 scholarships; and a total of $1,000.00 or more per FTA dinner to charity from a portion of each dinner’s proceeds.


I 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.


I will not be with you in years to come, for my time is nearing its closure in this life in this dimension.  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”.


But 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, Habitat for Humanity International and other worthy charities, 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.  For 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 much.