Welcoming Remarks at the 2013 FTA Fall Dinner at Shanghai


Welcome to the Tenth Annual FTA "A Fall Evening in Shanghai 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.


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 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 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 the 2,000,000 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 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 floods in Northern India and 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.


And 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 worlds"?  I think not.  We as a Human Race can and must do better.


I believe in leading by example, so now I draw no salary; and 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; 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 five 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 most schools match our donations; 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, Mumbai and New York City Spring & Fall.


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.


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 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.


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.


Saving A Cambodian Family-Everyone Can Save Someone or Some Family

As some of you know, I rescued a poor Cambodian mother and her children from the street last 7 December.  After returning to the U.S. for the Christmas and New Year holidays, I returned to my base at Bangkok and flew to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where we met once again.  I brought them to the Sofitel, where I was staying until I could find them a safe, clean place to live and enroll the children in a nearby public elementary school.  And after much searching for an apartment I thought our cash flow could support, we found the ideal place and a good public school.  Then it was shopping for household necessities A to Z; and to the regional, outdoor market for school uniforms, shoes, notebooks, pencils, erasers and the like.


And with great thanks to financial contributions from industry friends as well as many special favors by Charles-Henri Chevet, Area General Manager, Sofitel Cambodia and his Team and with about $50,000.00 to date of FTA direct charity from our dinner revenues; and with the invaluable help of so many wonderful Souls, the family is now in a safe, clean apartment in Phnom Penh; the children are at last in a wonderful, nearby public school; and they look amazing in their school uniforms.


The seven year old has had 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, 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. 

And thankfully, at our FTA Saigon dinner in February, we found our "Operation Angel", Andrew O’Brien with Treasury Wine Estates, who completely funded the 13 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 at our Singapore in March, Andrew handed me the cash funds to cover the family’s Cambodian Passport applications; and as a result, they all have comprehensive identity documentation with the ability to travel.    In addition, the mother, Toeng Ly had no means of transportation for herself and her three young Children; and so, likewise, thankfully, we most found our "Honda Motorcycle Angel" in Henry Phua, Managing Director, visMarketing; and then Henry followed-up by sending food money. Henry, would you kindly stand and be recognized.  Thankfully, there continue to be other Angels, such as our "Weekly Food & Schooling Angels", such as Dominic Brennan, General Manager, Crowne Plaza Shanghai Noah Square.  And "Home Angels" helping to create their home down payment and mortgage payments fund, such as Antoine Bruneel, General Manager, LifeStyle Magazine.  Antoine, please stand and be recognized.  And though he has asked to remain anonymous, there is yet an Angel among us this evening, whom I have not mentioned, who has both contributed to the family’s weekly food & schooling as well as their home fund. Thank you, Angel.


And so now you know how we have spent some of the revenues we have collected from our many valued dinner sponsors across Asia Pacific and at NYC; and of the many compassionate Souls, like Charles-Henri, Andrew, Henry, Dominic, Antoine and others who have helped us and continue to help us succeed with our most recent direct humanitarian effort in Cambodia.


And while until recently we have shouldered 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 directly help Toeng Ly and the children with both weekly food & schooling support as well as contributions to their home fund, so they may at last have a basic, safe place to call their own.  If anyone would like to help, just let me know and I will be happy to let you know how to do so, directly to Toeng Ly at Phnom Penh.  Truly, Service is the Highest Calling.


Thank you very much.