Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society Names Kimptonís Niki Leondakis 2009 Hospitality Executive of the Year

October 20, 2009

Niki Leondakis, chief operating officer of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, has been named the 2009 Hospitality Executive of the Year by the Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society (PSHRS). Leondakis will receive the award during the forty-eighth Hospitality Executive of the Year Award Reception on Sunday, November 8, 2009, at the Rosenthal Pavilion of the Kimmel Center, New York University. As part of the honor, Leondakis will also be inducted into the Penn State Hospitality Hall of Fame, located at The Nittany Lion Inn on Penn State’s University Park campus.

Leondakis oversees operations, marketing, human resources, IT, sustainability, and social responsibility initiatives for Kimpton’s forty-seven hotels and restaurants throughout the United States. She joined Kimpton in 1993 as director of restaurant operations and advanced through the restaurant division to an eventual role of senior vice president of restaurants. In 2001, Leondakis was promoted to executive vice president of hotels and restaurants. She became chief operating officer in 2003.

 “Ms. Leondakis is known for her efforts to increase opportunities for people in the hospitality industry, and for her excellent work at Kimpton. We are pleased to induct her into the Penn State Hospitality Hall of Fame,” said Debbie Ulrich, president and CEO of SYSCO Central Pennsylvania, LLC, and president of the Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society. “In recognizing Niki Leondakis, we also recognize Kimpton’s unique contribution to the hospitality industry.”

San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, a collection of boutique hotels and chef-driven restaurants in the United States, is an acknowledged industry pioneer and was the first to bring the boutique hotel concept to America. Founded in 1981 by Bill Kimpton, the company is well known for making travelers feel welcomed and comfortable while away from home through intuitive and unscripted customer care, stylish ambience, and having a certain playfulness in its approach to programs and amenities. Kimpton provides exciting culinary experiences through locally-loved, top-rated, destination, chef-driven restaurants. 

“It is my sincere honor to accept this award from the Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society,” said Leondakis. “I have long admired Penn State’s commitment to educating and shaping some of the best and brightest within the hospitality industry. Kimpton, along with many other hotel and restaurant companies, has benefited from the talent that is nurtured as part of the university’s curriculum.”

“We are delighted that Niki Leondakis will accept this honor,” said Bert van Hoof, director of the School of Hospitality Management. “She promotes the same values our school supports: opportunity, diversity, and practicality. Ms. Leondakis accepting this honor marks an important step in further strengthening our relationship with Kimpton, a company that is known for its excellent hospitality standards.”

Leondakis has been a key player in the expansion of Kimpton and Kimpton’s values in the United States. In 1998, Leondakis formed Kimpton’s mentor program, aiding in the development and advancement of emerging leaders. In 2003, she launched the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants Diversity Initiative, which is committed to creating a culture that acknowledges, understands, accepts, values, and celebrates differences among people. Leondakis is also responsible for furthering the mission of Kimpton University, an education and training program that inspires personal and professional development.

Leondakis has received numerous industry awards, including being named one of the “100 Most Influential Women” by the San Francisco Business Times every year from 2002 to 2009, being recognized as one of “30 Women Power Players” by Nation’s Restaurant News in 2002, and being named one of the “Most Powerful Women in Travel” by Travel Agent in 2002. In 2007, Leondakis received the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association Silver Plate Award for Operator of the Year. In 2008, Leondakis received the Fred Tibbits & Associates Hospitality Award for Lifetime Excellence.

The Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society was created in 1948 by alumni and friends of the School of Hospitality Management in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development. PSHRS and the school created the Hospitality Executive of the Year Award in 1960 to honor individuals who exemplify the successful leadership characteristics and who strive to instill those in students and to convey them to alumni and colleagues.

“Ms. Leondakis joins a list of ‘Who’s Who’ among hospitality executives at Penn State's School of Hospitality Management,” said Mr. Paul Howard, director of hospitality industry relations in the School of Hospitality Management. Last year’s award recipient was Andrew Kerin, executive vice president, ARAMARK Corporation, and president, ARAMARK North America Food, Hospitality and Facility Services.

Previous winners include Tom Giannopoulos, chairman, president and CEO of MICROS Systems, Inc.; Richard Schnieders, chairman and chief executive officer of SYSCO Corporation; James Broadhurst, chairman and chief executive officer, Eat’n Park Hospitality Group; Robert F. Cotter, president and chief operating officer of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.; Allan L. Schuman, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Ecolab, Inc.; Michel Landel, president and chief executive officer of Sodexho; Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairman and CEO of Carlson Companies, Inc.; Joseph Neubauer, chairman and CEO, ARAMARK; Henry R. Silverman, chairman and CEO, HFS Incorporated; Herman Cain, former president, Godfather’s Pizza; Raymond Schultz, former president and CEO, Promus Hotel Corporation; J.W. Marriott, Jr., chairman and president, Marriott Corporation; Barron Hilton, chairman and president, Hilton Hotels Corporation; and Walter J. Conti, a member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, retired owner of Conti’s Cross Keys Inn and Pipersville Inn in Doylestown (Pennsylvania), and creator of the distinguished Conti Professorship in the School of Hospitality Management.

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Editors: For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.