- Cornell Alumni
Mark Tamis '88: Hospitality Leader Who Gives Back
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Hospitality is a viable career.
When Mark Tamis, a teenager at the time, heard this from his boss at PJ Pancake’s House, he knew exactly how to answer the question of what he wanted to do when he grew up.
Today, Tamis is President of Aimbridge Hospitality, the largest hotel company in the world.
"We manage almost 1600 hotels globally and that number is growing," he said. "We manage Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG - over 82 brands for over 300 owners."
His leadership role at Aimbridge comes after seven years as Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations for Royal Caribbean and five years as Senior VP of Guest Operations at Carnival Cruise Lines.
As soon as Tamis realized he could pursue hospitality while in high school, he wanted to learn about all the potential college programs in the country.
"At the time, you had to go to college fairs to get information and I tagged along with my older sister," he said. "I very quickly found out that Cornell was the #1 hotel school in the world, but I decided I would apply to all of the programs. I remember my guidance counselor telling me it was a good idea; that it was a good field for me. But the guidance counselor also said don't apply to Cornell, there's not a chance you’ll get in."
Of course, that statement only made Tamis more determined to head to Ithaca.
When he visited campus as a junior and finished his tour and interview, his mom asked him to talk to someone she had just met while exploring campus - then-head wrestling coach (and current Athletic Director) Andy Noel.
Tamis said he and Noel spoke for around two hours, with just a small part of it about the sport. However, Tamis was now on the Big Red’s radar, and he felt compelled to take the next step on the mat.
"After that meeting with Andy, I knew I had to get much better," he said. "I was good for my area and at my high school, but I needed better competition. I started going to wrestling clubs and training with other high schools with strong programs."
He saw improvement and was undefeated going into the postseason despite dealing with a knee injury that forced him to have a pint of fluid drained once per week.
Tamis said he lost by a point to the eventual state champion to end his high school career.
But he was excited while looking ahead to his future at Cornell (and was certainly pleased to share the news with his guidance counselor when he was accepted).
When he walked into the room in Ithaca, the quality of wrestling struck him immediately.
"In high school I had to go out and search to be in a competitive environment. At Cornell, there were 10 people at or around my weight who were as good or better than me," he said. "[Cornell Athletics Hall of Famer] Pat Welch was the senior starter at 150. There were six of us freshmen who were all 150 pounders. We called ourselves the McSix and we were goofballs. We were cannon fodder for Pat. He would go for 10 minutes full strength, with the rest of us rotating in for 30 seconds at a time. He would just pummel us."
While challenging, those practices and his academic experiences were crucial to his growth, according to Tamis.
"You learn how to work; put in maximum effort everywhere," he said. "You learn how to balance, sleep when you have to sleep, train when you have to train, and study when you have to study. That perseverance, the never quit attitude, and being able to contribute individually but also be part of a team are things I took away from Cornell and brought to my career."
Tamis completed internships at the Yale Club in New York City and at the Tropicana in Atlantic City. After graduation, he began with a position at Four Seasons Hotels, as an hourly supervisor in the housekeeping department.
"I feel fortunate that as a 15-year old kid, I knew what I wanted to do and after graduation, I was ready to do it. Like for many people, Cornell opened so many doors for me," Tamis said. "Cornell gave me the skills in hospitality that made me employable in the real world. Having work experience while in school really helps. The contacts; the people I met at Cornell are still my closest friends. Plus, I met my wife! My network is huge and if I'm in room and someone else went to Cornell, right away there's a connection. You want to be a part of that person's success."
In addition to his decorated professional life, Tamis has prioritized giving back. He won the Paul Hunt Citizenship Award in college as the President of NCAA Volunteers for Youth, an organization he led for four years that matched Big Red athletes with local children in a Big Brother/Big Sister-type program. Years ago, he founded the charity Dads for Giving, a group that has children and their fathers together serve Thanksgiving meals and provide shirts, socks, and other needed clothing to those in need, among other activities.
He's been back in Ithaca, teaching multiple times at the Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series. When in town, he stopped by the wrestling room, met the team, and showed his family his picture on the wall of the Friedman Center.
"Cornell wrestling will always be a part of me," he said. "I went to New York City for the World Team Trials a few months ago to watch Yianni [Diakomihalis] and Kyle [Dake]. It was so exciting - they're world class athletes. I'm excited to go to Oklahoma for the NCAA tournament this year."
So if a high school wrestler asked for his advice today about whether to go to Cornell, what would he say?
"If someone came to me and said I graduated from Cornell as a student-athlete, I would hire them," he said. "If you balance academics at one of the greatest universities in the world and play on a team, you can figure out how to do anything I'll ask of you. It's that simple.”
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