Professor Erinn Tucker
At a time when boutique hotels and high-end eateries seem to spring up and quietly shutter at near record rates, those that last and those that don’t are most often separated by one thing, says Tucker, an Assistant Professor in the School of Hospitality Administration.
“It all comes down to the customer experience,” she says. “If people don’t feel comfortable or they don’t feel they’re treated well, they won’t come back… Good service cannot be outsourced. You can’t package it. In order to experience it, you need to go to people who understand it. And that’s us.”
Tucker would know. At just 38 years old, the high-energy Chicago native has seemingly hosted, marketed, staff-trained, event-planned and crisis-managed every corner of the burgeoning hospitality industry, bringing to BU and her students a level of on-the-ground experience and client knowledge often reserved for faculty several years her senior.
Whether crafting elaborate event proposals or proffering solutions to current staffing challenges within the industry, students taking Tucker’s popular Human Resources Management and Events & Conventions courses get at once a rigorous grounding in the fundamentals of hospitality management and a real-world primer in how to gracefully handle any number of sticky situations their future jobs can throw at them.
All are delivered with an unsinkable enthusiasm that rivals anything Red Bull can bottle – and a wealth of broad-based industry expertise they’re hard-pressed to find in one instructor.
A graduate of Florida A&M University in Business Administration, Tucker began her career in sports marketing with one of the nation’s premier talent brokers, Henry Thomas, a firm that would later form the basis of the Creative Artists Agency’s lucrative sports division. But what player management provided in access to some of the top stars in all of sports, Tucker was left wanting in the actual hands-on management of major events that drove her creatively and professionally. She returned to school the following year, earning a Master’s from Florida State University and interning with the Orlando Magic and the PGA Tour – two highly competitive slots that placed her in the event-management trenches, handling halftime shows and theme nights for the NBA franchise, while helping to organize special corporate sponsorship events for the PGA.
“Both provided truly distinctive experiences and sets of demands,” she says. “With the NBA, our primary focus was, of course, on making the fans happy, while with the PGA, you had to be able to strategically align the sport with the sponsor’s needs and then execute it to perfection.” Tucker thrived in the challenge. Upon completing her Master’s, she joined General Motors’ elite R*Works’ office in Atlanta, a division of the auto giant devoted specifically to corporate sponsorships and events. There, she’d help oversee high-profile events linking Buick, Cadillac and the PGA Tour, meticulously coordinating every last detail to help close major deals.
When an opportunity opened in Charlotte to manage special events for family dining and entertainment hub Jillian’s (a chain that would later become Dave & Buster’s), she jumped at it. It was in this role – juggling the altering demands of social and corporate events with the pursuit of an MBA from nearby Winthrop University – that Tucker was asked to guest lecture at Johnson & Wales’ newly opened culinary campus in Charlotte. The experience of training others in her craft forever changed her.
“I knew I wanted to teach,” she says. “I loved being able to teach theory and application and having my experience behind it… Hospitality is so much bigger than people realize. It’s an attitude of wanting to give and creating an experience. It translates to almost every business, and it taught me how to teach and how to understand teaching pedagogy.”
Tucker went on to lecture for three years at Johnson & Wales, consulting part-time to train guest services workers for the Charlotte Bobcats and minor league baseball affiliate Charlotte Knights. To gain the designation of professor, however, she’d need a doctorate, and so in 2008, Tucker packed her bags yet again for Oklahoma State University and, at the time, one of the nation’s only part-time Ph.D. programs in Hospitality Administration. There, she’d establish the university’s first black graduate students association and have an opportunity to earn her sky miles teaching event planning at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s hotel school/global campus in Singapore.
Tucker graduated in 2011, the same year she learned of a teaching opportunity in SHA. She boarded a plane for Boston and hasn’t looked back.
Since arriving at BU, Tucker’s belief in enhancing hospitality essentials with evolving technology, from Twitter to Podcasting, has won both the imagination and respect of her students, whose demanding coursework and projects routinely place them in real-world settings, facing decidedly real-world challenges. Student projects have ranged from drafting mock legislation and creating conceptual college programs to address the exploitation of hospitality interns, to volunteering for and later crafting intricate proposals for major galas and public events.
The results are evident, both in the caliber of work her assignments inspire and in the career trajectories of her students, many of whom have gone on to leadership roles with hospitality powerhouses like Disney, Marriott, Starwood, Interstate, Hillstone Restaurants and the Red Sox Foundation.
“I tell my students that serving others is our life’s mission, not to be subservient. And that hospitality is life – it’s global, it’s transferrable to so many industries where they’ll have limitless opportunities,” she says.
Tucker has made the most of hers and is now relishing the chance to make that success a possibility for others.