The first guest lecture of the current spring term at ESE Florence was with professor John Sergi last Tuesday 9 May on the topic of ‘Hospitality as Strategy – an entrepreneurial approach’.

John Sergi, Hospitality Designer & Strategist, started his lecture with his professional story in the hospitality industry and how life directed him back to his personal dream on various occasions – an inspiring lesson which is tightly linked to ESE’s mission. In fact, when John Sergi read the books ‘School for Gods’ and ‘Technology of the Dreamer‘, written by ESE Founder and President Elio D’Anna, he resonated strongly with his philosophy. 

After various deviations, John Sergi finally decided to follow his passions and enrol in the Masters programme at the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration in 1987 where he imagined, and upon graduation, launched a business dedicated to developing hospitality as a strategy. Nowadays he is well known for his work in large public sports and entertainment venues, creating hospitality strategies in the US and abroad through his Hospitality Design Thinking® process.

In his lecture at ESE Florence, John Sergi stated that hospitality is much more than the industry strictly related to the hotel or tourism sector. In fact, hospitality is relevant to all business sectors. “Service is simple – it’s what we do as business owners. Service is how well you do what you advertise. Hospitality, however, is how the customer feels about doing business with you. That’s the fifth star.”

John Sergi demonstrated the importance of emotion in any business activity by showing us the hospitality strategy of two famous companies, Target and IKEA, who both offer restoration services to their clients. Where Target focuses mostly on tactical food & beverage operations and increasing F&B revenue, Ikea’s hospitality strategy looks a lot different: having incorporated their ‘Swedishness’, their entire brand identity in their restaurants, they have been able to improve not only their brand positioning, customer relationship and engagement, but they have also increased customer’s dwell time and as a consequence their core revenue. Sergi: “Hospitality, food and beverage – it’s all emotion. If people feel comfortable, they spend more!”

John Sergi then showed how his Hospitality Design Thinking® process works by taking the audience through two of the many Conceptual F&B Hospitality Plans he has designed himself, starting with the previously called Echo Arena (his project from 2013), currently called the M&S Bank Arena Liverpool, moving on to the Boot House in Central Park, New York – a project that John Sergi is currently working on (launch planned for July 2023). These inspiring projects demonstrated that the collaborative process of Hospitality Design Thinking® is based on a simple premise: “To create emotions you must design with emotions.” 

The lecture ended with questions and remarks from the audience. ESE Florence’s Hospitality Management professor Massimo Coppetti, General Manager of the 5 star Hotel Savoy, a Rocco Forte Hotel in Florence Giancarlo Rizzi, and owner of Cellai Boutique Hotel in Florence Francesco Cavallo, collectively discussed the question of making the difference in a city that is characterized by over-tourism, by applying John Sergi’s Hospitality Design Thinking® process to the city of Florence.

We would like to thank Professor John Sergi again for sharing his inspirational story and valuable views on strategy and design thinking – his lesson was of great inspiration to our aspiring leaders in hospitality, as well as other business sectors. 

Further information on John Sergi’s projects: John Sergi – Hospitality as Strategy

For further information on ESE’s Hospitality Management business courses: Hospitality Management – ESE Short Course, Professional Programme

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