Pinnacle Hotels USA CEO Dr. Barry Lall on The Importance of Education and Following your Dreams

Barry Lall, President and CEO of Pinnacle Hotels USA, is a successful entrepreneur within the hospitality industry.

Born in Nyasaland (today known as Malawi), Dr. Barry Lall grew up in a small village that had neither running water nor electricity, although his childhood was a happy one due to the values his parents’ instilled. After completing his medical studies in Scotland and England, he emigrated to the United States with his family to begin his life as a medical doctor. However, once he arrived in the US he felt his entrepreneurial spirit, invigorated by the general abundance of opportunities available to anyone in America and understanding that  any dream he had could be realized.

Dr. Lall began his journey in hotel and real estate investment in 1989 with the acquisition of a 12-room motor lodge on Coronado Island, California and over the next three decades worked tirelessly to see his portfolio grow to 1800 guestrooms across the United States.

Having successfully grown his business, Lall, along with his wife Hema who is Executive Vice President of Pinnacle Hotels USA, wished to encourage others to pursue their dreams and established the Lall Family Endowed Scholarship at the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Below, we chat with him about the scholarship and his advice for other young entrepreneurs hoping to surmount their obstacles.

 How did you first become involved with the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management?

The school is a part of San Diego State University, which I believe is one of the largest campuses in San Diego with a student population of about 35,000. The hospitality school was not established until the late 1990’s was started by Carl Winston whom I had known for a long time and has been a friend of mine for many years. Although San Diego State University is a member of the California State University system and is therefore state-sponsored, funds for the school were very limited when he took on the challenge of launching it and so he reached out to his friends asking for support, myself being one of them. I had only recently established Pinnacle Hotels myself in 1998 and in those early years I unfortunately wasn’t in a position to be donating money or much of my time because I was so involved with building my company. However, I wanted to provide aid in any way I could, so on Carl’s invitation I would periodically come in as a guest speaker to the school’s incoming classes and provide a lecture to the students on the practical side of hospitality and hotel business. It wasn’t until around 2005 that my wife Hema and I decided we would be able to begin making a financial contribution. We had several discussions about how to utilize the funds that we were able to give, both between each other and with Carl and his team, and together we decided an annual scholarship award was where our contribution would be most beneficial.

What does the Lall Family Endowed Scholarship entail?

My wife and I care deeply about education. We believe everything begins with education, but also know that not everyone has the resources to get a good one, so we’re happy and excited to be in a position to assist in this way. The scholarship is awarded to students who not only demonstrate a passion for the hospitality industry, but also have unique challenges in their lives that their education will help them overcome. As for utilizing the scholarship, we wanted it to be a flexible award allowing students to use it for a variety of educational needs, but always in the service of expanding their understanding of the hospitality business. One of the particularly exciting uses would be to attend one of the premier national lodging conferences. They take place in three large and exciting cities — Los Angeles, Phoenix, and New York City —  at different times of the year, and the funds would allow them to pay for the registration which can be quite expensive. You are also generally expected to wear business attire at these conferences, and the flexibility of the scholarship means it can also be used towards purchasing those necessary items such as business attire.

Do you have any further plans for involvement with the school?

Besides the scholarship, we also offer internships for students at many of our hotels. Not only are they able to experience first hand the “nuts and bolts” of running a hotel, but also hopefully learn discipline, commitment, how to work well within a team. If we are able to accomplish that in our training, then we’ve done a good job. As for future plans, we hope to increase our involvement with the L. Robert Payne School as the years go by. In anything I say or do in life I always start small, but earnestly grow with time as I get comfortable, more confident, and develop a better understanding. We’re in the beginning phases of our charitable work, or as I like to put it: we’re in the second or third inning of our nine inning “giving game.”

What advice would you give students in the travel and tourism industry who may want to follow in your footsteps?

In this great country of ours anything is possible, so my hope would be to give them an understanding that they have chosen one of the best professions out there. There’s so many tremendous opportunities within this industry of ours, and depending on their interests they could do almost anything. They could be an HR specialist and involved with human resources, they could be in sales, they could be in operations, one could be involved in accounting — the opportunities are endless. At the same time though, in order to truly “follow in my footsteps” they must have entrepreneurial aspirations. It is possible for anyone to be an owner of a hotel. You don’t necessarily have to work for someone your whole career, but most of the students I encounter don’t have any clue that it is an option, they don’t even think about it. My advice and inspiration to those students who are interested is that you’ve got to have this absolutely strong desire, ambition, aspiration and drive, to want to do something. If you have a dream or desire that is consistent, where you wake up everyday wanting something, not just every six months or every year, you should absolutely follow it because it is possible to make it happen. Yes you can!!!!!!!!!!.

Are there any particular challenges those interested in entrepreneurship should be aware of?

I’m not saying it will be an easy road — you’ll need unequivocal and absolute support from your immediate family when you embark on the adventure of owning a hotel, because they must understand and be willing to make significant sacrifices in terms of quality of life and time commitment. You yourself will also have to be prepared to work extremely hard, be focused day in and day out, and have the ability to take risks, but if they are blessed with these requisites their opportunities are endless.

You’ll also notice I didn’t say that money is a requirement. In my opinion, if you have a really good idea then the money will also come, and then it’s just about knowing the right way to manage it. Most small businesses tend to go under, and while this can be for a variety of reasons more often than not it’s because most people don’t know how to manage their finances. So going in with a good amount of preparation for these challenges is key.

Connect with Dr. Barry Lall on Medium.