Unforgettable career in corporate hospitality prepares Purdue HTM alumnus for lifelong dream of running Mackinac Island B&B

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu

A man stands on a white wraparound porch, smiling.

Brian Findley stands on the porch of Small Point Bed and Breakfast.(Photo provided)

From throwing a welcome party for the Argentinian ambassador at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, D.C., to developing an authentic Irish pub at Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee, Purdue University White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) alumnus Brian Findley (HTM ’85) has seen many different aspects of the hospitality industry throughout his long career in hotels. Now, having settled down in the peaceful Small Point Bed and Breakfast in Mackinac Island, Michigan, that he and his wife, Christina, took over in 2016, Findley said he enjoys the relaxing lifestyle and freedom that innkeeping has afforded him.

“My wife and I have loved the hospitality business — she’s also had a lifelong career in it,” Findley said. “I had a great career and loved being in the hotels. I miss all the people, and I do miss the big conventions and the parties that would be thrown with pyrotechnics, screens and dancers. But as an innkeeper, you have an intimate relationship with your guests. Sixty-five percent of our guests are repeat guests, and several of them have been with us for five generations. When you have 4,000 people in your 2,000-room hotel, that’s just not possible.”

Findley’s parents opened Small Point Bed and Breakfast in 1974 and ran it for 42 years. This allowed Findley to get his start in the hospitality industry early, selling Kool-Aid in front of the inn in the summers and working in Little Bob’s restaurant on the island starting at age 11. In college, he returned every summer to work at the bed and breakfast. Of Findley and his five siblings, he was the one who ultimately had a passion for one day returning to the island and taking over the family business.

“I think my siblings thought about running the Bed and Breakfast — I worked to make it happen. They are all very pleased it will stay in the family,” Findley said. “In 1981, in the basement, I took a piece of charcoal, and I wrote on the wall, ‘Brian Findley, 1981, dibs.’ It’s still visible today, and I laugh at it. My heart has always been on Mackinac Island, even though I’ve lived all over the country, including Hawaii.”

Findley began his career in Hyatt Hotels, holding roles across the United States, from Atlanta, Georgia, to Dallas, Texas, to Waikoloa, Hawaii, and beyond. He then went to Opryland Hotel from 1997-2004 before joining Marriott prior to returning to Mackinac Island.

A tall white building stands surrounded by bushes.

Small Point Bed and Breakfast(Photo provided)

Findley said he credits much of his career to his Purdue education in what is now the College of Health and Human Sciences, which gave him practical knowledge and skills that prepared him to run hotels right out of college. He said the program trains leaders rather than philosophers.

“At Purdue, when I was there, we learned real skills, real techniques, real management — things that I could apply on the job instantly,” Findley said. “It rocketed me ahead of so many other graduates from other hotel programs. I’ve really prized my Purdue education.”

“When I got to Hyatt, I went as a management trainee, and I was supposed to be in the program for a year, but I wasn’t there a handful of months, and they put me into an assistant department head position instantly, and then I was department head four or five months later. Here I was 23 and the executive steward to opening a 1,600-room hotel out in Hawaii — you don’t get propelled faster than that.”

One of Findley’s favorite aspects of his career was the people he met and the stories he collected. Particularly during his time at Opryland, Findley was at the center of many of the large-scale conventions and events that brought excitement to his role. He noted one of the most interesting conventions he was a part of was the National Association of Balloon Artists and their annual humorous Murphy’s Law lunch, where the staff ensured that everything that could go wrong went wrong. Findley, whose personality ensures he’s never met a stranger, noted his work has connected him with countless politicians, executives and leaders from around the world.

“What other career do you get to meet all of these people?” Findley said. “I’ve shaken every president’s hand from Richard Nixon all the way up to Barack Obama — although I didn’t get to shake President Obama’s hand — I shook Sen. Obama’s hand.”

While his staff has left an imprint on him, Findley has also made a mark in the lives of his staff. When he went to renovate a failing bar in Opryland to a highly successful Irish pub, his staff insisted the pub be named Findley’s Irish Pub after him, in spite of Findley’s objections.

Findley, whose passion for the industry and joy toward service have carried him to remarkable experiences, advises current HTM students to start the work early. He noted success in management comes from understanding the roles you’re leading, whether that’s washing dishes, running a hotel desk, cleaning rooms or another role.

“It is not a career but a lifestyle. When you’re in the kitchen and you’ve got a line 40 deep and every table is crushed at your Mother’s Day brunch, and you want to be home with your mom, so you are griping or giving the Debbie-downer approach, your staff won’t respect you. But when you are there saying, ‘This is great — let’s pack them in and make some money,’ and you’re standing up for your staff and making sure they have every tool to do the job right and busing their tables for them, you will be beloved, and they might even name a restaurant after you,” Findley chuckled. “The career choice of being in the hospitality industry should not be a fallback but of a love of serving people.”

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