Hotelier finds added value in hospitality degree

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Mark Laport

Most RIT students get their degree and then go out into the world and get a job or maybe start a company. Not Mark Laport.

Laport ’92 (hospitality and tourism management) had already created Concord Hospitality Enterprises when he enrolled in graduate school at RIT.

“I got into that business and thought, ‘Boy it would be really cool if I had a semblance of an education that relates to hospitality management,’” said Laport, who studied biology as an undergraduate. “The degree was game changing.”

Today, the company’s portfolio includes more than 90 hotels throughout the United States and Canada. An additional 10 hotels are under construction, including two in Manhattan, and nine more are in the early phases of development—amounting to more than $600 million in the pipeline.

After graduating from Mount Union College in Ohio, Laport knew he wanted to be self-employed. He dabbled in the restaurant business and real estate before being asked by an Erie, Pa., entrepreneur to help oversee a small company with five Holiday Inns.

He liked the hospitality business but decided it would be more rewarding to build new hotels in emerging marketplaces, so in 1985 he created Concord. His first hotel was a Hampton Inn, near Penn State University. Hotels in Massachusetts, Cleveland and Pittsburgh followed. Then came larger hotels, full-service hotels and best-in-class hotels.

The majority of Concord’s hotels are Marriott brands. The company also has developed Hyatts, Hiltons, Holiday Inns and Sheratons.

“An early accomplishment of my company was being one of the first three Marriott franchisees that were allowed to build Courtyards by Marriott,” he said. “We had to be qualified and prove to Marriott we could run hotels as well as they could.”

Laport, who was in an executive master’s program so he could continue working while taking classes, credits RIT with giving him the tools to help manage this growth. For example, he used to be a “minutiae-driven entrepreneur” who tried to handle all aspects of the business because he thought no one could do it better than himself. At RIT, he said, he learned to be a broad-thinking leader and team developer.

The change in philosophy worked. His company grew from 100 employees at the time he attended RIT to more than 4,600 today. The company has grown 20 percent in the last year, has annual revenues of a half billion dollars and is delivering $300 million in new hotel properties annually.

“I often say it’s kind of like we are a big snowball that finally has crested the hill,” Laport said. “That snowball is really gathering mass.”