Michael Leven: What I’ve Learned From a Lifetime in Lodging

When Michael Leven started his first job in 1961 in the sales department of the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, America was entering a period of profound transformation. John F. Kennedy was president, the civil rights movement was under way, the Cold War was intensifying, the Beatles staged their first performance, and Roger Maris belted his 61st home run for the Yankees. In the hotel world, transcontinental air travel and the Interstate Highway System made it possible for Americans to travel when and where they wanted. Motels, the forerunner of highly profitable select-service hotels, were just beginning to change the face of lodging.

For Leven, who grew up in a modest middle-class family, education was the true measure of success and the launching pad for establishing careers. He received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Tufts University and earned a master of science degree in public relations and communications from Boston University though, at the time, he had no notion of how far he would go. But he knew hard work and opportunism would determine his trajectory.

From the Roosevelt, Leven would go on to the Dunphy Company and into the operations side of hotel management. Then came the role of president at Americana Hotels, Days Inn, Holiday Inn, and U.S. Franchise Systems (which he also founded), and a short stint as head of the George Aquarium (a hybrid form of retirement). Today, Leven is president and COO of Las Vegas Sands. Sands has expanded into the Asia market, where it is a dominant player in China, and in 2017, it plans to open similar operations in Spain.


Along the way, Leven, 76, has amassed nearly every award and recognition to be had in the hotel industry. In 2010, he created the Michael and Andrea Leven Family Foundation, which concentrates on three areas: free enterprise, the Jewish community, and oil independence. In January, AH&LA presented Leven with a lifetime achievement award at the annual Americas Lodging Investment Conference.

In this interview with Lodging, Leven shares his thoughts on half a century in the hotel business, his views on leadership, and his plans for the future.

Why did you choose this field, and why have you stayed?
I didn’t really choose it. It chose me. When I got out of graduate school with a degree in public relations and communications, I went looking for an advertising agency or a public relations firm in 1961 and for a variety of reasons couldn’t find one. Boston University [employment placement program] had a job for a sales promotion manager at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. I interviewed for a job that paid $495 a month and if you stayed 40 years, they had a pension of $40 a month.

The job lasted about two months, and then they threw me into the sales department. And then I stayed in the business one way or the other for all but maybe a year or two of the 53 years. Once you’re in it, it’s tough to get out. It’s a business I was really fortunate to be a part of. It’s not a very technical business—it’s much more of a liberal arts kind of business than an engineering business. Also, the industry grew dramatically during the number of years I’ve been in the business. So, the opportunities grew exponentially with the business.

I was thoroughly stereotyped as a sales person, and a good one. Then, I became a marketing person, and a good one. But I always wanted to be in operations. A couple of people along the way gave me a chance to be in operations. I became a resident manager of the Balmoral Beach Hotel [Bahamas], which wanted somebody with a sales mentality to be resident manager. Pat Ford was vice president of marketing for Dunphy Hotels and gave me a chance to be a regional vice president of operations and gave me five or six of its largest hotels to supervise its general managers. From there, it was back and forth between marketing jobs and operations jobs until my first presidency, of Americana Hotels in 1984. It took me 23 years to get there.

I developed an early sense of the customer and satisfying that customer. I always objected to some of the resistance from the financial side of the industry, which prevented the satisfaction of the customer. I always had good relationships there. Sometimes they were better relationships than I had with my bosses.


  1. Mike Leven’s accomplishments in the hospitality business are extraordinary. Even more extraordinary is that he is one of the most decent, down to earth people you’ll ever meet. I admire him greatly.

  2. I know people who have worked with and for Mr. Leven at Days Inn/Holiday Inn hotels. I know of him through these people; who looked up to him for his management skills, for his expertise in the hospitality industry and just for being a good person and a mentor. When I saw his name on the cover, I was curious to see if this was the same person. And sure it enough, it is.
    Thank you for putting a face to a name and more importantly for bringing his story to us.

  3. Prior to leaving my full time career with Hyatt, Mike took the time to have lunch with me every other month. Chair time with Mike was a crash course in life’s lessons. He imparted great advice and was an excellent sounding board. Now in Savannah and Mike in Las Vegas, I miss our Atlanta lunches. He deserves every bit of praise that he gets.

  4. We look forward to having Mike Leven at AAHOA this year and is being awarded for helping start the organization and is a key individual within the hospitality industry. As there are rock n’ roll gods Mr. Leven is a Hotel God!

  5. More than his hotel accomplishments, he is one of the best human beings you will ever meet, not to mention ,a terrific husband,father and grandfather. He is ethical, kind and cares about people. I do know this first hand as I live with him.xo

    • Hi and agree..I had the pleasure to know your whole family at the Congress Hotel in Chicago/Americana Hotels and and will never forget what I learned from Mike and his team!

      Anthony M. Cerone
      Riegel Mount Vernon Mills

  6. I have known Mike Leven for almost 30 years and had the privilege of working for him 12 of those years. Mike is an inspiration to many people who’s lives he has touched. Mike creates a culture and environment that is second to none. A great father, husband, friend, mentor and patriot! The only thing I can say bad about Mike is he is a Red Sox fan!

  7. Mike was one of the first Executives to see the value in consumer data and gave my then young company the chance to be of service and success followed always for Mike but also my company as we have grown into the premier supplier of consumer travel and hotel use data in the USA. Mike has given a hand up and wise advise to so many. Mike, you are a fantastic person and a great friend from the early days. Thank you, Doug & The D.K. Shifflet & Associates Team.

  8. I have had the honor and privledge to work for Mike Leven on two occasions in the past 38 years. Not only is he a great hotelier, but a great boss, advisor, mentor and friend. I hae learned so much from him, and have tried to apply his principles in all I do. Thank you for everything Mike.

  9. As a young Assistant Professor of Hotel Management at the University of New Orleans, I had an idea about changing the outmoded organizational structure of a hotel and I wrote a paper which explained my ideas. I sent it blind to Mike Leven and he actually read it and made several comments and suggestions. I was pleasantly surprised that he actually took the time – he was President of Days Inn at that time. I am not surprised by all the wonderful comments about him on this forum. He is most admired for his long years of service to the industry which he carried out with such grace.

  10. I worked with Mike in a number of locations, and have known him personally for many years, and found him to be one of the finest human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of being associated with in all aspects of human and business endeavors.
    ……..A GREAT GUY!

  11. When I got out of the Air Force I had no idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I went to work as a bartender with Early American Inns. After only a year they were acquired by Dunphy Hotels which is were I first met Mike. He has the ability to see the potential in people that even they don’t know they have. I became F&B director and a year later became GM of the Sheraton in Portsmouth NH. When he went to Americana Hotels I followed him and tried to learn as much as I could from him. He’s truly one of a kind and because of him I had the confidence to start my own management company and DePalma Hotels & Resorts has been thriving for 33 years and I owe it all to Mike. Like Mike one of these days I may start to slow down but never retire.

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