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In Memoriam: John Cahill – A Renaissance Man Within Hospitality

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July 01, 2016
In Memoriam
Hospitality Upgrade

Over the past few weeks, many comments have been written about John and the many people that he interacted with. To me, John was a Renaissance man. By definition, he was a multitalented man, intelligent and knowledgeable in many areas. John was articulate both in business KPIs, tracking and communicating these to his fellow VPs in monthly status meetings. He told appropriate learning stories to the teams within the IT organization. He could speak in front of the corporate board of directors, in a room full of programmers or in front of an audience of finance, IT and hotel management teams. More amazing to me, he wrote in-depth articles and books before today’s ability to reach for the crutch of Google and search engines.

John graduated with a degree in Elizabethan drama, and this served him well, both in his presentations, speaking engagements and articles written for many hospitality organizations. I worked for John for almost five years. Upon leaving to start Datavision, John encouraged my future plans and welcomed our business back into the IHC world. John’s ability to be in the moment and understand a stage presence served him well as he could tell a great story, a great joke and even sing! I was privileged to see him sing “Danny Boy” at his daughter Aileen’s wedding.

John Darby remembered a great story from the late ‘70s about the days at Sheraton. “A rollout team consisted of John Pignataro, John Cahill, John Kazanzides and me. We would travel to hotels who were about to be converted from NCR 4200s to an EECO, Sigma Data or CLS system and do what John referred to as our ‘dog and pony show.’ The only thing most people knew about computers was what they saw on TV, which was IBM tape drives (with tape reels spinning back and forth) and folks in white lab coats and clipboards. At one hotel, after the four of us introduced ourselves, one of the audience timidly held up his hand and asked, ‘Do you have to be named John to work in computers?’”

Steve Bearden worked with John both at InterContinental Hotels and Sheraton. Steve said, “Out of all the professionals I have worked for in my life; you set the bar. You always embraced us for who we are and pushed us to excel further in the kindest of ways. You never lost patience or confidence in any of us and we always loved you for that. You were an inspiration as a family leader and a rock as a friend and mentor to all of us.”

At InterContinental Hotels, John led a team consisting of Maria Benlian, Dennis Fanneron, Wayne Savard and David Marshall. They rolled out a worldwide reservation and communication network for the more than 120 hotel group, creating a Windows-based booking engine in the ‘80s and ‘90s. (No small undertaking if you remember Windows in the ‘90s).

At InterContinental Hotels, we also created a corporate consolidated guest database, a CRM, which was not an easy task in the era of modems sending data at 2400 baud, creating a corporate database of guest records and folios from two different PMSs, Fidelio and HIS. At the time, one of the vendors would create custom programming if the company paid for a “retreat” to get the programmers away from the daily phones, offsite and away from the fax machine (yes – before email). The programmers enjoyed retreats from other hotel companies at ski or beach resorts, spending five days taking breaks in the 15-hour work days to ski or swim and work until midnight and get up again at 8 a.m. to start again. At the time, InterContinental Hotels did not have any ski or beach resorts, so the programmers selected a hotel in Paris. John merely raised an eyebrow, when signing the expense form and expressed his familiar phrase, “For the love of God, they completed our project, right?” And they had.

After my first HITEC in 1991, I wrote a two-page recap of the event, listing ideas and “golden nuggets” that I had gained from the three-day sessions, meeting and networking with peers and visiting vendor booths. I remember John’s look of satisfaction after reading the list and reminding the hotel systems team, “This is what you need to d Go out and get ideas on new projects and keep up with technology. We will never be the ‘bleeding’ edge, but it is good to be at the ‘cutting’ edge of technology for the business.” John was well versed in standing before the board of directors to spend millions of dollars on a project, but wanted the project to succeed for the business’ sake, not for the sake of technology.  

John contributed to the HFTP (earlier IAHA) organization by being involved on several levels. John believed that HITEC was not just an event for CIOs, but something for many members of his team. John organized the creation of the Westchester, Conn. chapter and several in the office took turns sharing news on innovation and technology with the chapter. John was inducted into the HFTP Hall of Fame in 1993. John co-edited the inaugural CHTP exam in 1995, sending countless faxes to co-author, Michael Kasavana, at Michigan State Hospitality School.

John wrote a textbook, “Managing Computers in the Hospitality Industry,” published by the AH&MA, and used by universities around the world. He was an Adjunct Professor of Management at New York University and has guest lectured on hospitality subjects at Cornell University, Institut de Management Hotelier International in Paris, Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, Michigan State University, the University of New Hampshire, University of Houston, University of Delaware and Johnson & Wales College.

John gave... he gave much to his work, growing the IT infrastructure and IT functionality in the business at three primary hotel companies where he worked: Sheraton, InterContinental Hotels and Denihan Hospitality Group. He gave to HFTP, encouraging the participation and growth of the “T” in the organization. John gave to his family, evident in the family stories he told his team, sharing their achievements and pictures.

InterContinental Hotels' Karen Sciacovelli said it best, “Maybe we don't have any Jameson's, but let’s raise a toast to John, whether it be water or wine.”

– written by Sherry Marek
©2016 Hospitality Upgrade
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Thoughts on John Cahill

I remember meeting John on my first day of work at ITT Sheraton. Sheraton's headquarters was at 60 State Street in Boston, an impressive building overlooking Faneuil Hall and Boston's Financial district.

Just to give you a sense of the Sheraton tech team in the early ‘80s, the team was located on the 11th floor, led by industry veteran John Pignataro, or “JP.” Passing by the reception area and JP's office, your only path took you through “manager's row.” Back then, that meant the offices of Bob Stoutenburgh (telecom), Bob Bologna (reservation systems), Bill Walsh (corporate systems) and John Cahill (hotel technology). For a rookie telecom guy entering the hospitality industry for the first time, it was a pretty impressive group.

John was the consummate professional – a teacher, an advisor and a true role model – and an industry leader.  He was incredibly generous with his time and his ideas and spot-on with his counsel. I can remember him quietly tapping me on the shoulder during my first week on the job. “Bill, he said, I think you might do really well in this business, but you probably want to make sure to always say ‘hotel,’ not ‘motel’ when you talk about our properties.” That was just the first piece of career-enhancing advice John Cahill gave me.

I had the pleasure of working directly with John at Sheraton for just about four years, before he left for his role at InterContinental, but our relationship only grew after that. As John did for so many others, he provided me with friendship, support and career guidance for decades. I am not sure if anyone can, or will, match the impact John has had on raising the perception and the impact of our hospitality technology profession. He is gone from us way too soon – but I will be forever grateful for knowing him.

– written by Bill Oates

I never worked with John at any of the three hotel companies where he was the CIO. In fact, I am not even sure when or where I first met him. What I do remember was knowing immediately he was the kind of person I wanted to have a close relationship with. He was professional, knowledgeable, very funny and unbelievably likable. I was just starting out in my business when I met John and I was so glad I did. He would answer my questions and help me with ideas. He would share his wisdom and inspire me to think outside the box. When Hospitality Upgrade decided to create a CIO Summit 15 years ago he was one of the first to simply say, “I will be there!” The picture on the right was from our first CIO Summit and today I smile seeing him smile back. The picture above was taken in 2013 when Harbans Singh was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Ten years earlier it was me and 10 years before that it was John. It was so much fun to do that picture.

My favorite John story was when we did a Point/Counterpoint in Hospitality Upgrade asking if there were too many technology events for the industry. John agreed to take the argument that there were too many. He promised to write his piece and was slow getting it to us. John and I were at the old EuroTech event, which in that year was in Nice, France, with Geneva back in Atlanta waiting for his piece. I made him write it there in France, in the HFTP booth at the show. John was good at a lot of things, but typing fast was not one of them, though he was quite fast for somebody who only used two fingers. I am glad I crossed paths with John and we became friends. I  always looked forward to seeing him; I will miss that.

 – written by Rich Siegel

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