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Entrepreneur of the Year

The Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year award is given annually to a Cornellian who exemplifies entrepreneurial achievement, community service and high ethical standards.

Nominees must exemplify the ideals of entrepreneurship by meeting the following criteria:

  • Started and successfully managed a business, contributed substantially to the turnaround or growth of a business, or managed a larger business in a way that has demonstrated notable entrepreneurial characteristics and achievements.
  • Contributed to the private enterprise system in ways that are an inspiration to others.
  • Used his or her business skills and creativity to enrich humanity.
  • Conducted his or her business and personal relationships with the highest integrity.

Deadline for nominations is October 11, 2016.
Complete a nomination here.

Leland Pillsbury ’69 named Entrepreneur of the Year 2016



Mr. Leland C. Pillsbury is the Founder and Chairman Thayer Lodging Group, and was CEO from its founding in 1991 until its sale to Brookfield Properties in 2014.   During this 23 year period, Thayer’s investment returns placed it in the top 5% of all institutional real estate fund sponsors, achieving a 26% Internal Rate of Return on invested capital.

Mr. Pillsbury has played a major role in the launch of over 15 new companies, including internet services provider TIG Global, Chinese central reservations system innovator HUBS1, and PURE Rooms Company, providing hypoallergenic guest rooms. He is a founding investor in Thayer Ventures, a venture capital fund targeting technology companies in the hospitality and travel space, now on its second fund. He serves on the Boards of Directors and Advisory Boards of a number of companies Thayer Ventures has investments in, including Duetto Research, Social Tables, and Adara. In 2010, he partnered with China’s largest hotel group, Jin Jiang, to take private Interstate Hotels and Resorts, the global leader in third party hotel management, where he serves as Chairman.  Earlier, he was a founding investor in Dupont Fabros Technologies (DFT), the publicly traded data storage center company. Mr. Pillsbury has mentored and invested with entrepreneurs in businesses ranging from medical devices, beverage management systems, technology companies, automotive, labor services, and real estate developments.

Prior to launching Thayer, he spent 19 years at Marriott, where he became an Executive Vice President and Corporate Officer. While with Marriott, he led the company’s entry into time sharing, Fairfield Inns, and Residence Inns.

Mr. Pillsbury is a member of the Cornell University Board of Trustees, a member of its Executive Committee, Chairman of the Buildings and Properties Committee, member and past Vice Chairman of the Investment Committee and a member of several other standing committees of the Board. He is a member of the School of Hotel Administration Dean’s Advisory Board.   Along with his wife Mary, he has been named a Foremost Benefactor of the University.

Mr. and Mrs. Pillsbury endowed the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration in 2006. In addition to currently offering 12 courses in entrepreneurship, PIHE hosts the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans (EBV) each fall on campus, the annual Business Plan Competition, the Innovation Network which brings top industry executives together to explore global innovation, and recognizes the Innovator of the Year as part of the Icon and Innovator of the Year Awards held during the NYU Lodging Investment Conference in June each year.

Mr. Pillsbury served as the Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of 1956 Visiting Scholar at Cornell University. During this school year, he is a visiting professor at Penn State University, Florida International University, and Florida State. He has been invited to lecture at universities in Beijing, Shanghai, and Singapore among others.. He also hosts dinners and informal discussion groups for interested students to provide mentoring, career advice, and networking opportunities.

Mr. Pillsbury is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board at J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, from which he received an MBA in 1982. The Kellogg School recognized him with the 2009 Schaffner Award, recognizing professional achievement and contribution to the School.

He is the recipient of the 2012 Far and Above Award for his contributions to the industry and his philanthropy. Mr. Pillsbury was also recognized in 2010 by the International Society of Hospitality Consultants with the Pioneer Award.

Mr. Pillsbury is a member of the New York Yacht Club, the Ocean Reef Club, the National Business Aircraft Owners Association, and numerous industry associations and organizations. He and his wife of 46 years, Mary Pillsbury, are both jet pilots and fly their own business jet.  They hold the record as the first husband and wife pilot team to fly a single engine airplane across the North Atlantic.

Past Recipients include:

  • 2015: Robert Langer ’70, David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT
  • 2014: Greg Galvin MS ’82, PhD ’84, MBA ’93, Rheonix
  • 2013: Ratan Tata ’59, B.Arch ’62, Tata Sons
  • 2012: John Alexander ’74, MBA ’76, CBORD Group, Inc.
  • 2011: Harris Rosen ’61, Rosen Hotels and Resorts
  • 2010: Lubna Olayan ’77, Olayan Financing Company
  • 2009: Jay Walker ’77, Walker Digital
  • 2008: Howard Milstein ’73, New York Private Bank & Trust
  • 2007: Kevin McGovern ’70, McGovern Capital LLC
  • 2005: Robert Toll ’63, Toll Brothers
  • 2004: Steve Belkin ’69, Trans National Group
  • 2003: Jules Kroll ’63, Kroll, Inc.
  • 2002: Rob Ryan ’69, Ascend Communcations; Entrepreneur America
  • 2001: Jeffrey Parker ’65, MEng ’66, MBA ‘70, CCBN
  • 2000: Jeffrey Hawkins ’79, Handspring
  • 1999: William Sanders ’64, Security Capital Group, Inc.
  • 1998: Robert Felton ’61, Indus International, Inc.
  • 1997: Linda Mason ’76, Bright Horizons Children’s Centers
  • 1996: David Duffield ’62, BEE ’63, MBA ’64, PeopleSoft
  • 1995: Arthur Gensler ’58, Gensler and Associates
  • 1994: Irwin Jacobs ’56, Qualcomm, Inc.
  • 1993: Donald Berens ’47, Hickory Farms Sales Corp.
  • 1992: Harvey Kinzelberg ’67, Meridian Group
  • 1991: Kenneth ’61, PhD ’67 & Marjorie ’62 Blanchard, Blanchard Training & Dev.
  • 1989: James McLamore ’47, Burger King Corporation
  • 1988: Julius Kayser ’47, Arthur Wolcott ’49, Seneca Foods Corporation
  • 1987: Alfred ’06, Charles ’33, John ’60 Mellowes, Charter Manufacturing Co.
  • 1986: John Mariani, Jr. ’54, Villa Banfi, USA
  • 1985: Christopher Hemmeter ’62, Hemmeter Investment Co.
  • 1984: Sanford Weill ’55, Citigroup, Inc.