by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | June 30, 2017

casHotel companies are big on embracing their local communities. Their staff turn out for volunteer causes like painting inner-city schools, landscaping local parks and building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Sometimes, however, one of these exemplary members of the hospitality industry really stands out. Michael Smith, general manager of the 1,193-room Hyatt Regency New Orleans, is such a person.

Smith has taken giving to a whole new level, making community commitment an integral part of his personal and professional life. So much so that several weeks ago Dillard University presented him with an honorary doctorate in recognition of his work as chairman of the United Negro College Fund’s Mayor's Masked Ball for the past four years, which has helped raise $6.5 million in college funds for 900 Louisiana students.

And that's not all. Smith, whose 40-year career at Hyatt has led to positions at 10 of the chain’s properties, including general manager roles in Boston, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans over the past 14 years, began back in 1978 bussing tables at the Hyatt Regency Winston Salem (N.C.) while a student at Winston-Salem University. His first blush with hospitality ended up being a lifelong avocation.

m.s.Education, he recently told The Hotel Insider, isn't the only cause he champions. In fact, it's difficult to name a New Orleans community program Smith isn't affiliated with. It was the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 that led him to take action. "Katrina had a profound impact on me,” he said. “I have always fashioned myself as a philanthropist and civil servant, but I truly felt as if I was needed by the city during that time of distress." In fact, his rebuilding efforts, which included spearheading the $285 million redevelopment of the storm-battered Hyatt Regency New Orleans, were so instrumental, the city officially proclaimed him an Unsung Hero.

According to the Corporation for National Community Service, only 25.3 percent of Americans volunteer, and when they do, they average 32.1 volunteer hours per year. Smith probably clocks that in a month. The number of boards he serves on is dizzying. He mentioned just two to me — the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau and the New Orleans Business Alliance. A quick google search of the city's various hospitality sectors, however, tells a more impressive story. It turns out he is also on the boards of the New Orleans Museum of Art, the New Orleans Aviation Board and the Audubon Nature Institute, and he was selected by Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu to help plan events for when the city celebrates the 300th anniversary of its founding next year.

Smith remains incredibly humble about his personal commitment to these demanding roles. He prefers to give credit to others. "I will contend that there is no other business or corporation that has done more for the city of New Orleans than our human resources office and our associate volunteers at Hyatt," he said. I think the city, his employees and the Mayor's office would beg to differ.

Congratulations, Michael Smith, on your honorary doctorate — a recognition well deserved.