By Artem Yerkanian
Managing some 1,000 employees is no easy task, but Mark Hoplamazian does it successfully. For the past ten years this prominent Armenian American businessman has been president and chief executive officer of the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, one of the largest hotel chains in the world. The chain numbers 573 hotels and employs staff in 58 countries, spanning five continents.
Hoplamazian inherited the entrepreneurial gene from his grandfather. Just before mass killings of Armenians began in the Ottoman Empire, he emigrated from Caesarea in Central Anatolia to the United States and opened a small market in Watertown, Massachusetts. “Even Armenians from other towns would visit him to do their shopping; the best basturma [Armenian beef jerky] in America was sold at my grandfather’s shop,” says Mark. “Armenians also loved my grandfather because he helped them. He transferred a significant part of his income to a foundation that financed the reunification of Armenian refugee families.”
Thanks to the family business, Mark’s parents were able to provide him with a good education. He obtained his MBA from Harvard Business School and went on to study at the University of Chicago.
While working at one of New York City’s investment banks, this promising young man was noticed by the managers running billionaire Jay Pritzker’s business. Thus at age 25 Mark started working for the Pritzker clan, one of America’s richest families: Forbes Magazine had estimated the family’s fortune at $29 billion. Hoplamazian initially dealt with the family’s financial affairs, later getting engaged with the hotel business. His stellar track record at Pritzker’s Hyatt eventually led to an offer to head the company in 2006. With the global financial downturn looming the hotel business was in for some difficult times, but Mark’s leadership helped to carry Hyatt through without losses, while its competitors, namely Marriott and Hilton, were vastly affected.
Two hundred and thirty new Hyatt hotels were opened under Hoplamazian’s supervision – nearly half of the total number of hotels in the chain. In just the past two years, Mark oversaw the grand openings of 65 new hotels.
To date Mark has secured hundreds of millions of dollars in profit for the Pritzker family business, while the current U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker is happy that her cousin Tom Pritzker had chosen Mark back in the day. But it wasn’t an easy choice to make because not everyone agreed with it. Some family members were convinced that an Armenian should not run a Jewish family business.
Mark was made an offer he seemingly couldn’t refuse: “A senior Pritzker told me that my last name was difficult to pronounce, and that it would be better for everyone if I changed it to Steinberg. It would supposedly help both business and my personal career,” says Mark. “I didn’t expect it. Before giving my final answer, I decided to explain my feelings in writing. I briefly presented my family story, described what the Hoplamazian family went through as Genocide survivors. I made it clear that I intended to stick to my roots. At the end of the letter, I just turned everything into a joke.” In the postscript, Hoplamazian wrote that if, after all, the Pritzkers still insist on him changing his name, they would have to invite him to Jewish Passover.
Tom Pritzker was not expecting such a diplomatic response.
After this letter, forcing Mark to change his name would have been plain immoral.
“He had presented his rejection in an extremely kind, but at the same time constructive way. I’ll never forget that,” Tom Pritzker later told The Chicago Tribune in an interview. Never again did Hoplamazian have any issues related to his heritage and identity.
Mark Hoplamazian is not just a man with an Armenian last name, but a true Armenian. From his childhood days, his parents instilled in him a love for his homeland. Mark first visited Armenia as a child. In 1977, as a 14-year-old student of an Armenian school, he was sent to a summer camp in Soviet Armenia. “I remember that wonderful journey perfectly. I spent a whole month at a youth camp near Kirovakan (present-day Vanadzor). I made friends with my local peers and felt authentically Armenian. I feel like that now as well,” says the president of Hyatt Hotels.
Despite his status and obligations toward his employers, Hoplamazian does not shun the subject of the Armenian Genocide. In his interviews he has repeatedly called for condemnation of the crime committed by the Young Turks’ government. That attitude has caused discontent on behalf of some Turkish and Azerbaijani lobbyists. In 2012 the Union of American Turkish Associations appealed to the Hyatt Company Council, suggesting that Hoplamazian’s views may be incompatible with the hotel chain’s expansion in Istanbul and Baku. Nevertheless, Hyatt successfully operates and prospers in Turkey and Azerbaijan, just like in 56 other countries. In 2013, the first Hyatt hotel was finally opened in Armenia as well. “The hotel opening in Yerevan was also a great opportunity for me to visit my ancestral homeland again. Yerevan has changed a lot. It has become even more beautiful. I am happy to see my homeland developing, despite everything that happened 100 years ago,” says Mark.