The women and men listed here represent some of the key players in the hospitality sector, which we’ve broadly defined to cover arts, entertainment, food service, lodging, recreation and tourism. The names come from our own news staff, peer recommendations and public nominations—a long list, which was peer reviewed and culled to create the list that follows. For a variety of reasons, three individuals who made the final list are not depicted here; they are: Chris Ratay, director of marketing at the Omni-Severin Hotel; Stephanie Schulz, director of conventions and meetings at the NCAA; and Bruce White, president and CEO of White Lodging.
Scott Blalock, 49
Vice President and General Manager
JW Marriott Indianapolis
As general managerof the biggest Mar-riott in the world, Indianapolis’ Big Blue, Scott Blalock found himself in the spotlight in February as the hotel opened with much media attention. Although his title hitches him to the Marriott, he actually works for White Lodging, a Merrillville-based company that develops and manages premium hotels, including more than 100 Marriott properties.
Blalock joined White Lodging in 2006 as regional vice president for the Chicago/Northwest Indiana area, a position he held until becoming general manager of the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown, which was the city’s largest hotel until the opening of the JW Marriott.
About 22 years ago, when Blalock graduated from Southwest Texas State University, he realized the economy was moving toward service.
“I loved hospitality and wanted to get with a company that would offer training and opportunities,” he said. He went to the phone book and called hotels in Austin, asking if he could visit with the general manager. The general manager at the Austin Marriott spent about an hour with the ambitious young man, which led to his joining the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter. Blalock stayed with Marriott until joining White Lodging. Within the Marriott organization, he has worked in various capacities and in a range of Marriott brands: Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inns and SpringHill Suites, among others. His final assignment before joining White Lodging was as general manager of Marriott’s Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, near Houston, Blalock has been in Indianapolis for three years. He and his wife, Renee, have two children.
Michael G. Browning, 62
President and CEO
Browning Investments Inc.
As resumes go in Indianapolis, Michael Browning’s is a blockbuster. Over the past several decades, his professional career has been in real estate: chairman of the board and president of Browning Investments Inc., since 1981, and as owner of Browning Construction.
His hospitality credentials hang on his civic contributions, which are mighty. Browning has been driving the city’s future for decades, having served on the boards of the Indianapolis Project, Indianapolis Downtown Inc. and the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee. He has been one of the key players in turning Indianapolis into the amateur sports capital of the nation. Currently, he is chairman of the board of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, a critical role this year, as the city prepares for the Super Bowl and scrambles to fill the vacancy left by Don Welsh, the ICVA president and CEO who decamped for Chicago at the end of January.
Browning also serves on many boards, including those of the Indianapolis Urban League, the Indianapolis Golf Foundation, the Indiana Sports Corp., the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis Regional Economic Development Partnership, Special Olympics and St. Vincent Health.
A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Browning serves on the school’s Graduate School Advisory Council and is a recipient of its Notre Dame Man of the Year award. He was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash from governors Bayh and Kernan and holds honorary doctorates from Marian College and Martin University. He is the 2010 recipient of the Charles L. Whistler Award, honoring Browning’s leadership in bringing public and private sectors together for civic improvement—the highest award given by the Mayor’s Office.
John D. Clark III, 50
Executive Director and CEO
Indianapolis Airport Authority
Coming here direct, nonstop from Jack-sonville, Fla., John Clark has been the man in charge since the opening of the city’s new airport, the first post-9/11-designed-and-built airport in the world. While that airport is certainly the best known of the airfields Clark oversees, he also has responsibility for all the greater metropolitan fields, including Eagle Creek, Hendricks County and the downtown heliport.
Locally, Clark is serving on the boards of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association and the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee. He holds a degree in aviation administration, as well as a master’s degree in public administration, and is a past board member of the American Association of Airport Executives.
Clark has an ace in the hole for this coming year: He was in Jacksonville serving as executive director and CEO of the airport when that city hosted the Super Bowl, so he knows how to field the demands and related complications. Before his work in Jacksonville, he worked as Detroit’s airport director and CEO and held management positions with airports in Sacramento County and Fresno in California.
An accredited airport executive, Clark is a past board member of the American Association of Airport Executives and the immediate past chairman of the 2009 Airports Council International NA and is a member of the ACI World Governing Board. He holds degrees from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and Golden Gate University.
Brian Comes, 45
Hyatt Regency Indianapolis
During Brian Comes’ tenure as GM ofthe Hyatt, he has overseen more than $16 million in renovations to the hotel, including the addition of a ballroom and restaurant and a complete remodel of the lobby. This year, he is overseeing renovations to the guest rooms and the Eagle’s Nest, the hotel’s revolving, roof-top restaurant. Comes is proud of the fact that the average length of service at the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis is more than nine years, which he attributes to the hotel’s being a wage leader in the local market and to wage increases and full-time benefits provided to associates even during the recession. Comes has been with Hyatt Hotels Corp. since 1988, and during that time has worked in many cities, including San Diego and New Orleans, before arriving in Indianapolis in 2007.
Comes has been active in the city’s hospitality sector, currently serving as president of the Greater Indianapolis Hotel and Lodging Association and as a member of the Super Bowl host committee. Comes was nominated Hyatt’s General Manager of the Year in 2008 and was awarded Hyatt’s Donald N. Pritzker Sales Service Award in 2001 as Director of Catering and Convention Services at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego.
A graduate of James Madison University, he and his wife have two children.
Michael I. Crowther, 58
President and CEO
Indianapolis Zoological Society
Michael Crowther was appointed president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoological Society in 2002. Crowther’s passion is the conservation of wild things and wild places, and he believes that the accredited zoos and aquariums of the world can play an important role in building connections between humans and nature, resulting in increased personal conservation action. While at the zoo, Crowther has presided over the creation and implementation of the Indianapolis Prize program, the world’s largest award for animal conservation. He developed the Indianapolis Zoo’s strategy of promoting sustainable behaviors.
As a professional fellow of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Crowther serves on several boards, committees and task forces, including those of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the National Elephant Center and the International Species Information System. Locally, he serves on the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association board and is a member of the IUPUI Museum Advisory Council and the CELL/BioCrossroads Task Force.
Crowther has led Indianapolis Zoo expeditions to Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, Madagascar, Alaska and other locations as part of the zoo’s mission to “empower people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation.”
Before coming to Indianapolis, he headed the New Jersey State Aquarium. Crowther, who was born in England and came to the United States when young, and his wife, Eileen, are parents to two daughters.