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.
James E. Dora Jr., 46
President and CEO
General Hotels Corp.
Operating under theInterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott and Hilton brands, General Hotels Corp. was founded in 1962 by Jim Dora’s father and uncle and operates hotels throughout Indiana, including the Crowne Plaza at Historic Union Station, Homewood Suites At-the-Crossing and the Holiday Inn North at the Pyramids and Caribbean Cove Indoor Water Park. Dora spearheads the company’s long-term-strategy development. He has led the company to develop a vision of its role in hospitality and has established it as a leading Indiana hotel-management company. He also oversees the corporation’s operation and has managed its capital construction projects.
Dora is involved in InterContinental Hotels and Resorts International Association of Holiday Inn Owner’s Association, a group pivotal in establishing direction for the brand. He also serves on InterContinental Hotels and Resorts’ Priority Club committee.
As a member of a family business, Dora started out washing dishes and putting furniture in hotel rooms as a young teen. His responsibilities have changed dramatically since his early days, but his enthusiasm has never waned. He likes all the customer interaction and the fact that his days are generally different.
“You never know what kind of problem is going to pop up, whether it’s a customer, employee or physical issue,” he said. “That keeps it interesting.”
Dora received his undergraduate degree in hospitality and tourism management from Purdue University. He serves on the boards of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, Purdue’s Hospitality and Tourism Strategic Alliance, Indianapolis Downtown Inc., and the Capital Improvement Board. Dora is an active volunteer reserve police officer for Indianapolis, where he holds the rank of sergeant. He is married and has two children.
Kelly Early, 41
Thomas Caterers of Distinction
Thomas Caterers of Distinction is a family business, begun in 1983 by Kelly Early’s parents. For Early, joining the family business after graduating from Ball State University was a logical step. She worked as an administrative assistant in the office and a supervisor of events until 2001, when her mother, Susann Thomas-Crannell, retired and Kelly was tapped as general manager.
Since Early assumed leadership at the company, Thomas Caterers has won more than 40 local and international awards and has gained a reputation for producing outstanding catered events, managing about 500 events annually. Thomas Caterers also operates TODD by Thomas, a wedding cake business; and Cornerstone Catering and the Double Eagle Café, both at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. For more than a year, Early has devoted time and energy to the design, construction and marketing of the company’s new venue, D’Amore Event of Indianapolis, which is on the 48th floor of the Chase Tower.
Early has written several articles for national trade publications and speaks regularly on various industry-related topics at venues across the country, including colleges, conferences and industry events. She has been actively involved in the International Special Events Society, Indiana Chapter, including serving on the board, as the society’s president, as the Midwest regional vice president, and on the national organization’s international relations committee. When she was regional vice president, the Midwest region won the award for region of the year.
Michael A. Fox, 48
Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium
In 1984, Mike Fox began an internship at the then-named Indiana Convention Center and Hoosier Dome. An Indiana University student, where he was a basketball manager under Coach Bob Knight, Fox graduated in 1985, and his internship turned into full-time employment in January of that year. Fox found the organization an ideal fit and worked his way up to event coordinator, sports director and finally stadium director of the RCA Dome, a position he has held since 1989.
Fox played an integral role in numerous high-profile RCA Dome events, including the 1987 Pan American Games, the 1987 World Indoor Track & Field Championships, the 1991 World Gymnastics Championships, the 2002 World Basketball Championship and the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Wrestling, along with Colts-NFL playoffs. He has also served on the local organizing committee for the NCAA Women’s Final Four, the NCAA Men’s Final Four and the bid committees for the 2012 Super Bowl and 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Fox was influential in the growth of the RCA Dome, overseeing major renovations, and was part of the design team for Lucas Oil Stadium. Fox is currently involved in preparing for upcoming events planned for Lucas Oil Stadium: the Super Bowl, 2015 NCAA Men’s Final Four, Drum Corps International Championships, Circle City Classic and Bands of America, among other national and international events.
Born in Richmond, Fox is married and has two sons. In his spare time, he enjoys refereeing high school and college basketball, coaching youth sports and playing golf. Fox is a member of the Stadium Managers Association and the Association of Retractable Roof Operators Worldwide.
Rick Fuson, 57
Chief Operating Officer
Pacers Sports and Entertainment
Market Square Arena was just a decade old when Rick Fuson joined the Pacers’ organization in 1984 as director of special events for Market Square Arena. Fuson steadily moved up in the organization and the Pacers moved to their current home at Conseco Fieldhouse in 1999, a move Fuson helped orchestrate. He’s gained the reputation for being able to manage big events, having produced the opening ceremonies of the 2001 World Police and Fire Games and the closing ceremonies of the 1987 Pan Am Games. He has served on the organizing committee for every local Big Ten Basketball Championship and currently serves on the 2012 Super Bowl Committee.
If there’s a big event downtown, Fuson is almost certain to be part of it or to have been consulted about it. He serves on the boards of Indianapolis Downtown Inc., the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, Indiana Sports Corp., Pacers Foundation and the 2012 Super Bowl Committee. He is a member of the International Association of Assembly Managers.
During his career, he has received such honors as the Indianapolis Ambassadors 1988 Community Service Award and has been named to IBJ’s “Who’s Who in Sports” and “Forty under Forty.” He has been active with the Indianapolis Fellowship of Christian Athletes. A lifelong resident of Indianapolis and a graduate of Indiana University, Fuson has three children.
Chris Gahl, 33
Director of Communications
Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association
Chris Gahl serves as director of communication for the ICVA, making him the company’s official spokesman. He also develops communication strategy and directs public relations activities to help drive tourism. Before joining the ICVA in 2005, he was part owner of a public relations firm in Hawaii that represented, among other clients, both the Oahu and Maui visitors bureaus.
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Gahl graduated from Butler University and sits on the career services board of the university and is a past member of Butler’s Young Alumni Board. A graduate of Pike High School, he sits on his alma mater’s alumni board. He is on the local organizing committees of the Big Ten Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament and on the board for One Film Can, an ambitious campaign to raise funds for Heartland Truly Moving Pictures. He is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, an organization that will hold its North American meeting in Indianapolis in 2012, and the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee. In conjunction with the Super Bowl, Gahl has traveled to three Super Bowls to promote Indianapolis and tourism. He is a past board member of the Hoosier chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
Gahl and his wife, Catherine, have two young sons.