Days before the 99th anniversary of the School of Hotel Administration, an extraordinary gift gave it a new name: the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration. This historic $50 million commitment from Peter Nolan ’80, MBA ’82, and Stephanie Nolan ’84 will make it possible to extend financial aid to generations of highly qualified students and increase the socioeconomic diversity of the student body.

Peter and Stephanie Nolan standing outside their home with their two dogs Maci and Bailey at their feet.

Peter and Stephanie Nolan at home with Maci and Bailey.

Peter and Stephanie Nolan at home with Maci and Bailey.

The Nolans and their children are a full-fledged Cornell SC Johnson College of Business family. Stephanie and daughter Ellie ’20, MPS ’21, are both Hotelies. Peter earned an MBA from the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, and he and sons Michael ’16 and Bobby ’18 attended the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management—as did Peter’s siblings, Elizabeth ’79, Mary ’82, and Joe ’96, as well as their father, David J. Nolan ’49, MS ’51.

Peter and Stephanie Nolan endowed the Dyson School’s David J. Nolan Deanship in his honor in 2011. Also in Dyson, they endowed the Peter and Stephanie Nolan Professorship and the Nolan Family Scholarship. In the Johnson School, they created the Peter and Stephanie Nolan Veterans Professional Scholarship.

As reported in 2021, the Nolans’ historic gift establishing the Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration was matched one-to-three by challenge funds from H. Fisk Johnson ’79, MEng ’80, MS ’82, MBA ’84, PhD ’86, and the SC Johnson Company. The match, as part of the gift to name the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business in 2017, generated more than $16 million for the Peter and Stephanie Nolan Veterans Professional Scholarship Fund in Johnson and the Nolan Family Scholarship Fund in Dyson.

Peter Nolan is the founder and chairman of Nolan Capital, whose hospitality-related holdings include Fresh Brothers Pizza, a Los Angeles-based chain of 22 pizza delivery stores, and ExplorUS, which manages the guest concessions for 60 U.S. parks under licensing agreements with the National Park Service. He was a managing partner at Leonard Green & Partners, a $75 billion private equity firm in southern California, for 17 years; since 2014, he has served the firm as a senior advisor. While he was a managing partner, the company invested in Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group and bought a controlling interest in the Palms Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

At Cornell, he is a presidential councillor and an emeritus member of the Board of Trustees, on which he served from 2004 to 2016. He serves on the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business Leadership Council and the Nolan School Dean’s Advisory Board. He served previously on the SC Johnson College’s Ad-Hoc Campaign Committee.

Stephanie Nolan worked for the L’Ermitage Hotel Group and was the resident manager of the Sunset Marquis Hotel and Villas in West Hollywood, California. She has been a dedicated volunteer with the American Martyrs Catholic Church community in Manhattan Beach, California. In addition, she and Peter are passionate about funding programs in early childhood education to enhance enrollment and learning. Project management takes up much of her time; most recently, she has been helping friends arrange for ADA conversions to their homes after their loved ones suffered disabling accidents.

The Nolans’ children all work in business: Michael at a real estate investment firm, Bobby as an investment banker, and Ellie in commercial real estate.

Stephanie grew up in Ithaca, where her father, Robert S. Perry, practiced medicine. He took his residency in ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. Her mother was active with organizations in the community. Stephanie’s sister still lives in Ithaca. Peter grew up southeast of Syracuse, New York, and he has a large extended family in that area.

Hotelie visited with the Nolans in their home on Cayuga Lake in late August 2022 to find out more about them and the spirit behind their generosity to Cornell. Here are the Nolans, in their own words.

Peter and Stephanie Nolan sit on their couch with one of their dogs sitting on Stephanie's lap.
Peter and Stepanie Nolan sit on their couch with one dogs head on Stephanie's lap and another laying on the couch next to her.

What have your reasons been for supporting students and programs at Cornell over the years?

Peter: For both of us, attending Cornell was a life-changing experience, and education is critical to us. It’s such a game-changer for an individual to have the opportunity to go to a place like Cornell. Over the years, we’ve wanted to try to create more access, whether it’s in what’s now the Dyson program, or, you know, Stephanie and I have been a big sponsor of U.S. military veterans attending the Johnson School. And now with the hotel school, what we’re trying to do is increase access, particularly for people in the middle class who are struggling to afford college. Those near the top of the economic spectrum can easily attend college; they may not get in, but they can easily attend college. For the lowest quartile, there are a number of programs. What we did was to try to create increasing access for students in the middle. The hotel school is, of course, a fabulous program, globally recognized as the best in the industry.

“For both of us, attending Cornell was a life-changing experience, and education is critical to us. It’s such a game-changer for an individual to have the opportunity to go to a place like Cornell. ... Our hope is that this gift will allow increased access to Cornell for deserving students."
—Peter Nolan ’80 (Dyson), MBA ’82

Stephanie: We want to make the hotel school more accessible to students of all socioeconomic levels so they can really take hold of their futures and go out into the world and use that education to make the world a better place … you know, work hard, be a good person, and ultimately give back.

For the transformative gift that created the Nolan School, can you say more about what inspired you to make it?

Peter: It was our 30th anniversary and a surprise for Stephanie, who has such a strong passion for the hotel school. It was an opportunity to couple our charitable aspirations with my really wanting to try to honor Stephanie.

Stephanie: And make a difference for the students.

Peter: And make a difference for the students. We think it is a special program, and our hope is that this gift will allow increased access to Cornell for deserving students.

And, you know, we met here. We met here for literally—when I say literally, I mean literally—30 seconds. We did not know each other at school, but we met here. We were married on campus. We’re both from upstate New York.

So how did you meet?

Peter: My sister was in Stephanie’s sorority, and I was picking her up. Stephanie just happened to be there in the hallway.

Stephanie: Along with 18 other girls.

You were the one with the light beaming on you.

Peter: Yes.

Stephanie: I never heard from him again, let’s put it that way. Until after we graduated.

How did you finally get together?

Peter: I worked in New York City in investment banking for two years, and then I was transferred out to Los Angeles. That was in 1984. I really didn’t know anybody in LA, but a friend of mine who went to the hotel school with Stephanie called me up and said, Do you remember her? And I said, “Oh, yeah, I remember her.” And he said, “Well, she’s moving out to Los Angeles.” So I called up her roommate, who I kind of knew, and ultimately was reintroduced to Stephanie.

Very nice. Stephanie, what did you think of him?

Stephanie: We talked for a while the first time we were together, and I came home and said to my roommate, “I could marry him.” We had a lot of things in common.

So, now, back to the school, you’ve made this wonderful gift, which can open up so much for the school. What would you like to see happen at the school now that it’s embarking on its second century? How would you like to see the school move forward?

Peter: You know, I think the school is really interesting. And it’s evolved. As everyone knows, it started out as a hotel and hospitality program. And now, there’s still the hospitality operations and hospitality business components, like services marketing and hospitality analytics, but you also have a significant number of the graduates go into real estate and finance. It’s the undisputed No. 1 in hotel and hospitality. And although it’s not ranked, if you will, in real estate, at least to my knowledge, it really has become the preeminent real estate program. I’m just hoping to see the school continue its preeminence in all areas.

It’s an extraordinarily competitive world out there. It’s really interesting that real estate is a multitrillion-dollar part of the economy, but it doesn’t get the focus in business schools that it gets in the hotel program.

And, you know, Hotelies are the happiest students. They seem to really enjoy the program, and they have a tremendous amount of affinity towards the program. We want to see that continue.

Can you say more about what’s behind your support for veterans?

Peter: During the second Gulf War, there were a lot of veterans coming back to the U.S., and we decided that trying to encourage them to come to Cornell, particularly in the MBA program, would benefit them. It would also benefit the school. I had a career in banking before I went to the private equity industry, and I’ve done a lot of recruiting from MBA programs. We’ve found that the students that come out of a military background tend to outperform the rest of the student population. It was our feeling that having veterans on campus would increase the presence of a world perspective that a student who hadn’t served in the military just wouldn’t have. So we thought it would create a cohort of graduates that are extraordinarily desirable for employers, and we thought it would be enriching for Cornell as well.

I pretty much paid for my education out of pocket; I have had a job since I was 11. I actually tried to go to the Air Force Academy before I went to Cornell, and I didn’t get in, but part of the attraction to the Air Force Academy for me would have been that it was free tuition. I worked during my entire time at Cornell. I was even a janitor on West Campus during my final MBA semester.

We had an event at the house here this past weekend where we had 32 Nolan Veterans Scholarship recipients, and if you could just hear their stories … We had everyone stand up and talk about their backgrounds and what they did in the service, and it was really impressive. This is an impressive group of young men and women. Right now it’s late August, and every single one of them in second year already has a job, so you know it is a very, very desirable cohort of graduates. I’m sure the rest of the MBA program does well, but these folks do especially well.

Back when you were thinking about going to school, what drew you to Cornell?

Peter: Well, I didn’t get into the Air Force Academy. I wasn’t a Cornell-caliber student, so I went to another school, Niagara University, for three semesters. I did extremely well at Niagara, and after being there for a couple of semesters, I thought, “Gosh, if I can go to Cornell, I should try to do that.” So I was a transfer. I was in what today is the Dyson School, but at the time it was called Agricultural Economics.

My dad did go here. My dad was originally a dairy farmer in upstate New York, and he lost his arm in a farm accident. He did a lot of different things after that but ultimately went into banking. He did some work for the Department of Agriculture, and then he ran a group of community banks in upstate New York. All my siblings went here as well, ultimately.

Stephanie, why did you decide to go to Cornell?

Stephanie: My dad. I grew up in Ithaca and wanted to go away for college, to go experience something different. And while I was filling out applications, he said, “Why don’t you apply to the Cornell hotel school?” He said, “It’s a great program.” I thought I would go to a liberal arts program somewhere for four years and then do two years of business school, and he said, “You can get your degree in four years and launch your career right away.” He said, “You really should consider it.” I was accepted and received a scholarship, which was very much appreciated, as I had a college loan looming regardless of where I went to school. My friend [Patti Keller ’84] was going as well, and we were excited that we could be roommates and fellow Hotelies.

What does hospitality mean to you?

Stephanie: I think service comes from the heart. I think most of us have it within us. Some of us tap into it a little deeper than others, and definitely being at a place like the hotel school, it gets into your core.

“I think service comes from the heart. I think most of us have it within us. Some of us tap into it a little deeper than others, and definitely being at a place like the hotel school, it gets into your core.”
—Stephanie Nolan ’84

When I was growing up in Ithaca, we weren’t a traveling family. I was probably in two hotels in my whole life before school, and I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But I loved it. I knew I wasn’t cut out for a desk job, as I really don’t sit still, and I needed to interact with people. I was a problem-solver. I loved to make sure that everyone was comfortable and had what they needed.

After I graduated, I went out to open Le Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood for the ’84 Summer Olympics and stayed there for several years. I worked with an amazing team of service leaders from around the world and learned so much from them all. And two of my classmates from the hotel school joined me there as well, one in sales and marketing and the other in food and beverage. I was in the front office.

It was fun and definitely very enlightening to this small-town girl. I took the little knowledge of service that I had and elevated it to a whole new level. I found it exhilarating—no two days were the same.

Peter: It was a Hollywood hotel.

Stephanie: It was a real riot. Oh my gosh, I could write a book. It was crazy.

Peter: You had, like, Madonna …

Stephanie: Oh, we had everybody. We watched Madonna grow up, along with many others. We had models, musicians, artists, and movie stars. I wasn’t of the cloth that was really that interested in who they were, but I really enjoyed delivering the attention and service level they required.

And then I moved to the Sunset Marquis. That was also in West Hollywood. We had beautiful villas and gardens on acres of land with two pools and a pond—it was spectacular. There, we had butler service. It was really all about service in that hotel, and the more we could do to make our guests comfortable, the better. We were moving pianos, we were buying specific flavors of jelly beans and gum, floating roses in tubs, removing numbers for a superstitious guest, buying special colors of linens as requested, and the list goes on. I really loved all the craziness.

What was the most fun you ever had as a Hotelie?

Stephanie: Oh, my gosh, I have so many great memories! I adored my classmates and enjoyed the variety of courses in our curriculum, from Wines with Vance Christian to … oh, I loved the design courses and the casino management course. We actually went to Atlantic City; we went to Canada, went to Bally’s, and spent a week really being on properties and learning hands-on what was going on.

And we did a lot of group projects. That’s what I really loved; we became very close as a class because of that. It was always fun working with other students. It gave us the tools and confidence we needed to go out into the industry and become leaders.

We have a lot of Cornell in our hearts; so many of our friends from Cornell are still very close. When we all get together, we forget we have been apart for decades doing “grown-up” things. We truly fall back in time. And that’s just one of the best things that can come out of your college years, right?

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