September 28, 2021

Carl Winston | The Business of Meetings Podcast

We are delighted to be speaking to an amazing leader in our industry today! Carl Winston is the Founding Director of the Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at San Diego State University and acts as Senior Advisor to the Caspian Agency. Carl enjoys volunteering and educating people in the industry. He is a thought leader who loves to challenge traditional ways of thinking.

In this episode, Carl shares his story and talks about what he has learned throughout his career. We also have an edgy and stimulating discussion about the value of COVID, the future of the meetings and events industry, allyship, and the importance of life-long learning.

We hope you enjoy listening to our thought-provoking conversation with Carl Winston today!

Carl Winston’s bio:

Carl Winston has over 35 years of experience in a variety of senior executive-level hospitality, event, and tourism industry positions in academia and the “real world.”

He is the founding Director of the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at San Diego State University. Launched in 2001, the School has earned a global reputation for its innovations, rigor, relevance, and near-perfect placement rate for graduates.

Winston acts as a Senior Advisor to Caspian Agency. In that role, he helps Caspian clients clarify their strategic goals and adapt to the rapidly changing methods for event production.

He also owns Real World Academics, a firm that conducts projects from economic impact studies to acquisition and development for small companies and large, including Disney, Marriott, and Four Seasons. RWA also provides Asset Management services to hotel owners.

He served on MPI’s International Board of Directors for seven years and is the creator of the groundbreaking Master’s Degree in Meeting and Event Management in partnership with MPI Global.

Carl was named one of The Top 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry by Successful Meetings in 2018 and one of the Top 500 Event Producers by BizBash in 2018.

He has received numerous other industry accolades and is a sitting member of the Editorial Content Board for Smart Meetings Magazine.

He was also the founding Managing Director of the non-profit China Hospitality Education Initiative (CHEI). CHEI was launched in 2013 and supported more nearly 400 colleges and universities with 400,000 students by 2020.

Before moving into academia, he had run hundreds of hotels and restaurants throughout the U.S. and Canada. He also ran a chain of small theme parks and started his professional career in public accounting.

Carl Winston has been involved with more than 30 local, regional, and international industry associations and groups where he has served in leadership positions and Boards of Directors.

His education includes a B.A. in Sociology from the University of California, San Diego, and a Master’s of Professional Studies in Hotel Administration, Cornell University.

Carl’s story

When Carl asked for a car at the age of fifteen, his mom suggested that he work as a dishwasher in the restaurant she worked in, to earn the money he needed. After a while, he told his mom that he would rather be a Vice President than a dishwasher. In fact, he wanted to be a Vice President by the time he was thirty!


After high school, Carl applied to Cornell University but got turned down. So he went to Community College instead to do hospitality studies. After completing his studies at Community College, he applied to Cornell University as a transfer student and got rejected again. So he went to the University of California in San Diego and received a degree in Sociology and Economics. After a while, he applied to go to Grad School at Cornell University and finally got accepted!


Going to Cornell was life-changing for Carl because he learned about networking and how to think in creative and strategic ways.

Hotel financing

After university, he moved to Los Angeles, California. He worked in hotel financing, feasibility, and appraisals for five years before moving back to San Diego.

A great career

He had a great career. He worked his way up to manager before he was thirty years old. Then he quit, started working in a hotel company for some of his clients, and became VP of Operations before turning thirty! The company had thirteen properties, and within five years, they grew the company to 125 hotels!

Focused on success

Carl was not a nice person back then because he was way too focused on success. He was tough, hard-driving, results-driven, and unfriendly.


Several bad exits and getting fired twice were humbling experiences for Carl and helped him grow up, change, and become a better person.

Business failure

Carl feels that the time he spent working for a repo company helped him become an expert on business failure.

Hospitality school

Being asked to be on the advisory board of a new hospitality school and the years he spent helping build the curriculum softened Carl into becoming a nicer person. It also helped him to understand the benefits of giving back rather than taking.

The largest school network in the industry

Carl built a school network in China that included 400 schools with 400,000 students in Hospitality and Event Management just before the coronavirus pandemic. It was an initiative funded by the Marriott Family Foundation.

How COVID was the best thing

Carl believes that COVID was the best thing ever for meetings professionals because it froze the industry. It resulted in people doing things differently. They started asking the right questions, wanting the reason and purpose for the meetings, and asking what the value-add for the meetings would be.

Undervalued and misunderstood

Meeting professionals across the world are undervalued and misunderstood. People tend to underestimate all the work and planning that goes into creating a meeting or event. Carl feels that on the other side of COVID, meeting professionals will be better understood, and their value proposition will be more solid.

Carl Winston’s advice for hoteliers

Hoteliers should start figuring out how to run hybrid meetings. Carl asserts that they need to start investing in technology to allow people to watch the meeting sessions from the safety of their hotel rooms or around the pool on their iPads.


We won’t get anywhere if the only people who feel passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion are the minorities. Carl has been thinking of ways for minorities to become more effective allies. He has also been getting his team to help him get better at practicing diversity and inclusion.

Carl Winston on life-long learning

We should never stop educating ourselves. Carl encourages you to keep on reinventing yourself and learning new things.

Connect with Carl

On LinkedIn

Connect with Eric: On LinkedIn | On Facebook | On Instagram | Website

If you’d rather watch the video of this interview, subscribe on YouTube.

About the author 

Eric Rozenberg

For two decades, Eric Rozenberg has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and produced conferences in more than 50 countries across diverse industries. His focus is creating meetings that are not only breathtakingly memorable but which bring corporate strategies to life and amplify team motivation/performance.

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