John and Cynthia Ruzic
Triton Alumnus, John Ruzic, Accrues a Lifetime of Achievements in the Hospitality Industry
After attending schools in the Chicagoland area and graduating as the fourth student from the bottom of his class, John Ruzic made a decision that would alter the educational path on which he was headed. Upon the urging of his mother, John decided to attend Triton College to study in the hospitality program in 1973 and since then, has had an impressive career in the industry. Ruzic reminisces about his mother’s urging of him to attend Triton and states, “I’m thankful everyday that she did.”
After graduating from Triton in 1975 with an Associate in Applied Science in Restaurant Management, Ruzic earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, both from Florida International University. Ruzic has held numerous positions throughout his career including restaurant manager for a number of establishments, Management Consultant for Laventhol & Horwath, Regional Vice President of Operations for Ramada Inns, Inc. and Owner of a Best Western Suites in Tampa, FL among many other roles.
Ruzic has been recognized for his many achievements throughout his career. He has received numerous awards including the Hotelier of the Year Award in 2001 by the Florida Hotel and Motel Association; the Platinum Award from Choice Hotels International for the years 1997-1999; Small Business of the Year by numerous professional associations in Florida and the University of South Florida Class of 1956 Award which installs recipients as honorary alumni of the institution based on their many achievements and contributions.
Ruzic is currently retired and resides in Las Vegas, Nevada with his wife.
What have been some obstacles you’ve had to overcome in pursuit of your educational and career goals?
I was a very poor student. My father had some pull and got me accepted to Michigan State in their hotel/restaurant program. My mother smartly talked me out of it and pushed me to Triton.
My father was very successful in the restaurant business and while attending Triton studying in the hospitality program and being the 17 or 18 year old expert on everything, I didn't take it seriously. I remember a hospitality instructor, Jens Nielsen, asking me to consider another major as clearly he thought I was just going through the motions my first year there, and he was RIGHT! He gave me a kick in the butt when I needed it most.
After working a late restaurant shift, I fell asleep during a final exam and Nielsen rightly failed me. I appealed for help from Joe Quagliano, the Director of the Hospitality Program at the time, and a few days later Nielsen brought me in his office and gave me the exam again. I knew the material, aced it and he passed me.
My fear was that had I not passed that class, I would have been set back by a year. I probably would not have finished at Triton and not transferred to Florida International University where I went on to receive my bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
What have been some sources of inspiration both in your career and in your life?
Sources of inspiration include Triton hospitality instructors Jens Nielsen and Joe Quagliano. Without them believing in me, I would not be where I am today.
What would you describe as your strong suit?
My strong suit is team building. You don't win because you can catch, hit or run. You cannot do it alone. It takes a team of people, firing on all cylinders, to win. That old phrase, “there is no ‘I’ in team” is forever true. Remember that you can’t do it all and that others have to have your back and you to have to have theirs as well.
How has Triton College impacted your life?
The beauty of Triton College is that regardless of your discipline, you are exposed to virtually every avenue of your major. When I attended Triton 40 years ago, I got a taste of a full range of restaurant services, ran the vending route, cooked in the campus grill, served banquets, had an internship in full service and limited service restaurants, etc. Leaving Triton, I was well prepared for the direction I chose.
What advice would you give someone who would like to pursue a career in your field?
Serve hot food hot and cold food cold. It really is that simple.
Learn the numbers side of your business and never forget it. Manage the business at the front door where the customers are. Managing the back door will only get you the alley.
“Greeting and celebrating the arrival of every customer that comes into your business will always make cold eggs appear to be just a little bit warmer.” - Michael E. Hurst, the greatest restaurateur that ever lived.
“The customer is always right, especially when they are wrong.” - My father
Hire employees to your strengths as well as your WEAKNESSES. The big winners remember the latter!
What are your words of wisdom for current Triton students?
The only thing in the way of your dreams is you. Never forget that. Also, you will need help along the way so don’t forget where you came from and stay grounded. If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm retired and I've had my 15 minutes of fame; however, I am considering writing a book about my adventures at the urging of my peers. I’ve also recently been involved with Ronald McDonald House Charities and raised $50,000 in 8 weeks for their organization. I plan to continue to participate in activities such as these. I also plan to learn how to putt. I’m addicted to golf!
I also plan to support students at Triton through a gift my wife, Cynthia and I are making to the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Though this gift, we are working to establish two permanent scholarships for the hospitality program at Triton. This is my way of saying thanks to Jens Nielsen and Joe Quagliano; without them I would have never had the resources to do it.