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Award Ignites Hotel Company CEO's Passion for Giving to Entrepreneurship

Michael Gallegos, President and CEO, American Property Management Corporation

Michael Gallegos's mother taught him two secrets to success: Always give more than expected and always give back more than you receive.

Gallegos has done both, from the time he was 11 years old working fulltime as a parking lot attendant for a four-star hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to today as president and CEO of American Property Management Corporation (APMC), the company he co-founded in 1990. Fifteen years later, with a portfolio exceeding $1 billion, APMC ranks as the seventh largest independent hotel management company and the 15th largest hotel owner in the United States, generating more than $350 million in annual revenue.

"A hotel is a vital part of the community, and you have to give back to the community that you take from. That's been our basic philosophy from the beginning," says Gallegos, explaining why APMC contributes more than $3.5 million in financial and in-kind donations to everything from the YMCA and United Way to Scouting and Little League and the American Cancer Society.

However, until about a year ago, giving back to entrepreneurship was not a significant element on Gallegos's radar screen. He had been active for several years in the San Diego Chapter of the Young President's Organization as a forum moderator, board member and currently as the chapter's forum officer. He's also informally mentored dozens of young professionals in his corporate office as well as his hotels' management training programs.

But in November 2004 Gallegos was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award winner in the Real Estate/Hospitality/Construction Category. The experience and its aftermath made him realize how much more he could do to help emerging entrepreneurs.

The Ideal Judge

True to form, it wasn't long before he was giving back to entrepreneurship – more than expected and more than he had been given.

Gallegos began to get a sense of the many ways he could give when Gail Naughton, dean of the College of Business Administration at San Diego State University, asked him to judge a business plan competition for the college's Entrepreneurial Management Center.

Naughton had been a judge for the Ernst & Young regional competition in the real estate category when Gallegos was a finalist and had been impressed not only with the fact that he was running one of the largest hotel and real estate management firms in the country but by his background prior to starting company.

Gallegos was 16 years old when he was named front desk manager of the four-star hotel in Santa Fe and promoted again at 17 to assistant general manager. Following high school graduation, he became the youngest general manager of a four-star hotel in the history of the United States.

Gallegos put himself through the University of New Mexico in nearby Albuquerque while overseeing the hotel but resigned during his senior year to fulfill duties as student body president. Elected to serve after that as president of the six million-member American Student Association, Gallegos spent a year in Washington, D.C., where he successfully lobbied the U.S. House of Representatives to enact the first state-sponsored student work study program, creating millions of jobs for students nationwide.

Returning to Albuquerque, Gallegos built APMC from the purchase of one foreclosed hotel.

"Michael's background and expertise made him ideal as a judge for our Entrepreneurial Management Center's business plan competition," says Naughton. "He was able to work closely with the teams to help each and every team get a better result for their plan."

Soon, Gallegos was invited to judge a similar competition at the University of California at San Diego. In the past year, he has also delivered several guest lectures at San Diego State and the University of New Mexico. Asked how much time he devotes to judging, Gallegos estimates about two days to prepare and one day to judge. "It's a sacrifice of time," he says, "but it's all part of giving back."

Tip of the Iceberg

Still, Gallegos sees what he's done so far as just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of what he can do to make a difference.

Gallegos is creating a private foundation that will provide scholarships for up-and-coming entrepreneurs. One of the foundation's first beneficiaries is likely to be the University of New Mexico, where he's planning to endow scholarships for undergraduates in the business school’s hospitality and tourism department

He’s also committed to strengthening his company’s internship program.

In the past, APMC offered internships to people when they asked for one or came recommended. Naughton's invitation to judge the business plan competition sparked Gallegos’ desire to formalize the program.

Gallegos is now working with Naughton at San Diego State as well as the business schools at the University of California at San Diego and De Paul University in Chicago to recruit, interview and place interns in his company.

Joseph Chavez Jr., 20, a recently hired intern from San Diego working at the Country Inn and Suites in Albuquerque, recalls his interview with Gallegos.

"I was nervous at first, but he is a real down to earth guy who knows where he comes from."

After earning a degree in business with a focus on hotel management, Chavez hopes to work his way up to hotel manager. The experience he's getting now as an assistant to the hotel's director of operations has made him realize how much teamwork is involved in running a hotel.

Gallegos expects to have as many as eight paid interns working in their fields of study on board by the end of 2005.

"To have a CEO of this huge company interview seniors in college, place them in areas they're interested in and oversee not only the intern but the person to whom they report is a big deal and very unusual," says Naughton.

Gallegos is personally involved in the in the program now because he wants it to be "just right." Once launched, he will turn it over to his human relations department.

"I'm very hopeful we will be able to retain every intern," he says. "I'm being as selective in hiring interns as I have been in identifying key personnel."

For Gallegos, 2005 has been a year of unprecedented opportunity and accomplishment in giving back to entrepreneurship. Still, humbly, he remains more excited about what’s to come than what he’s done so far.

"This is just the beginning," he says. "I'm not a finished product as far as my initiatives for entrepreneurs. So check with me in five years. I'm hoping at that time I can claim a measure of success."

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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