His friends and family members weren’t surprised when they learned that Karim Lakhani would be graduating at the top of his class from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Just last month, Karim, who grew up in Skokie, earned his Bachelor of Science degree with the highest possible distinction – Summa Cum Laude. He also received the designation of First Degree Marshall, a prestigious honor that allowed him to join the college dean and lead the procession of students during the 146th Cornell University Commencement Ceremony.
“It was an incredible day,” said Lakhani, who graduated #1 from the Ivy League school with three minors (Law & Society, Near Eastern Studies, and History), and whose thesis on the impact of unionization on hotel employees, service, and profitability garnered tremendous praise and accolades from his professors. “Having my family with me as I received my diploma made it that much more meaningful.”
Karim moved to Skokie with his mother, father and two older sisters when he was just one-year old. He attended Fairview South from kindergarten through eighth grade, and then headed to Niles West High School, where he discovered a passion for business. As an extracurricular activity, he became involved with the international business organization DECA and soon became the VP of the Illinois State Chapter. During his senior year, he placed in the Top 10 of the 2010 International Competition for Entrepreneurship held in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Karim was a very bright and inquisitive kid,” recalls his older sister Sheila Lakhani Gilani, who is the Director of Operations for the family business, Lakhani Hospitality, which owns several properties throughout the Chicagoland area including the Holiday Inn Chicago North Shore in Skokie. “The fact that he has achieved so much academic success doesn’t surprise me,” she says. “With his grades and his class rank, he could have easily gotten a job anywhere in the world,” she adds. “I’m so grateful that he’s come home to work with us!”
In 2004, when Karim was 13 years old, his father Mansoorali Lakhani, founded Lakhani Hospitality with the purchase of the Holiday Inn in Skokie. Karim loved going to work with his dad and quickly learned the ins and outs of the hospitality industry by shadowing his father and eventually working for him each summer. As Lakhani Hospitality grew with the acquisition of additional hotels, Karim would work at each one in various capacities. “I knew, early on, that the hotel industry would be for me,” he says. “My father was always my role model, and I hoped that someday I would walk in his footsteps.”
Starting this month, he is doing just that by joining his sister Sheila, his father, and his mother Shamim Lakhani as the Assistant Director of Operations for Lakhani Hospitality. “I was anxious to come home and to start working for the family business,” says Karim. “My parents worked very hard to put me through school and have given me so many opportunities and a tremendous education,” he says. “I’m looking forward to putting everything I learned to good use, and helping Lakhani Hospitality continue its growth and success.”
In his role as Assistant Director of Operations, Karim has developed both short and long term goals for Lakhani Hospitality. “My first priority is to continue building on our brand by conveying our company’s positive image and direction both internally and externally,” explains Karim, who also intends to introduce cost saving measures, new technology and effective best practices at the various properties. “I also hope to expand the company by purchasing existing hotels and building new, innovative properties that will help Lakhani Hospitality extend its reach and influence,” he adds.
Lakhani would also like to grow the family’s management end of the company by consulting and running hotels for other owners. “In 10 years from now, I hope that Lakhani Hospitality will become one of the leading hotel and restaurant ownership and management companies in the nation.”
“If anyone can make it happen, it’s Karim,” says his sister. “I’m eleven years older than he is and I’ve watched him grow up,” she adds. “Not only is he smart, but he’s one of the most motivated and determined people I know. If he puts his mind to something, he’s going to do whatever it takes to see it through. We are very lucky to have him on our team.”
While others may shy away from mixing family and business, Karim sees his new position as a tremendous opportunity. “My family is an inspiration to me, and has taught me so much,” he says. “Especially my father, who was born in Pakistan and came to the United States with very little,” he adds. “But, he was determined to make a better life for himself, and that’s what he did,” he says. “I’m proud to be his son, and especially proud to be part of Lakhani Hospitality. I’m looking forward to working with my sister and carrying on the legacy he has built.”
Lakhani Hospitality is comprised of 4 Chicagoland hotel companies (totaling over 800 hotel rooms), 5 gasoline refueling stations, over 520 employees, 3 full service Bar Louie restaurants, and over 30,000 square feet of meeting and function space. Its annual sales exceed $48 million. For more information visit www.lakhanihospitality.com