Jerry Inzerillo’s knack for turning the good into the magnificent is well known, if not legendary, in hospitality circles. For five decades, Inzerillo has launched some of the world’s most notable hotel-resorts and managed some of the biggest names in entertainment. His list of devoted clients is outmatched only by his collection of lifelong friends.
It was this devotion to hospitality that got Inzerillo accepted into the prestigious Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in the early 1970s. But when the young New Yorker arrived for orientation, he encountered a problem. “My family was poor, so I had been working since I was 13,” recalls Inzerillo, whose future at Cornell lived and died on the promise of in-state tuition and a job. “[The professor at orientation] informed me that students were discouraged from working. That threw me into a panic. I thought, ‘How am I going to support myself?’”
Inzerillo soon identified another glaring issue: “Even if I was allowed to work, there were no hotels!”
UNLV’s up-and-coming hotel school — in the shadows of the Las Vegas Strip — proved to be the answer for Inzerillo, who was wowed by the city’s abundance of luxury hotels and world-class entertainment. “I told my parents that I was going to the same place Sinatra is — Las Vegas,” he says. “My mother cried, because she thought of Vegas as a place for prostitutes and the mafia.” It wasn’t long, however, before his parents’ worries were assuaged. “I was there [at UNLV] for a week and got a job at the Flamingo on graveyard.”
Still, the budding hotelier kept pushing himself, working full time and taking on a heavy credit load while maintaining his place on the dean’s list. “Dean [Jerry] Vallen was worried that I was putting too much pressure on myself,” Inzerillo recalls. “He said, ‘Don’t you think you deserve a little fun?’ I said, ‘Dean Vallen, I’m on a mission. Don’t worry about fun.’”
Inzerillo’s fun would indeed come later in the form of five distinguished decades in service and entertainment, which was recently celebrated as part of the Forbes Travel Guide 2017 Star Awards in New York. The fact that Inzerillo is enjoying 50 years in the business at the same time the Harrah College of Hospitality is celebrating its 50th anniversary … well, it feels like cosmic symmetry.
“It [UNLV’s College of Hospitality] has become one of the most prolific producers of leaders within the American and global hotel community,” says Inzerillo, who was named the college’s 2014 Industry Leader and Alumnus of the Year. “The college is No. 1 for gaming. It’s in the top three for hotel administration. To achieve that in 50 years? Well, that’s something incredible.”