Burl Battersby ’12, ’13 MBA had been in Japan a day and a half. He was 18, an exchange student from Arizona. Someone handed him a book and asked him to read it to a classroom of 14-year-olds to improve their English pronunciation.

“I think the book was Greek fables,” he says. “I had trouble saying some of the names.”

When he finished, Battersby heard the desks shaking. Three thoughts went through his mind: 1) Wow, this must be the Japanese version of applause; 2) This is great, I really like teaching English; 3) It’s an earthquake!

The ground stopped moving, but his desire to become a teacher had taken root. For Battersby, however, inspiration is seismic but accomplishment is incremental.

Burl Battersby ’12, ’13 MBA. Photo Richard H. Miller
Burl Battersby ’12, ’13 MBA (Photo Richard H. Miller)

To pay for college, Battersby got a room-service job at a Scottsdale resort. He got promoted—and then promoted again—working at top Arizona hotels, the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, and the Sheraton Seattle.

By 2006, Battersby’s teaching goal had been derailed by success. He was director of Six Sigma process improvement at the Sheraton Seattle. He had a dream job—helping re-envision the future of 1,100 hotels worldwide—in a dream location: a marble-floored high-rise next to the convention center in a booming city.

The Sheraton added a tower and became Seattle’s largest hotel in 2007, with 1,236 rooms, 44 meeting spaces, and 2 posh ballrooms. “This a city in itself,” Battersby says, “with upward of 4,000 people here on a given night, plus 500 or so associates, who represent almost every culture you can imagine.”

The new tower required new employees, many of whom spoke little English. Battersby saw a chance. He got an English as Second Language certificate, and taught hundreds of classes in the basement cafeteria.

Re-inspired, Battersby enrolled at Washington State University Distance Degree Programs, now called WSU Global Campus. By 2012, he had earned his bachelor’s in humanities, which “gave me a global perspective, and helps me work better with the different cultures here,” he says. He went on to earn his 2013 MBA online from WSU.

Last year, Battersby became director of rooms at the Sheraton, where he oversees nearly every aspect of the guest experience. He also finally became a college instructor, teaching hospitality business management classes for Skagit Valley College’s online program. Battersby plans to start his doctorate in the next few years, then become a full-time professor.

For now, he’s delighted to be both a teacher and a hotel executive. Each, after all, involves sharing knowledge. And in each role he offers people the same advice he’s followed for 25 years: “Don’t lose sight of your end goal,” he said. “I never gave up. Don’t give up.”