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Assistant VP for Business Affairs Shares His Career Path

By Kevin Hinchey
March 5, 2008

Photo by Christina VanHorn

Watching David May maneuver through the dining area in Holloway Commons during a lunchtime rush instantly provides great insight into why he is so good at what he does in his job; whether it’s shaking hands with passersby, laughing with others, listening intently to others, asking questions of diners, answering questions from his staff, telling stories or doing a myriad of other things in succession, he has a remarkable ability to be focused on the individual(s) he may be talking to while also remaining keenly aware of everything else going on all around him.

As assistant vice president for Business Affairs, May has reached the top rung of a business that he began in near the bottom.

“I started my hospitality career washing dishes at a restaurant in Buffalo, NY,” he says. “I worked for a great chef, named Calvin. He took me under his wing and trained me to work the line. By the end of my second summer working at the restaurant, I was actually running the line. He also taught me to crack four eggs at once. To be honest, I can’t do it now.”

May was a hospitality management major at UNH. During his time as a student, he worked at two local restaurants, The Issac Dow House in Newington, and Hector’s Country Kitchen in North Hampton. After graduation, he started his professional career with SAGA (a contract management company) at Wesleyan University. His first position was running the Downey House, managing a snack bar, a restaurant, a catering operation and a pub. After two years, he was promoted to the dining hall.

“My next position was at the University of South Carolina,” he says. “I was the director of catering. During my time there, we catered for many interesting people including Madam Sadat, George Bush Sr. and Ronald Reagan.”

From there he went on to Emory University as operations manager in Atlanta; Wellesley College in a support role opening a new account; Merrimack College, as director; and Trinity College as director.

“During my time at Wellesley, Marriott Corporation purchased SAGA and we became staff of Marriott,” May says. “This was an important change in my career. I attribute much of my success in future years to learning the ‘Marriott way’. Their emphasis on guest service has had a great influence on me.”

In 1993, May became a district manager for Marriott Health Care Services covering accounts in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, supervising 13 accounts, managing food, housekeeping and plant operations.

In the summer of 1996, the opportunity to apply for the dining director at UNH came about.

“I missed being on a college campus and coming to my alma mater was very exciting,” he says.

In 2003, May embarked on a complete revamp of the meal plans at UNH and also oversaw the construction of a new dining facility, Holloway Commons, which included several innovative dining options for students, faculty and staff. During his tenure, the dining team has won 18 Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards (presented by NACUFS.)

“Over time,” May says, “I have been given the opportunity to manage a diverse portfolio of business enterprises. The transition from dining director to executive director of Hospitality Services came about as we merged the ‘hospitality’ functions on campus under one leader. It allowed the different pieces -- UNH Dining, NEC and UCCO -- to share resources and work together to provide the services the community desired. Much synergy was created as the enterprises merged. The promotion to Assistant Vice President has afforded me the opportunity to expand my horizons in other business enterprises. Much of what I do is managing people and solving challenges in running business models. I have enjoyed working with the Printing/Mail Services and Department of Housing teams. They are dedicated and know their business extremely well. I have been able to provide some ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking that has challenged them to take a hard look at their business.”

One of those people May supervises, Jon Plodzik (director of dining, University Hospitality Services) says “David is a strong leader for Business Affairs. He has an excellent business mind and possesses the ability to navigate, predict and control the finances like few others. We often joke that he could spot a nickel from a mile away. He is passionate about maintaining excellence to those we serve and truly loves his role at the university. Few work harder with as much joy. Even with all of his responsibilities, he possesses a wonderful sense of humor, is a good listener and cares about every last detail. It’s been my pleasure to work for him for over 14 years.”

May’s current role supervises UNH Dining ($24 million), the Department of Housing ($36 million), the New England Conference Center and Hotel ($6 million), University Conferences and Catering ($1.9 million) printing and mail services ($3.8 million) and the business service center (BSC) for Business Affairs.

“All of these business enterprises are expected to cover expenses and return funding back to the university on a yearly basis,” he explains. “Put another way, we receive no state funding, we must fund all of our own capital improvements and we contribute back to the general fund in support of the greater good.”

When asked who at UNH has had a positive impact on him, May immediately says “My boss, Anthony Zizos. He is committed to make this a better place for all. I have this same commitment. All of the business enterprises we manage are committed to continuous improvement. When I met AZ for the first time at my interview back in 1996, we laughed a lot. We haven’t stopped after 11 years and this has made it fun.”

Zizos says that “David’s outstanding leadership qualities and business acumen serves the university well. He is blessed with a very able staff and together they elevated UNH’s dining program to a national leader in educational food services excellence. I am confident that he will have a similar impact on all areas within his aegis of control.”

May says, “I love the work we do in Business Affairs. Our team is dedicated to serve the students, staff and university community providing goods and services at a fair price. There is no greater satisfaction than when a guest says ‘thank you’ for a job well done. Over the years, I have enjoyed working with students to improve our dining program. We worked together to make the offerings what they are today. It has given me an opportunity to mentor students through their academic career. I have been proud on many occasions when I have seen students grow from that ‘bratty’ freshman to a mature young adult going into the ‘real world’ as I call it.”

Outside of UNH, May manages to stay just as busy with many varying interests.

“I love the game of golf and look forward to playing again,” he says. “I took last year off to nurse a back problem. I have a hole-in-one to my credit. Although it was an ‘ugly’ swing and shot, it went in. My handicap has been below 7 but I have a lot of work to get it back there.”

May and his wife of 27 years (Lisa) reside in Gilford. Lisa May has her own design firm specializing in food service and kitchen design. Their son, Greg, graduated from the Thompson School in construction management in 2007 and is employed by a local builder, while daughter Kristin graduated from the University of Rhode Island in fashion merchandising in 2005. She manages two clothing boutiques in Newport, Rhode Island.

“We also have two dogs, Teddy (11-year-old golden retriever) and Parker (1-year-old MaltiPoo),” May says. “I have an extensive stamp collection that I started when I was 7 years old. I haven’t done much with it the last few years, but it is fun to look at all the old stamps from when it cost 3 cents to send a letter. We also enjoy boating on Lake Winnipesaukee.”

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