MBA Grad Among Dominican Scholar One Million Milestone

When Dean Lehr was earning an MBA degree at Dominican University of California in 2015, his master’s thesis required as much instinct as it did research. He was onto something.

“The competition between hotels and Airbnb became a red hot topic, without much research available when my thesis was academically published that May. It was very difficult to get any peer reviewed information,” Lehr says. “My thesis research was one of the more complete analyses available — 70 references — at the time. I was surprised at the lack of interest from the hotel community when I started my research, but not surprised at the incredible interest after my thesis was completed.”

Since Lehr’s thesis – “An Analysis of the Changing Competitive Landscape in the Hotel Industry Regarding Airbnb” – was published on Dominican Scholar, it has been downloaded more than 38,000 times. The research paper is second on Dominican Scholar’s most downloaded list, helping the University’s institutional repository of faculty authored papers and artwork, graduate master's theses, senior theses, podcasts, research posters, and conferences slides pass the one million download milestone. Dominican Scholar was created a little more than six years ago by Michael Pujals, Dominican’s Scholarly Communications Librarian.

The idea of Dominican Scholar grew out of several faculty retreats and was aimed at showing off the work of students such as Lehr.

“Dominican’s students are creating new scholarship all the time,” Pujals says. “Under the old model, that work would end up in an instructor's office, or on a shelf in the library, and very few people, if any, would see it. Now with Dominican Scholar, students are contributing their work, for free, to a world-wide audience, and hopefully in the process making small improvements in people's lives. Their work has a life beyond the classroom.”

For Lehr, now Director of Sales at Tiburon Hospitality which owns the Hotel Focus SFO and Kensington Park Hotel Union Square, Dominican Scholar was a tool for showcasing his research that’s turned into a revelation.

“I felt like I was aging out of the `younger focused’ hotel industry, experiencing what I perceived to be an ageism disadvantage,” Lehr says. “With a recent MBA, updated tech knowledge, global sales management perspective, and a hotel-oriented research thesis, I proved I was current and relevant. I felt I wasn't being seriously considered for opportunities previous to my MBA at Dominican.”

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Lehr, who earned a master's certificate in hospitality administration/management from Cornell University, learned about the MBA program at Dominican by seeing an MBA program advertisement on the back of a Golden Gate Transit bus on his way home after visiting a friend, the assistant dean of the Hospitality Program at the University of San Francisco. Minutes earlier, coincidentally, she had suggested Lehr give Dominican a look.

The bus ad got his attention: “I kept driving past my Paradise Drive Corte Madera off-ramp all the way to Dominican to see what it was all about. I started classes a month later and have been either a student or a member of staff for the last nine years.”

When it was time for Lehr to create his master’s thesis, he was managing a catering company and working as an employer trustee for the San Francisco Hotel Association representing union hotels in the City. He was watching what he observed to be a disruption caused by Airbnb and, though he admired its innovation and valuation higher than any hotel company in the world, Lehr was troubled by Airbnb. He thought Airbnb was enjoying an unfair competitive advantage while not paying the transient hotel occupancy taxes, city license, payroll taxes and not supplying health care coverage for its workers, which, Lehr says, was required in San Francisco. Research uncovered the conversion of thousands of rental apartments and houses into make-shift hotels, removing rental inventory from a city already suffering from a short supply. This led to Lehr’s inspiration for his thesis.

“My motivation and choice of thesis topic was influenced by the lackadaisical attitude I noticed in the hotel industry displayed toward a major disruptor technology innovation entering the travel industry,” Lehr says. “I wanted something very topical, and I found it.”

Lehr also found support from faculty members through the Barowsky School of Business. Dr. Christopher Leeds, professor of Management, was the first reader of Lehr’s research project.

“Dr. Leeds was my advisor and, with his previous experience working with Marriott, he gave me insight and perspective to help guide me through the process,” Lehr says. “Dr. Leeds suggested my research should be completed with an open mind, without prejudice towards my predetermined concerns.”

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Lehr, in his final summation, said the general shared economy model of Airbnb and OVRPs are here to stay. The business model of renting full units for less than 30 days was illegal in most cities at that time. Cities attempted to create effective ordinances to modernize and accommodate Airbnb. San Francisco and many cities, Lehr says, discovered the lobbyist-inspired, politically-negotiated and diluted ordinances were unenforceable. Since that time, only by requiring Airbnb and other OVRP platforms to be responsible for the payment of taxes, facilitated financial compliance and reasonable behavior of hosts and renters.

The benefits of the OVRPs models led by Airbnb’s listings around the world remain in the eye of the beholder, Lehr noted. When viewed from the inside, Airbnb offers the tourist a financial savings with unlimited alternatives to traditional hotels. The genuine experience of a tourist actually sharing a home with a local person is a compelling model. Hosts receiving additional income for sharing their homes where the host actually lives seems reasonable to those people the author interviewed.

Almost six years later and with more than 38,000 downloads from people researching it through Dominican Scholar, Lehr thinks he hit a home run with his thesis.

“I am very thankful for my conclusion,” he says. “It was 100% right on the money.”

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