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Hospitality Icon to Lead Georgia Aquarium

Mike Leven Elected by Board of Directors

Atlanta, GA (September 17, 2008) –

Hotel industry icon Mike Leven, who has acted as the interim CEO of the Georgia Aquarium since May, has been elected Chief Executive Officer by the Aquarium’s Board of Directors.

Bernie Marcus, Aquarium benefactor and Chairman of the Georgia Aquarium Board, said, “Mike Leven has put new energy into the Aquarium and is already making additions and changes that will make guests want to visit over and over again.” 

“He was once named one of the ‘25 Most Extraordinary Sales and Marketing Minds in Hospitality & Travel’, and we have encouraged him to apply that creativity to the Aquarium,” Marcus added.

Since joining the Aquarium, Leven has brought in Titanic Aquatic, an exhibition that has drawn tens of thousands of visitors since opening in August, and new animals including Nandi, the first manta ray in a U.S. Aquarium. 

“We’re just getting started,” said Mike Leven. “I learned a long time ago in the hospitality industry that, while guests want consistency in things like good customer service, they also expect to be enticed to return. Every ninety days, we’ll be bringing a new animal or exhibit to the Aquarium, so that every time visitors come, there is a new WOW factor.”

Leven was formerly President and CEO of US Franchise Systems, Inc. (USFS), the company he founded that franchises Microtel Inns & Suites and Hawthorn Suites hotel brands. Prior to that, he was president and COO of Holiday Inn Worldwide and, from 1985 to 1990, president of Days Inn of America.  Most recently, Leven was Vice-Chairman of the Georgia Aquarium as well as Chief Operating Officer of the Marcus Foundation. Leven has resigned from his duties at the Marcus Foundation to focus solely on the success of the Georgia Aquarium.  

“I left a sign on my old office door that says, ‘Gone Fishing,’ ” Leven said.

About the Georgia Aquarium: The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, is the world’s largest with more than eight million gallons of water and the largest collection of aquatic animals. The mission of the Georgia Aquarium is to be an entertaining, educational and scientific institution featuring exhibits and programs of the highest standards; offering engaging and exciting guest experiences promoting the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world. The Georgia Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit 

About Mike Leven: As CEO of Georgia Aquarium, Mike Leven oversees all operations within Georgia Aquarium. Until taking the helm at the Aquarium, Leven was the Vice Chairman of the Atlanta-based Marcus Foundation, where he has been a trustee and a member of the board of The Marcus Autism Center (formerly The Marcus Institute) and Georgia Aquarium.

Leven served as President and CEO of US Franchise Systems, Inc. (USFS), the company he founded in 1995, that franchises Microtel Inns & Suites and Hawthorn Suites hotel brands. Prior to that, he was president and COO of Holiday Inn Worldwide. From 1985 to 1990, he was president of Days Inn of America, where he led initiatives to hire older workers, people with disabilities and the homeless, and was recognized by AARP as Outstanding Employer. He also served as president of Americana Hotels.

In addition to being a hotel industry icon and one of franchising’s most innovative leaders, Leven has served many industry organizations throughout his 45-year career, and has been active in numerous civic organizations. He was a member of the National Board of Governors, the Executive Committee and chairman of the Biomedical Services Board of the American Red Cross. Locally, he was vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta; chair of the marketing and public affairs committee for United Jewish Communities (UJC), and general chairman of the Atlanta State of Israel Bonds Committee. He is director of The Chief Executive Leadership Institute and a board member of the Davis Academy.

He co-founded the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) with 12 members in 1989, and growing to some 9,000 members today. He is former international president of the Hotel Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and a member of HSMAI’s Hall of Fame. He chaired the Millennium Occupancy & Revenue Effort (MORE) task force of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), the AH&LA Government Affairs Committee, and currently serves on the AH&LA CEO Council. Previously, Leven served on the board of Starwood Hotels, and is currently on the boards of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. (The Venetian) and Hersha Hospitality Trust.

Leven’s most recent recognitions include: American Association of Franchisees and Dealers, Total Quality Franchising Lifetime Achievement Award; Hospitality Industry Hall of Honor, University of Houston C.N. Hilton Hotel & College; First occupant, William R. Tiefel Distinguished Speakers Chair for the Hospitality College at Johnson & Wales University, and HSMAI Hot List of 25 Most Extraordinary Sales & Marketing Minds in Hospitality & Travel. He also received the American Jewish Committee Selig Distinguished Service Award; UJA Federation of New York Hotel & Hospitality Award, and Georgia Hospitality & Travel Association Spirit of Hospitality Award. Leven has two honorary degrees, one from Johnson & Wales University (Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration in Hospitality Management), and the second from The College of Hospitality and Tourism Management of Niagara University (Honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science).

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