In May 2019, Dr. Emily Williams Knight was appointed CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association and Education Foundation and officially assumed this leadership role on August 1, 2019. With more than 50,000 restaurants employing 1.3M Texans and posting sales of 70B in 2019, in her first year, Knight was at the forefront of leading one of the most important industries through the COVID 19 pandemic. Knight was recognized as a fierce and effective leader, quickly securing several waivers from Governor Abbott while also lobbying and securing federal support to help the restaurant and foodservice industry survive.
Knight is the daughter of military veterans and a former military spouse. She has held executive leadership position across the globe in several multi-national companies and her success is driven by building high performing teams, a passion for winning, and a tireless work ethic. Without a playbook for leading Texas’s second largest private employer through a pandemic, Knight went to her roots, leading from the front, empowering those around her to act and bringing honest, empathetic, and transparent communication into every interaction. Knight leveraged her passion and empathy for others to drive change at the state and national level and quickly rose to become a key thought leader with local and national media. Knight leveraged the goodwill created throughout the pandemic to tackle the 87th legislative session where she and her team drove 6 pieces of legislation to passage and signature into law by Governor Abbott. This was the largest and most sweeping success the association had ever achieved.
Knight has more than 20 years of experience and success in national and global leadership positions. Prior to leading the TRA, Knight served as Managing Director of Higher Education North America at Study Group, a leading provider of international university education. Knight worked with top university leaders across the U.S. and Canada to build international student recruitment and education pathway programs. Her career includes senior leadership roles at Laureate and serving as President of Kendall College, a leader in hospitality and culinary arts education. During her time as Kendall’s president, Knight expanded access to culinary and hospitality education throughout the U.S., Latin America, and the Middle East. She worked closely with the Illinois legislature to advance the industry and partnered with the Mayor of Chicago, Choose Chicago, and the Illinois Restaurant Association to drive Chicago visitors to a record 50 million per year.
Knight led student recruitment for two of the top five hospitality schools in the world located in Switzerland. She has partnered with private equity firms, associations, and the U.S. government to build veteran and at-risk training and certification programs and is a fierce advocate for the importance of career and technical education. Knight has extensive experience working with industry, workforce investment boards, and community colleges to create skills training programs designed to fill the growing number of restaurant and hospitality job openings.
Early in her career, Knight held several leadership roles at Pearson, including head of marketing for teacher education and head of sales for the west region. Out of undergraduate studies, she was recruited into Pizza Hut’s Management Training Program and served as a Catering Sales and Event Manager for Marriott’s Key West Resorts.
Knight holds a Doctorate in Higher Education Leadership from Walden University; an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Newbury College; a Master of Science in Management from Troy University in Alabama; a B.S. in Hospitality Administration from Boston University, where she was a Trustee Scholar and an A.S. in Hotel and Restaurant Administration from Newbury College where she was a Presidential Scholar and captain of the women’s basketball team.
Dr. Knight is a member of several boards, including at API where she leverages her global experience and international education background. Knight also serves on the Texas Travel and Tourism Board, the University of North Texas School of Hospitality Advisory Board and the Texas Business Roundtable. She is an adjunct faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University teaching courses in International Business, Management, Leadership and Consumer Marketing. Knight is also a member of the Conscious Capitalism Senior Leader Network. Knight lives in Southlake, Texas with her husband and their 16-year-old twin daughters and two rescue dogs.