Meet TRA's New CEO - Emily Williams Knight, Ed.D.

Aug 19
Emily Williams Knight Headshot

A proven leader who drives business success by investing in people and culture is taking the reins at the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA).

Dr. Knight succeeds Richie Jackson, who is retiring after 47 years with the Association, 34 of those as CEO. TRA represents the state’s $66 billion restaurant industry with more than 48,000 locations and 1.3 million jobs across the state. TRA Members may have already seen Knight already running full-speed ahead, after attending TRA Marketplace in Houston July 14-15.

“Dr. Knight is the right person to build upon the legacy and momentum established by the Texas Restaurant Association,” said Jimmy Hasslocher, President and CEO of San Antonio-based Frontier Enterprises and President of the TRA Board of Directors. “Emily’s impressive background across many areas, along with her personal history and professional values, will serve as a positive force for the restaurant and hospitality industry, which is an enormous engine for the Texas economy.”

"I am excited to take on the leadership role of the TRA,” said Knight. “The TRA has enjoyed the stewardship and tenure of a strong and successful leader. I see this transition in leadership as a time to honor the work that has been done while quickly driving the team and strategy forward to address the immediate and rapidly changing needs of our industry and the members we protect and serve.”

“Dr. Knight is clearly the best person to lead TRA into the future. She is a proven leader with strategic business development skills, a vision of good culture for our stakeholders, and the ability to bring people together,” said John Gessner, owner of Dallas-based Tacos y Vino, President- Elect of TRA’s Board of Directors and chairman of the search committee. “She is exactly what TRA needs as the organization enters its next chapter of expanded member value and growth. Our committee took the hard and thoughtful approach that our members, partners, and employees expected and deserved.”

“While my education and experience have prepared me for this role, it is my leadership philosophy and love of people that will drive my success,” said Knight. “I will focus on creating value for our members and be the best possible representative and advocate to the Texas legislature. I have prepared for this role my entire life and I am ready to serve.”

Knight has more than 20 years of experience and success in national and global leadership positions. She is currently Managing Director of Higher Education North America at Study Group, a leading provider of international education. Her career includes senior leadership roles at Laureate Education 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 education throughout the Midwest, 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. She has partnered with private equity firms, associations and the U.S. government to build veteran and opportunity youth 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 also 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 the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), where she serves as the chair of the governance committee and is a member of the executive and strategic planning committees. Knight lives in Southlake, Texas with her husband, who is a graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy, and their 13-year- old twin daughters.


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