Esther Cohen: 2018 Icon of Industry

Esther Cohen: 2018 Icon of Industry


Each year, NEWH receives nominations from industry professionals representing who they feel is worthy of the title, Icon of Industry. The criteria are very straightforward – be a leader in hospitality for a minimum of 30 years. During those 30 years, nominees must have dedicated time and efforts to their community and/or the hospitality industry through outreach, education, corporate giving, and making a difference in our world and in people’s lives.

For those who think just making it for 30 years in the business qualifies them, think again.

Humble Beginnings

The 2018 Icon of Industry Esther Cohen, wasn’t always an art aficionado, nor was she in the hospitality industry. She began her professional life as a schoolteacher, but after marrying and having three children of her own, all boys, she decided to change careers and do something she simply enjoyed doing – working with art. Her love for art and strong entrepreneurial spirit led her to spend her life’s savings to invest in her next chapter, and in 1976 she opened Posters International.

Early on, Cohen had an epiphany; she realized that hotels needed art for all of their properties and that poster art was an entry into the brands and their properties. This notion catapulted her Toronto-based company into a hospitality industry leader, with clients and projects worldwide. Respected by her colleagues and competitors alike, Cohen became the first person in Canada to wholesale art posters, exporting open editions worldwide, while always staying ahead of the trend.  

A positive outlook and a strong sense of humor are trademark Cohen attributes, both of which have kept her cheery demeanor intact for more than 30 years in the business world. “Humor is extremely important in one’s life, there is plenty of time to be serious and I prefer being happy to being morose,” she said. That has opened doors for her in her personal and business life.

The Posters International initial poster works led to the addition of limited editions and ultimately, original art. The company later changed its name to PI to reflect the expansion of services. Today, with her sons, Richie and Andrew, now at the helm of the business, PI Fine Art & PI Creative Art form one of the largest vertically integrated art companies in North America. Still based in Toronto, the company has a 70,000-square-foot facility and employs more than 130 staff.  

Specializing in art, custom wall coverings, mirrors, and alternative wall décor, PI manages every step within the art development and supply chain process – from art consulting to publishing and manufacturing.  

Cohen now concentrates on PI's investment gallery, named “The Esther Cohen Gallery.” Over the 42 years Cohen has been collecting fine art, she has been fortunate to visit iconic artists such as Andy Warhol, Alex Katz, and Sam Francis in their homes and studios.

“Truly, when I received the call announcing my ICON award, I felt as though I had just won the lottery,” she recalled. “I feel honored and humbled and totally in awe because I am being rewarded for just being myself and doing something that I love to do.”

Cohen has been an active member of NEWH even prior to the existence of a Canadian chapter. In the early years of NEWH, she would go into New York to participate in chapter meetings, which makes her one of the original members of the Canadian chapter, too.

What is NEWH?

NEWH is the leading nonprofit hospitality industry network, providing scholarships, education, leadership development, professional recognition of excellence, and business development opportunities. Since 1984, NEWH scholarship candidates pursuing hospitality careers in design, culinary arts, and hotel management have been the beneficiaries of nearly $5.4 million for scholarships made possible through volunteer fund-raising initiatives at the local, national and international level.