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Breeding Hotel Bosses

xavi new770If General Electric is growing top talent not only for itself but other companies, one could argue Ritz-Carlton has a similar position in the luxury hotel sector.  From founder Horst Schulze and his successors Simon Cooper and current boss Herve Humler is an impressive ‘coaching tree’ of students who have had excelled both at home and in other venues.

A short list includes Patina CEO Marc Dardenne, Sun Hung Kai CEO Ricco de Blank, newly named One & Only COO Mark DeCocinis, former YTL CEO James McBride, former Beverly Hills Hotel and Bel-Air MD Alberto del Hoyo and current boss Edward Mady.  Victor Clavell who opened Central Park South and led Barcelona is now the boss for Asia.  Former Asia marketing whiz Simon Manning is now Global CMO for fast growing Langham while former Middle East sales and marketing chief JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers founded one of the top luxury hotel rep companies in the United States.

Former Ritz-Carlton sales executive Chris Hamaway now leads the marketing for Montage Deer Valley.  Other names such as Rainer Burkle (currently Regional VP running Shanghai) and Mark Lettenbichler (Regional VP running Tokyo) who have stayed in the family are well known by top guests. Virtually all of the above started with the company early in their careers, often as trainees right out of hotel school.

Xavi Gonzalez may in the future be among the legends of Ritz-Carlton.  The youngish Spaniard who has been tutored by Clavell and Burkle one month ago took his first assignment as General Manager at The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Pacific Place.   The transition in this case may not be steep – Gonzalez’s former boss in Shanghai had regional responsibilities meaning even as Hotel Manager, he was essentially running the show.  Nevertheless the “honor” of being a General Manager for Ritz-Carlton was not missed.  “Victor (Clavell) hired me right out of hotel school. If you’re lucky you work with great people you learn from, and I have been very lucky in this company.”

Having had leadership positions in two of the group’s high profile hotels, Shanghai and Barcelona, Gonzalez enters Indonesia at a critical time with Ritz-Carlton returning to Bali next year, more projects expected and the overall Asia portfolio expected to double.  “It’s a very unique location – the stock exchange is right in front of us – and it’s a very unique experience in that all 62 of our rooms are Club Rooms. People are looking for a club atmosphere.  We also have139 medium-and-long term residences with Ritz-Carlton service,” Gonzalez noted during a chat in the expansive Presidential Suite.

What’s his plan in his first stint as top boss?  “It is more than personalized service.  We really want to touch our clients.  Our marketing slogan is ‘let us stay with you’ and it’s something we believe.  You have your beautiful views and beautiful facilities – but it’s the strong relationships you create.  We have strong competitors so we need to create a connection with our guests.  It’s more than service.  It’s for example a guest who forgot his medicine and one of our employees got on a plane with the medicine and flew it to Hong Kong to deliver it for him. It’s hectic in Jakarta.  We want our guests to have to think less – which means we really empower our ladies and gentlemen.”

And only weeks into his tenure, Gonzalez is charmed by his team:  “Here in Indonesia people are really sincere, and they want to really be a host.”

How big a change is it moving from Hotel Manager to General Manager? “Not a major change, but for good or for bad, it’s your hotel and your team and what you do for your guests.”

Additional Notes:  I found another Ritz-Carlton generated ‘hotel boss.’   Michelle Caporicci is Vice President Sales & Marketing for the group in Asia-Pacific, a region where hotels will double in the next few years.  She started at Laguna Nigel in 2996 in catering and says people still come to her for advice on weddings.  After a stint in the corporate office in Maryland, she came to Asia and was most recently General Manager of Guangzhou.