Over a hundred years ago, a herdsman’s son from a family of 13 began working in the hotel industry. While learning his craft, he was fired from various jobs and was even told by one employer that “in the hotel business you need an aptitude, a flair— you haven’t a trace of it.” From those humble beginnings, the “hotelier of kings and king of hoteliers” César Ritz completely revolutionized the luxury hotel industry. Starting with The Ritz Paris and The Carlton in London, César Ritz emphasized the guest experience, created opulent physical environments, innovated hotel design, produced settings of uncompromising quality, and established what have become the gold standard for luxury and the epitome of service excellence. His marks of distinction have found their way into our lexicon with descriptors like “ritzy” and “putting on the ritz.”
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When I took on the job of president of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, my first priority was to visit with, and personally talk to, many of the Ladies and Gentlemen who work at our hotels and resorts around the world. While seeking to encourage hotel managers to be highly effective leaders, the people I most wanted to reach out to—and thank—were those who wash the laundry, de- liver the room service, maintain the boilers, and clean the guest rooms. Without them, we would not be the award-winning hotel company that we are—a company that is consistently recognized for service excellence and unmatched quality and that is now the subject of Dr. Joseph A. Michelli’s book The New Gold Standard. While our guests may never see many of these people who work behind the scenes in what we call “the heart of the house,” connecting with them is truly the best part of my job.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, trapping over 1,000 guests in our Canal Street hotel for five days, the con- ditions were difficult and challenging. Most of our Ladies and Gentlemen chose to stay at the hotel throughout the storm be- cause they understood how much our guests would need them until they could be evacuated to safety. The same was true of Hurricane Wilma, which scored a direct hit on Cancún, Mex- ico. Our staff stayed with the guests until we could arrange for them to leave the storm-ravaged area. And in Jamaica, every time a tropical storm disrupts people’s lives in Montego Bay, the Ladies and Gentlemen at our Rose Hall resort not only stay on site but they bring children from a local orphanage to the hotel to shel- ter them from the storm. I have scores of letters from grateful guests marveling at the genuine care and comfort they received from hotel staff even as power went out and conditions were frightening during these times of crisis.
I have learned to say a sincere thank-you in many languages as I visit hotels from Dubai to Dallas and from Shanghai to San- tiago. In return, I have been touched by stories about how work- ing at Ritz-Carlton has changed and improved the opportunities for our staff members’ families to enjoy a better life and a brighter future. What greater satisfaction can I get than knowing we have provided a chance for them to both support their families and take pride in the work they do each and every day?
This spirit of wanting to serve not only our guests but to lend an extra hand to fellow staffers is how the Ritz-Carlton cul- ture of caring permeates all of our lives. It explains why so many of our employees have stayed with the company for years and why so many of them who began their careers in the 1980s are now key executives at our hotels around the globe. And it ex- plains why their children are now joining our global family. They view providing outstanding service as a career to be proud of, and they strive for the continuous improvement we encour- age in all of our Ladies and Gentlemen.
As I look back on the heritage and tradition of César Ritz of more than a century ago, I realize there have been many defining moments that have shaped our brand from a few renowned hotels to a collection of lodging and lifestyle products recognized as the world’s best. The Swiss shepherd’s son was famous for many thoughts on what makes for a great guest experience, but he did not just talk. He personally intervened to make sure the needs of the guests were surpassed each and every day. Fast- forward many years after César Ritz, and the Ritz-Carlton brand took on a new life and reputation for excellence inspired by the company’s first president, Horst Schulze, and the original group of visionary hoteliers who planned for the next generation of this venerable brand. I want to extend my personal gratitude to Horst for the rich legacy I inherited as the result of his innate understanding of the true meaning of luxury.