It’s Not the C-Suite That Earns the Five Stars

I was at the Forbes Five Star Awards two years ago. I went there and there were all the great hoteliers from around the world. And they said that Horst Schulze is in the room and everybody stood up and applauded.

But let’s be honest they didn’t applaud me. They applauded the image that Ritz-Carlton had built up, which was achieved by bellmen, doormen, busboy, cooks, waiters, maids and so on. They created that image.

We created a great image that was good for everybody and good for the employees, because if a Ritz-Carlton employee looks for a job and there are a hundred others, the Ritz-Carlton employee gets it. Why? Because of the image.

I was able to have a [positive] image because of many people doing a great job.

— From an interview with Horst Schulze, co-founder of Ritz-Carlton

Bellmen, doormen, busboy, cooks, waiters, maids and so on.

So, let me get this straight, the success of the Ritz-Carlton is because of the above group and NOT the C-suite or the big shots… I LOVE IT!

Those of you who follow my blog posts know where I stand on certain things within the organization, and more importantly you know I stand with the Dotties of the workforce. Statements like that of Horst Schulze mean the company is living up to the words on its website.

I recently read the story behind Mr. Schulze and his philosophy. He wanted to be in the hospitality business ever since he was about 14. At that early age, he left home and went to work as a dishwasher at a hotel 60 miles from his German village. As he started his studies in hospitality there, he wrote a paper outlining his concept of service. In his paper he challenged his first supervisor’s advice that employees were and should stay essentially invisible to guests and stay out of their way. The supervisor wanted employees to understand they were inconsequential compared to the hotel’s fine guests. That was not the Schulze way. Employees, he wrote, were ladies and gentlemen.

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“Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”

Mr. Schulze is big on the word “serve.” He’s a believer that in the hospitality business you serve. But he believes, as do I, that you are not a servant if you perform your job with excellence. That’s what’s at the foundation of his philosophy – “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

This concept elevates the worker to an integral partner in an organization’s success. More than just mouthing a few words or catch phrases — and not meaning any of them — organizations have to begin taking this seriously. For this founding CEO to honor his employees as he did, I am sure the employees know and feel the love. They know that he lives, eat, breathes and sleeps those words, because at every opportunity he communicates the message that they are valued.

One of the things that today’s organizations have to realize is that our employees are super smart and they can see through the BS. Their BS meter is as highly sensitive as a Geiger counter. It can detect the falsehoods, the misinformed statements, the misrepresentations. Employees can tell when an organization is not authentic. They sense when there is no sincerity behind the fine words.

We can all learn from a powerful story like that of Horst Schulze; most importantly, to give credit where credit is due.

Repeat after me: “Our organization’s success is based on the hard work of bellmen, doormen, busboy, cooks, waiters, maids and so on.”

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.