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."
Yet, against this backdrop, and with significant attention from the Harvard Business Review, BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal, and other business periodicals, there has never been a book written about The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. When I approached its current leadership about providing business readers with a behind-the-scenes look into the company inspired by César Ritz, I was met with the welcoming spirit that has made Ritz-Carlton an icon. I have spent the better part of a year examining the greatness and occasional missteps of the leadership of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. I've met with employees (whom they call "the Ladies and Gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton") at all levels of the company, and I have traveled to their U.S. properties as well as to dynamic international locations such as Singapore and Dubai. The New Gold Standard reveals the specific leadership behaviors that produce Ritz-Carlton's exemplary corporate culture, exceptional staff empowerment, and extraordinary commitment to its customers. But before we dive into the leadership mechanics of Ritz-Carlton and what you can learn from its unwavering commitment to excellence, let's look at some of the company's prominent achievements.
The Ritz-Carlton Experience
Maybe the best way to demonstrate the unique value proposition achieved by Ritz-Carlton is to offer an example from a family that happened upon empowered Ritz-Carlton staff. Natalie Salazar, age 12, was a champion figure skater who began noticing pain in her legs while preparing for a regional competition as a step toward the Olympics. While originally thinking it was joint inflammation, the condition was ultimately diagnosed as a type of cancer known as osteosarcoma. Her chemotherapy treatments were unsuccessful, and at age 13, Natalie was told she was going to die. Her biggest regret was that she would never be able to go to her high school prom. Natalie's eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Lewis, attended the same church as Laura Gutierrez, area director of human resources at The Ritz-Carlton, Dearborn, where Natalie's story was told. Laura and the Ladies and Gentlemen at Ritz-Carlton rushed into action.
Laura described Natalie's special night: "We hosted Natalie's Prom in our ballroom, and it was attended by 18 classmates and 7 of her championship ice skating team members. Our audiovisual technician was the disk jockey, our IT technician was the photographer, our banquet director provided security, and everyone pitched in to make this an extra special event. Our convention service team put pin lights up and laid a dance floor, and our business center put together a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of the kids from kindergarten to eighth grade, complete with some drawings Natalie's former kindergarten teacher had provided."
Laura goes on to add that "our team hosted a grand prom complete with Prince Charming who guided her down the red carpet to Natalie's favorite song 'Sweet Escapes.' There, she danced the night away with Prince Charming. What an emotional night for everyone. The best part was she smiled the entire night, she danced every dance, she ate all of her favorite foods (salami, cheese and vegetables, and lots of ice cream). She limboed, hula hooped, chicken danced, Hustled, and led the train around the room. Parents joined the celebration at 10:30 p.m. just before Prince Charming turned into a frog. The kids had so much fun they didn't want the night to end. After a tearful good-bye, Princess Natalie was led to her waiting chariot for much-needed rest at home. She commented as she drove away, 'Tomorrow I'm off to the hospital for some tests. I can't wait to tell them all about this.' And she did just that."
According to Laura, "The buzz around the hotel was incredible. We were making a difference in a child's life, and in the lives of her parents and teachers who for one full year had worried about Natalie, supported her, and cared for her." Natalie's father said, "We are immigrants to this country and have no family here. When Natalie became ill, we didn't know what we would do. But Natalie's teachers and friends and the staff at Ritz-Carlton became our family." Natalie's mother added, "I've bee nblessed with many friends, but I didn't know there were such wonderful and caring hearts as we've found with everyone at Ritz-Carlton."
Natalie was only 13 when she lost her battle on Thursday, September 20, 2007. The seamstress at Ritz-Carlton who had made Natalie's prom dress also made the dress in which she was buried. In Natalie's honor, Laura and the staff of Ritz-Carlton commemorated what would have been Natalie's fourteenth birthday on October 22, 2007, complete with the cake Natalie had described to Laura the evening before her death. Laura continues to keep in touch with Natalie's parents. While many other companies support members of their community, the Ritz-Carlton culture of service routinely delivers caring such as that provided to Natalie's family.
From my perspective, the Ritz-Carlton experience is reflected in leadership committed to unrelenting quality, respect for all that the company's staff encounters, and, oddly enough, also a great spirit of candor. As a result of this candor, I have identified five core business principles that I will use to structure your behind-the-scenes examination of the company. This inside look reveals the ideals that fuel the consistency and greatness of this legendary organization. Each principle presented in
the following chapters not only offers insight into service, hospitality, and creating a luxury lifestyle experience but also provides opportunities to increase excellence in all aspects of business and personal life. Through dedicated adherence to these principles, everyone can elevate his or her business to the Ritz-Carlton gold standard. The New Gold Standard reflects both intuitive and counterintuitive aspects of leadership, which may be fairly easy to comprehend, yet far more difficult to master. It is my belief hat constant and steadfast focus on these Ritz-Carlton principles will result in your developing and maintaining the new gold standard for your industry.
Specifically, the principles are these:
- Define and Refine
- Empower through Trust
- It's Not about You
- Deliver Wow!
- Leave a Lasting Footprint
These guideposts, while inspired by the journey and leadership of Ritz-Carlton, have application across all industries and geographical boundaries. They reflect an opportunity for you to strengthen and touch the lives of your staff, teams, customers, shareholders, community, and the bottom line. In the words of César Ritz, "People like to be served, but invisibly." Whether it's through washing bed linens or creating an international strategic plan, these principles can connect you to your invisible power as you fully serve staff and customers alike. Let's explore each of these principles derived from the Ritz-Carlton New Gold Standard to maximize your ability to drive relevance, quality, and, of course, world-class service, throughout your business and personal life.