"From apprentice to CEO" a Guide to the Hospitality Industry for all aspiring luxury hotel professionals that provides upfront advice and hard-won insights that can be used for a lifetime.
Louis Sailer is a highly experienced and successful luxury hoteliers. The examples, notes, and stories from this book are compiled from his 30-year career in the luxury hotel and restaurant industry. These insights and tips apply to all employees in the finest hotels and resorts around the world — whether they are an apprentice or a general manager. Louis generously shares the knowledge that he has gained from his compassionate journey through this fascinating industry, knowledge that was fueled by his dreams and his passionate ambition. This book is the beginning of a Career Tip series, that is aimed to assist hospitality professionals at all levels to understand the methods, practices and do’s & don’ts in a quick and understandable format.
While time doesn't matter, let's dial back to the early '90s. Young, ambitious, and confident, I was able to land a job in, at that time, the most successful and prestigious hotel in America.
The company's flagship and mother hotel property. Mother hotel, because all things started there and leaders of future properties underwent a rigorous grooming process beforehand. To ensure the correct standards will be embedded in you to continue the journey with the company.
Arriving on the plane from Europe and coming from the best restaurant in the world of this time, I thought I was an imported star.
Soon to realize, Europe is not America, and only performance counts. Nobody knew of my achievements, with the exceptional few. All others didn't care but only watched if I was up to the task, in my shiny suit and a cute European accent.
Hence, I started to learn things the American way and also made many friends along the way.
In my first attendance at a Department Heads Meeting, the GM, a native-born Bavarian from Munich and now, much more American than German, asked me my name. I said, Louis. He said, "aren't you coming from Munich"? I replied with a yes, as my recent Michelin Star restaurant was in Munich. He shortly frowned, then smirked and said, "welcome to California, Ludwig."
Just for clarity, while all other department heads present looked bewildered, I knew the grounds for his rationale of rechristening me. Ludwig was the name of the King of Bavaria, the one that built the original Disney castle. Hence, Ludwig, it was, a name he still calls me till today.
Working hard to prove myself, I rose to the ranks quickly and made it to Coffeeshop Manager.
Fueled with new confidence, I went about my job. At the same time, the already looming recession of the '90s hit—staff hours needed reduction, and efficiency, productivity, and opportunity became the new magic words.
One regular morning the general manager of the hotel came for his usual breakfast. The service was splendid as always, and nothing eventful ever happened till that day.
On his way out, he said, Ludwig, your light bulbs are dusty.
I said, "yes, sir," and off he went. I picked up the phone, called Housekeeping, and relayed the message of the GM. Case closed. Job done.
The following day, he came again, had breakfast, and off he went. But not before summoning me to his table and reminding me that the light bulbs are still dusty.
I looked in surprise, concurred with his observations, and blamed Housekeeping for their lack of follow-up. A short apology followed and my reassurance that we would do it.
So, I called Housekeeping again, shared the GM's displeasure, and urged them to do the job correctly today, which they acknowledged.
As I entered the restaurant the following day, the many chandeliers in the room and countless light bulbs drew my immediate attention. Only to see that nothing had happened overnight, and they were still all dusty.
My anxiety levels immediately began to rise, and my head spun, trying to find an amicable excuse that could keep me out of harm's way.
Thirty minutes later, the GM came, had his breakfast, read his newspaper, and showed no reaction. Hence, I thought I'd get lucky and maybe buy myself another day.
He finished his breakfast, signed his check, got up, looked at me, and called me to follow him onto the empty patio of the restaurant. There we walked to the far-most corner where we stopped. He looked me in the eyes, his chest began to fill with air, and his facial expression was about to go into tense mode.
His mouth opened, and like letting go of a slingshot, an angry voice came shooting out. He shouted, "who are you"? In agitation, I said, Louis. He repeated himself, "who are you"? This time I knew Louis was the incorrect answer and said, the manager. And so, he went for the third time, "who are you"? and I voiced the manager, this time knowing where he was getting at. As a restaurant manager, you are in charge of your people and services and your facility as a whole.
He said, "get it done," and walked away.
Now my mental clock started to go into overdrive. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner operations, so in reality, I only had 10 hours to get the job done before the GM would come again.
My first trip to Housekeeping fell on deaf ears. Staff shortages and no immediate extra time due to the recession and scheduling conflicts answered my pledge for help.
Catch 22 was also that I couldn't hold my employees back due to the same reasons. Consequently, I picked 2 of my most devoted busboys and asked them to help me while paying them out of pocket.
Post lunch, we started with the necessary gear of ladders and cleaning tools, ready to conquer a room filled with many chandeliers and, who knows, how many wall scones.
We unscrewed each light bulb one by one and polished them to perfection. Dusted the décor and arms of each chandelier and balanced every single lampshade back to its proper position.
We continued post-dinner operations and at 4 am, we finished. My dedicated helpers went home, and I decided, why not clean the windows as well. Make sure not one grain of dust or smear is present. Once done, I went home, took a shower, and returned swiftly to open the restaurant for breakfast.
First to arrive was the GM. He went to his table, ordered his regular coffee and muesli, read the newspaper, and seemed calm. I was standing at a discreet and respectful distance, waiting for the summon and pat on the shoulder for a job well done.
Time passed, he signed his bill and walked along a long corridor out of the restaurant.
Just when he was about to turn the corner, he stopped, turned around, looked for me in the distance, and flagged me down to him. I thought, yes, that's my moment of recognition and hastily charged towards him.
Once I arrived, my chest began to fill with air this time, simply in anticipation for the acknowledgment and appreciation to come.
But he looked to the ground and said, "Ludwig, do you see the planter?" And I said yes, "do you see the plexiglass pot liner?" and I said yes. "IT IS DUSTY!" and he walked away.
At that moment, I felt so unappreciated and undervalued. The first thought that came to mind was, I quit. As a high-performing manager of his team, I didn't need this. I got so angry and suddenly felt so vulnerable. Hence, I went to the ocean terrace to grasp some fresh air, trying to calm down and regain my line of thought.
And then it suddenly happened, and I thought, hold on a second. That is not how it should work. That's not right. While the GM had reason to reprimand me as a manager, why would I allow him to do so?
Thus from this moment on, I swore to myself. Never, ever will I give any superior of mine a chance to critique me. I will make it my mission for life always to be a step ahead of them and perform at the highest level no matter what.
Looking for the out-of-place grain in everything became part of my DNA. Living by a zero-defect and error-free code, be it in managing people in operations or administrations since this day, served me very well.
And in hindsight, none of my hotels had a dusty light bulb ever again.
The moral of the story is to train your mindset, trying to do all things perfectly. Be it the timely and error-free email reply to your clients, the perfect amount of seasoning for your signature dish, a perfectly aligned table setting, or the follow-up on your clients' requests. Not to forget the never-ending will, to do it better than others.
Since my encounter with some dusty light bulbs, a few years had passed.
My pursuit of a career in hospitality, focusing on food & beverage, meanwhile brought me to Hawaii, Japan, and now Singapore, where I opened a new brand for an established international hotel company.
While I had accumulated some outstanding experiences since then, the dream to work for, and with the very best, was still firmly embedded in me.
So, less than a year into post-opening, one of my most life-changing career calls came one day.
To manage the most significant and best food & beverage hotel operations in the world. The hotel was and still is a legend in its own right.
This Grand Dame had undergone a massive renovation and restoration program six years earlier and now boasted 20 food & beverage areas.
And so, it began with my predecessor hiring me. Also worth noting is that a unique code of conduct existed in those days—a code of not leaving your job until you had hired your replacement. The rationale was simple. Don't leave things to chance after investing 80% of your day and years of your life into the work you had just built. Hire someone that you would want to continue and could continue your legacy. And so he did, by choosing lucky me.
I had not even seen the General Manager yet, but my predecessor confirmed my starting date. On top of that, the bets in the city of how long I would last were already on. The word on the street was that I wouldn't last more than three months.
My first few days on the job were a real eye-opener. I had managed large operations before, maybe not as large as that one, but this was different. Each restaurant, bar, and service area was managed independently, like outsourcing to other operators in today's world.
After a few days of handovers and getting to know the place, I got a message from the executive office assistant that had arranged an appointment with the general manager for me the next day.
My heart started beating with excitement. This person was already a legend in the making and a well-recognized personality in local society and abroad.
The next day 9.30 am it was. As usual, I was on time early and ready to go, sharp 9.30. The office featured two desks with two ladies. One provided a warm smile and greeting upon arrival, while the other lady seemed solely focused on the voice requests coming from the general manager's office.
So, here I sat, ready for what was to come.
Time passed, and 9.45 became 10.00, 10.15 became 10.30, and so on. At 11.15, the office suddenly became very silent. A voice emerged in the general manager's office, and someone called out my name with an invitation to come in.
I stood up, gulped, straightened my suit jacket and tie, took a deep breath, and in I went.
What I saw was a busy lady. Large piles of papers and checks waiting to be signed towered the sides of her desk. Her reading glasses were comfortably resting on the bridge of her nose until her head rose, eye contact established, and an invitation to sit down extended.
She paused her busy work routine, and a genuine dialogue between the two of us started.
A few minutes later, we went into business mode, and she asked me if I had any questions.
Of course, I had a thousand, but which one to choose. So, I went with the safest option and replied with, "what is my objective."
With her facial expressions calm, she said. "It is quite simple. You have taken over the best food & beverage operation globally and at a very high level. After your 2-year contract expires and you give it back to me at this very high level, you will have FAILED. Any questions?"
I said, "no, ma'am. Clearly understood"
I worked for this lady for the next eight years. She never got involved in my work or business and used me to troubleshoot worldwide for the company after that.
The moral of the story? My inner drive to excel on a personal and professional level has become immense to this date. If someone calls you out that 100% is not enough, believe in yourself and fuel your ambitions and energy levels beyond belief. Once you exceed expectations, be it for your clients, coworkers, staff, or company, your value to any organization you work for becomes apparent, and they will ask for more. The more they ask ultimately leads to climbing up that ladder and staying there until you stop contributing.
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