the world according to… Kurt Ritter

Kurt Ritter

Chief executive, Rezidor SAS Hospitality

I’ve always liked working in the hotel trade. I was born in a hotel in Interlaken in Switzerland in 1947 and when I was seven my mother put me to work doing odd jobs. By the time I turned 11 I was checking guests in and out.

At 16, when people start to think about what they want to become, I thought if I became a hotelier I would have a huge advantage over my peers.

It was hard growing up in the hotel, especially as I was the youngest of three brothers. Neither of them wanted to work in hotels and rebelled by leaving home. I wanted to do my own thing without too much help from my family so I left home at 16 and went to the Lausanne Hotel School. I found my own way and I’m glad I did.

My first job was in Gstaad working in a hotel as a waiter for a year. It was a fantastic opportunity as it was where all the film stars went. I was standing in the same room as Richard Burton when he gave the big Krupp diamond to Liz Taylor.

Burton and Taylor were the most famous people I served, but the most fantastic was Julie Andrews. She stayed during Christmas and new year and gave all the staff presents.

The hotel paid me a hell of a lot of money and at the end of the season I went out and bought a Triumph GT6. There weren’t many chaps my age with a GT6.

My first job outside of Switzerland was in the Royal Garden Hotel in London and it was quite a shock for me as there was little discipline among the staff. I had come from a small country where we were continually told to focus on the guests and meet their needs.

The most important thing anyone wanting to work in a hotel needs is a smile. It is much easier to do business with a smile. If you have a smiling face you relax your muscles but when you frown you tense them up. We work in a pleasant business trying to keep people happy and there is no room for grumpy faces.

Lowdown on Kurt Ritter

AGE: 59

LIVES: an apartment in Brussels

STATUS: married, three children

DRIVES: Porsche Carrera

INTERESTS: horse riding, mountaineering, target shooting

LIKES: positive people

DISLIKES: inefficiency and rudeness

LAST CD BOUGHT: something by Secret Garden, a Norwegian-Irish group

LAST BOOK READ: probably one by Wilbur Smith, I’ve read all of them

LAST FILM WATCHED: too long ago for me to remember. It was probably Gone With the Wind

FAVOURITE DESTINATION: anywhere in Southeast Asia

I always value a person’s attitude before their skills. You can always teach someone new skills but someone with a bad attitude cannot be trained. I always say it doesn’t matter if you have never set foot in a hotel before, if you’ve got the right attitude we will train you.

Right from the beginning I was used to wearing a suit and tie at work and looking smart. When I was at hotel school one of the other students tried to campaign for us to dress less smartly but you always need to look your best when dealing with guests. I told this other guy: “You’d better get used to it”.

Being a hotelier is not rocket science, it is very simple but it has to be done right. You also end up with friends all over the globe and wherever I go I know someone.

Although I’m always at work I feel like I’m always on holiday because, for me, my work is a holiday. This is why I would never take a full week’s holiday, I prefer to combine a few days off with somewhere I am visiting for work. Last week I had to go to Shanghai for business for two days, so I organised a little time off to see some of the sites.

Even when I’m not at work the hotel trade still takes up my thoughts, especially during the night. I don’t sleep much so I think a lot about what I can do the next day at work. I might sound like a bit of a fanatic but you need to be in my job.

Things are very different for today’s hotel managers as they are becoming much more commercially minded. However, they have to be careful they are still offering services to people. Managers shouldn’t just be great at sorting out the business end and the technology, they have to have the human touch too.

When I met my third wife we fell for each other as soon as we were introduced to by friends in Kuwait. When I knew it was serious I immediately spoke to my boss and said you will probably need to find a new manager by January because we wanted to live together and you cannot live together unmarried in Kuwait as it is against the law. It wasn’t until we moved to Singapore that we got married.

Being general manager of the Radisson SAS Kuwait at that time was the most fantastic period of my life. It was 50 degrees in the shade in the summer – that was the bad side of it, but we had such a nice hotel.

These days my wife and I love to go to Thailand. We love Asia and Singapore, and we also love Kuwait. I need the constant drive of always doing something new. I’m a little bit afraid to retire or even think of retirement. I don’t know if I’ll be able to take all the sitting around.

I do have one passion and that’s my Arabian horses, which I keep in Burgundy. I’ve been riding since I was very young. When I retire, I will spend much more of my time with them.

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