Horst Schulze

Julie Mautner / November 2001

Food Arts presents the November 2001 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Horst Schulze, former president and COO of the Atlanta-based Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, for inspiring 20,000-plus employees to provide nothing less than superior service. Schulze has held three executive positions during the 18 year existence of the luxury hotel chain—including 13 as COO—during which time the company grew from one fabled hotel in Boston to 40-plus properties worldwide.

Schulze believes that a hotel stay is a product like any other, and that customers—all customers—want the same things. "They want a product without defect," he says. "They want the product when they ned it. And they want to be treated with respect. The same is true whether you're buying a Coke, a car, or a hotel stay."

At Ritz-Carlton, the recipe for excellence has been careful hiring, abundant training, and constant vigilance. Schulze believes in "aligning" employees and allowing everyone a say in how his or her job should be performed. "Think outside the box!" is a common Schulze challenge. Every Ritz-Carlton employee agrees to follow the company's golden rules, known specifically as The Credo, The Promise, The Three Steps, and the 20 Basics. An example? "Each employee is empowered... When a guest has a problem or needs something special you should break away from your regular duties, address, and resolve the issue."

Born in Winningen-Mosel, Germany, Schulze was 14 when he went to work at a grand spa hotel. He has never actually set foot in either a restaurant or a hotel before, and his mother admonished him to treat the guests—"all very important people"—with the utmost respect. Of all the jobs Schulze has held since—his résumé includes Hyatt, Hilton, and some of the finest hotels in Europe—it was that very first one tat left the deepest impression. "I learned that if the service we give is excellent, then we are just as fine as the people we serve."

Two years later, the 16 year old Schulze turned these thoughts into a hotel school essay, using the phrase that would later form the entire Ritz-Carlton philosophy: "Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."

When he decided that world-class hotels needed world-class restaurants, he lured Michelin starred and big name chefs—Guenter Seeger and Sylvain Portay, among others—to run them. "Those guys were a big part of establishing our mystique," he states. And while many hoteliers "don't see their f&b as a serious part of their business," Schulze always demanded strong revenues from that segment. As a result, f&b at Ritz-Carlton accounts for more than 40 percent of sales, compared to 23 percent at other high-end chains.

Schulze stepped down in February to the title of vice chairman to spend more time with his wife and four daughters. (Simon Cooper, former president of Marriott Lodging Canada, has replaced him.) "I felt the painting was painted," he explains simply. By all accounts, it's a masterpiece.