“A successful working environment is built on the principle of a diversified team,” explained Roland Duerr, managing director of the Rosewood Abu Dhabi—part of the international luxury hotel chain of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.
In an interview, we discussed Duerr’s first role in the hospitality industry and the leadership and management lessons he learned over many years working at some of the world’s finest hotels: how to build a culture of success, how to hire the right candidate and more.
What was your first job in the hospitality business, and what was the most important lesson you learned?
As part of a six-month internship, I started as a waiter on the gourmet restaurant crew in a traditional Swiss family-owned hotel. This position provided me with first-hand knowledge, understanding and training in the basics of impeccable service and the pursuit of perfection. The experience very much grounded me for my career in the industry.
What was your first leadership position managing people, and what did it teach you?
About one year after graduating from Institut Hotelier Cesar Ritz in Switzerland, and about seven months into my management trainee program, I was appointed restaurant manager at Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai.
This first leadership role enabled me to spearhead a team of about 40 employees, and it taught me just how important it is to define and explain a clear vision and purpose for our work.
It also taught me that I need to support individual team members in a humble way in order for them to achieve their own goals during this journey.
What elements, taken together, make a truly successful working environment, and how do you go about building that kind of culture?
A successful working environment is built on the principle of a diversified team, one that is aligned with company values and one that practices those values on a daily basis to support the overall vision.
For me, unleashing talent, by allowing the team to share their own ideas, thoughts and suggestions is a very important practice.
In a diverse team, there are many talented individuals that can help us solve challenging situations and overcome major obstacles. As a leader, I consider myself as the facilitator of this practice, creating forums where these ideas can flow freely, and harnessing the best ideas as a basis for new projects or as a solution to existing challenges.
The exchange of ideas is not just to improve organizational efficiency, but also to motivate our teams, allowing them to have a say and be heard in the management of the property.
During each step of my career as a leader I organized sessions which were called differently, either “Kaffeeklatsch” (German for a coffee get-together) with the director of Food & Beverages at Burj Al Arab, “Coffee Club” at the Carlyle, and here at Rosewood Abu Dhabi I host the managing director dialogue on a monthly basis.
The same principle applies of discussing a pre-selected topic with a mixed group to include different departments, different positions and different cultural or national backgrounds.
In addition, we also use the same principle for our monthly manager forum, where members of the executive committee team and I give updates on the hotel performance or celebrate milestone achievements.
We also use the second half of the session to divide the group of about 30 individuals from all departments into three to four groups where they will brainstorm and come up with a list of ideas to improve guest satisfaction and guest experiences, revenue enhancement, employee satisfaction and other topics.
As the executive committee team we collect these ideas, selecting the top 10. Most importantly, we then give feedback on these ideas and update the team in subsequent meetings on how we integrated their feedback and the kinds of results we achieved.
What do you look for when you hire, and what kinds of questions do you ask in interviews to ensure the right candidates work for you?
I always hire for the position of a businessman or businesswoman regardless of the published job vacancy. For me, the candidate’s behavior and attitude are the most important factor. Technical skills or previous industry experience is not a prerequisite to automatically being selected.
We can train, coach and develop individuals if they lack certain skills, but we can very rarely change the behavior of an individual.
Additionally, as we strive to build a diverse team, having non-hospitality candidates gives us the opportunity to learn best practices from other industries, and evaluate them for how we can integrate their insights into our organization.
For instance, I hired a front office agent that worked previously at an Apple store and clearly did not have all the necessary technical skills one would look for as a receptionist.
The individual I hired, however, was someone very engaging, had the attitude to “help” and “find a solution.” How to use the property management system or run reports were secondary, and the individual learned very fast.
During the hiring process, my questions are focused on examples based on their day-to-day work life. Here, I’m looking to understand how the individual thinks, works and acts in certain scenarios.
Reflecting on your career in the industry thus far, what are some other important leadership insights you’ve acquired along the way on how best to lead and manage a world-class hotel?
Leadership is about engagement with all aspects of the property, and investing the time necessary to know the team. Leaders must be visible and approachable, not invisible and above others.
They serve as the quarterback of the operation—defining the vision, inspiring and motivating the team, and supporting individual colleagues when in need. Leadership is also about celebrating each milestone of success along the journey.
And finally, I’ve learned that we must never rest on our laurels, and that leadership requires not being afraid to take decisions that continually strengthen the position of a hotel as a best-in-class luxury leader.