Hotel icon waxes philosophical on service

Brian Brown, ReporterBKD Wealth Advisors paid $10,000 per hour to get advice from the former president of Ritz-Carlton Hotels. This week, I got 10 minutes from him for free.

In my more than five years experience working as a reporter, I’ve been lucky enough to interview a lot of really interesting people. Some of those folks are leaders of industries that are well known locally, while others are quietly contributing to society in ways I’ve found admirable.

I had a brief conversation once with John Q. Hammons when I was trying to find out why plans were delayed for an Embassy Suites hotel next to the Springfield Expo Center. I’ve interviewed the presidents of Drury, Evangel and Missouri State universities, local leaders at Mercy and CoxHealth, about a dozen council members, SRC Holdings Corp. CEO Jack Stack (I spoke with him this week, in fact), Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce President Jim Anderson and both of Missouri’s current senators, Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill. But this week I might have topped the name cake, so to speak.

On Aug. 29, I interviewed Horst Schulze. Schulze, as described by Forbes magazine, is the man most everyone knows as having defined the luxury hotel experience through his long tenure as president of Ritz-Carlton Hotels.

These days, the German-born Schulze is attempting to redefine luxury again as the CEO of Atlanta-based Capella Hotel Group. I had reached out for an interview this week because we in the newsroom had heard that Springfield-based BKD Wealth Advisors LLC had hired Schulze as a consultant.

BKD Wealth President Jack Thurman told me he flew down to Atlanta in 2010 with the firm’s top managers, and then again by himself in 2011, to get one-on-one advice from Schulze on how to improve the wealth-management firm’s client services. As for the $10,000 per hour fee Schulze was said to charge for the advice – totally worth it. Thurman said the firm got its money’s worth in the first hour of the initial four-hour meeting.

Then again, Schulze is in the business of exceeding expectations.

Horst Schulze, CEO of Capella Hotel Group

Horst Schulze, CEO of Capella Hotel Group

Without giving away the whole story – you can read for yourself in the Sept. 2 print edition – I can tell you that Schulze feels passionately that companies, from all industries, routinely fall short when it comes to having processes in place to ensure quality customer service.

Leading up to the conversation, I found a number for him at Capella and left a voicemail message on his machine Tuesday. I didn’t expect I would hear back from him. On Wednesday, I tried again, talking this time for a minute with his executive secretary. She asked a few questions about why I was calling him, and then told me he might be able to call me back on Thursday morning (before he would fly to Asia to open a new hotel). Shortly after 8 a.m., he called.

He told me he had worked in the hospitality industry since the age of 14, and his whole life had been devoted to service. Businesses, he said, whether they serve high-end clientele or not, should always be customer-centered.

“First of all, you have to have an understanding of what service is. Service starts the moment the customer makes contact with the company. It doesn’t start a second later,” Schulze said.

Based on his reported hourly rate for the rare opportunity to secure him as a consultant, my 10-minute conversation was worth roughly $1,666. Luckily, I was the one on the clock.

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