In addition to general concerns about the property, The Ritz-Carlton had to customize each hotel to meet local market demands. As McBride elaborated, “There is great credence given to the importance of taking local information and then adapting to it. That’s what we learned in Asia, and that’s what I’ve been doing for six years—adapting locally to do business there.” One of the adaptations that occurred at the new Washington, D. C., hotel involved the Secret Service walking the site and discussing the planning of entrances and exits with the developers. Given the likelihood of foreign diplomats and ambassadors being guests of the hotel, security design became an issue of potential international importance.
Innovations for the savvy guests the hotel expected to attract took more creative turns as well. For example, McBride planned to link services provided by the hotel’s main restaurant, Kobalt, to the Internet. Customers would be able to go to KobaltExpress.com where they could order their menus ahead of time and select the table they would like to reserve, while Kobalt@home.com would allow condominium residents to order meals to their suites. McBride also planned to incorporate an exhibition kitchen into the Kobalt, explaining, “This restaurant is not going to be a traditional Ritz- Carlton restaurant.”
That was not the only aspect of the new hotel that broke with tradition; according to Collins, Millennium Partners took an active role in defining the interior spaces: “We picked out all the art. You won’t see one English hunting scene in this hotel—and it’s been painful for the Ritz. Their competition is the Four Seasons, and the Ritz has been resting on its laurels—‘We’re an English kind of hotel’—and that just is not going to get it done in the 2000s. It’s just not what people want.”
Millennium Partners’ choices of artwork resulted in a collection valued at about $2 million, including hand-blown glass designs by Seattle’s Dale Chihuly. The highest thread-count Egyptian cotton fabric was used for all the linens, down comforters covered each bed, and the bathrooms were tiled in beige and white marble. Further breaking with traditional Ritz-Carlton designs, the property contained a 34,000-square-foot Japanese garden complete with a cascading waterfall, bamboo plants, and willow trees.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company 601-163
Staffing the New Hotel
The property owners had the right to approve the individuals nominated by The Ritz-Carlton for three executive positions: general manager, director of marketing, and controller. Once McBride was selected as the general manager, he was instrumental in choosing the additional members of the hotel’s executive committee, almost all of whom had experience at other Ritz-Carlton properties. These leaders were in place about two and a half months prior to the scheduled hotel opening.
The executive committee then selected their functional managers, who were, in turn, primarily responsible for hiring line-staff members. In hotels that were already operating, the selection process was often inverted, with the line staff selecting their leaders from a pool of candidates. Similarly, line-staff applicants typically were selected and trained by relevant team members, but for new-hotel openings, the process was much more structured and hierarchical.
Millennium Partners’ concerns regarding the hotel’s new staff centered on the distinction between effectively opening and running a hotel, as Collins explained:
I’ve got to tell you that I love James McBride. James McBride is just fabulous. He’s successfully opened up lots of Ritz-Carltons. But a year from now? We’ll have done it for 365 days, and the edge will be off a little bit. The problem in the hotel business is that you have to fill it up every single day. So somehow you have to put your game face on and be 99% every single day. But even then, that means you’re ticking off a customer every single day. I don’t know how you do it a year out, two years out, five years out. I don’t know how you keep it sharp. And that’s the trick.
As The Ritz-Carlton’s president and COO, Schulze was all too aware of the difficulty of keeping it sharp. Having worked his way from a waiters’ apprentice and dishwasher to the top of one of the world’s best hotel companies, Schulze knew firsthand how hard it could be for employees to maintain their motivation to deliver exceptional service to customers every single day, and how difficult it could be for managers and leaders to keep morale up after the fanfare of a new-hotel opening. To help minimize failures in service delivery, Schulze focused on key human resource practices, particularly employee recruitment, selection, and training.
Personnel recruitment A wide variety of tools was used to attract applicants for the staff positions at the new hotel. McBride was active in the recruitment process, dining at The Ritz- Carlton’s arch-competition and giving deserving servers cards that read “The Service You Just Provided Was First Class!” on one side and contained job-application information on the other. More traditionally, targeted ads for food and beverage personnel were run in the newspapers of major cites (e.g., New York and San Francisco), while the community within Washington, D.C., also provided fertile ground for potential employees. The first hospitality high school in the United States was located in the area, and The Ritz-Carlton also interviewed individuals in welfare-to-work programs.
For positions that required technical expertise or high-level service delivery, individuals with significant prior experience were hired. For more entry–level positions, novices to the hospitality industry were acceptable. As Marie Minarich, the hotel’s human resources director, said: “If they have the talent, and if they want to serve people, we can train them. We can teach them the skills they need to perform any number of different functions. As long as we make sure that we choose people who fit our culture, we can work with them.”
Ritz-Carlton job fair A two-day mass recruitment occurred on August 22 and 23, 2000, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and was billed as a “Ritz-Carlton Job Fair.” Individuals who had previously applied, as well as those who had not, were invited to the site (still under construction at the time)
601-163 The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
where they went through the selection procedure. Throughout both days, the goal was to treat applicants to a personal demonstration of the service-oriented culture that made The Ritz-Carlton famous.
At the Foggy Bottom Metro stop, three uniformed Ritz-Carlton representatives stood by large placards advertising the job fair, ready to provide directions to the site. The path between the Metro and The Ritz-Carlton was marked with cobalt blue ribbons. Just outside the entrance to the building, applicants arrived at the “Warm Welcome” station, where they were greeted at the door by one of several employees who wished them luck and escorted them past a violinist into the lower level of the hotel where the meeting rooms had been outfitted. Greeters then escorted applicants to the registration area, where Claude Hedspeth provided entertainment with his electric piano. Despite performing for over 25 years, this was the first time he had ever played at a job fair.
In the waiting room, where beverages and snacks were available, a Ritz-Carlton video was running in which Schulze talked about his early days as a dishwasher and other Ritz-Carlton employees described their experiences at the company. After the applicants provided basic employment information, they went through a standardized selection procedure that first involved the administration of a screening questionnaire. Those who made it past the initial screening proceeded on to a professionally developed and validated structured interview. Each individual was then personally escorted to “Fond Farewell,” where they were thanked for applying, given miniature Ritz-Carlton chocolates, and escorted out of the building.
By 2:00 p.m. on the first day, over 400 individuals had been through the process, and everyone, from McBride on down, pitched in to serve as escorts, paperwork runners, and interviewers—and that was before the local news media aired a blitz of stories about the hotel. Over 10 years had passed since a luxury hotel opened in Washington, D.C., and television crews swarmed the job fair.
The aftershock was felt on the second day, when 1,500 individuals showed up to compete for positions. By the time all was said and done, 2,300 people had been through the selection process in 24 hours, while another 1,700 had already completed the application process prior to the job fair. These were impressive numbers, especially given the local unemployment rate of only 5.4%.6 About 400 people were eventually hired, which made getting a job at The Ritz-Carlton about as likely as being accepted as a Harvard undergraduate.
Individuals who did not make the cut were treated the same as everyone else during the job fair, as Inghilleri explained:
We try to make sure that those we don’t hire are treated really well. They may also be sons and daughters of our customers, we don’t know. So why would I mistreat them? If someone is not hired and we just disregard them, what does that accomplish? You create someone in the community who looks at you and says, “Those guys are morons. They are arrogant imbeciles who don’t understand who I am, who didn’t value me as a person.” We don’t want that.
For the new hires, The Ritz-Carlton utilized a pre-employment call-back process to reduce the attrition that often occurred during the lag between the job offer and the start date (see Exhibit 9). During this phase of the employer-employee relationship, new employees were treated as customers with their own unique set of needs, and the hotel’s managers were accountable for their satisfaction.
6 “Local Area Unemployment Statistics for the District of Columbia,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2000, http://18.104.22.168/cgi-bin/surveymost.