Excellence Wins: A book review by Bob Morris

Excellence Wins : A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise
Horst Schulze with Dean Merrill
Zonderman (2019)

The Platinum Standard of Hospitality: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

Long ago, Voltaire observed: “The best is the enemy of the good.” More recently Jim Collins suggests, “Good is the enemy of great.” I was reminded of those admonitions as I began to read Excellence Wins. With the assistance of Dean Merrill, Horst Schulze shares the most valuable business lessons he has learned thus far during one of the most interesting careers I have as yet encountered. Born and raised in a German village that had neither a hotel nor a restaurant, he eventually became one of the most highly admired world leaders in the hospitality industry. He arrived in the United States in 1964, working in the HIlton organization, then spent nine years working for Hyatt as a local manager, as a regional vice president, and then as a corporate vice president), before joining the co-founders of Ritz-Carlton in 1983. He helped to grow it from zero luxury hotels to fifty-five in eleven countries.

Schulze includes hundreds of anecdotes that illustrate an observation — “God is in  the details” — attributed to a number of different people, most notably to architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969). An earlier form, “Le bon Dieu est dans le détail” (“the good God is in the detail”) is generally attributed to Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880). The details that Schulze cites have a secular rather than a religious significance. They serve as examples of ladies and gentlemen throughout the Ritz-Carlton organization serving the guests, other ladies and gentlemen, who are entrusted to their care.

Long ago, Caesar Ritz said that he and his associates were committed to providing superior service to hotel guests that is “invisible.” That is only possible when rigorous attention is paid to the details. It all begins with the process of creating great employees:  “first, selection; next, inspiring orientation; then, initial teaching of specific job functions; finally, sustaining what has been taught.” In order to strengthen this process, Schulze wrote 24 “Service Standards” (see pages 121-127) and every day before each of the three staff shifts  begins, the leader “reads one standard, makes comments about what it means, and maybe tells a story or reads a relevant customer comment to show the standard in action.”

I am deeply grateful to Horst Schulze for sharing this account of his personal growth and professional development. As he would be among the first to point out, an organization is only as great as its people, at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. That is the platinum standard of hospitality that Ritz-Carlton has set and where continues to achieve. Bravo!


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