What motivated you to pursue a career in hospitality?

It was what I wanted to do since age 11. I grew up in Germany and began an apprenticeship in a hotel at 14 — and I have not regretted one day of my career in hospitality. It is the most exciting thing I have ever done.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in hospitality?

Make sure your values are aligned with the organization in which you choose to work. Find out what its vision is and what it plans for the future. Make sure it fits with your dreams and values. If the company’s goals and values do not fit with yours, keep looking. There are plenty of jobs out there. Understand the service orientation of the industry and then go and work for a great hospitality company. Be ready to move for the company. This is part of the excitement of the industry. And continue learning. You must know the variations of the industry, it is so beautiful and has so many opportunities – hotels, restaurants, high-end, low-end, fine dining, fast food – it is all there for you. The hospitality industry is unique, intense, global and has so much variety.

How has the hospitality industry evolved over the past decade?

There is an extensive job market for hospitality graduates. Other industries such as healthcare have begun seeking hospitality graduates to work for them. All because hospitality graduates understand the needs of the customer and fully grasp the concept of service. They know that hospitality graduates understand the importance of customer service and attention to the individual customer. All of this creates excitement to hospitality students. They learn precisely that hospitality and service are critical to today’s customer. The hospitality industry has always been evolving, but right now, there is an accelerated evolution in our industry. The differentiation is customer attention, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. Consequently, a wide variety of employers are looking for hospitality students who have learned this. This makes them highly attractive to many other industries.

What is one industry trend within the hospitality industry that readers should be looking out for in the coming years?

Twenty years ago, if a guest was unhappy, it was not that impactful. Today, because of social media, one unhappy guest can impact the world – and this will continue to grow. Hospitality employees must understand this and how greatly it can impact the organization. Hospitality managers must make sure that each employee knows that they are not there to just perform their one job. They are not only there to open doors, make rooms or cook food, they are there to also help convince every single guest that they want to come back and want to recommend us. Or, at the very least, not say anything negative about us.

How does the hospitality industry support quality of life for its employees?

There is an opportunity in the hospitality industry to employ people, not just employees. Beyond a salary, beyond each employee’s actual task, the employees can become part of the vision and the impact of the organization. Each employee has the opportunity to positively impact each guest. It adds purpose. There is something “in it” for them. They don’t just come to work, they come and join my dream. I tell my employees how they benefit by helping us accomplish the company’s vision. In order to be a team, each person must know and truly be invested in the purpose. Every employee must be invited to be part of the dream, part of the purpose, part of something valuable and honorable.

What are some important steps that individuals can take to help advance their career in the hospitality industry?

Education is key to success in the hospitality industry. After I came to the United States to work in the industry, I realized that I had to go back to school. I took every course that I could find at night and during summers, learning everything I could about the industry. If you want the opportunity and potential of teaching and mentoring others, college education is critical. I have worked with the Auburn University hospitality management program for many years because I am so zealous about the next generation of hospitality employees. Through this partnership, I have been able to teach students about the unparalleled customer service standards by which Ritz-Carlton achieved its world-class reputation for service and twice won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award during my tenure. My latest project is to help create a world-class culinary science center at Auburn where students can learn the industry from top to bottom so they are more prepared to excel in hospitality and make a difference for customers.