Ritz Carlton’s Schulze: ‘We Are Not Defined By Others’

In this two-part edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Maxwell Leadership Thought Leader Don Yaeger sits down with the legendary co-founder of The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, Horst Schulze, to reflect on the early life lessons that influenced his leadership.

At 14 years old, Horst Schulze stood in the restaurant of the hotel in Germany where he had just been hired as a busboy and listened as the general manager established one important ground rule: “The guests here are very important ladies and gentlemen. You are here to learn how to serve those fine ladies and gentlemen.” 

Moments later, the maître d approached him to offer another perspective on his responsibilities as an apprentice. “Tomorrow, show up at 7 a.m. If I meant one minute after seven, I would tell you so.” In that single, terse sentence, recalls Schulze, his boss established the mindset he expected everybody to adopt.

And in his next breath, the maître d added, “Don’t come to work. Come here to be excellent.” With that, Schulze had his marching orders—and something far more precious and enduring. Two years later, an instructor at the hotel school Schulze attended asked students to write an essay about the hotel business. The essay would be the culmination of the students’ preparation. The now 16-years-old Schulze used the assignment to reconcile the different points of view he had absorbed during his apprenticeship.

“I recalled how proud the guests of the hotel where I worked were to be served by the maître d, and I realized that they were delighted because he had defined himself as a gentleman,” recalled Schulze. “Right then, I realized we are not defined by others, but by ourselves. We can be a dishwasher and a gentleman.” From this insight, Schulze came up with his theme for the essay: “I wrote that those who work in our industry are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,” said Schulze, “unless we sentence ourselves to being servants by not being excellent.” 

This idea of ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen earned Schulze an “A.” It also became the unforgettable motto of The Ritz-Carlton Company, which he cofounded and served as President and Chief Operating Officer responsible for its $2 billion operations worldwide. Under Schulze’s leadership, Ritz-Carlton became the first service-based company to be awarded the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award—twice. After leaving Ritz-Carlton, he went on to found The Capella Hotel Group, a luxury hotel company that manages some of the most elite properties worldwide, and gave Horst the opportunity to further define the luxury hotel industry.

In this podcast, the first of a two-part series, listeners will learn how Schulze’s disciplined, Old World upbringing fostered a fresh and cutting-edge approach to business leadership—one that has powerfully influenced top leaders far beyond the hospitality industry—including: 

5:00   The genesis of “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

7:00   How to next-level your organization’s purpose statement.

10:30  The difference between management and leadership.

13:45  Three things every customer expects.

15:00  The fastest way to develop customer loyalty.

18:00  The non-negotiables that form the backbone of Ritz-Carlton’s culture.

Join us for an unforgettable conversation on the power of dedication, teamwork and self-respect to create a business culture that manages both to empower your team and accept nothing less than excellence. 

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and be the first to listen to part two when you subscribe to new episodes.


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