January 11, 2014 | Simon Barrow

How a real EB wins business by engaging and inspiring your people

A colleague in Vienna gave me three hotels she recommended for an autumn break to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. One stood out, The Alstadt, because of how the owner, Otto Wiesenthal, described his priorities.

Always looking for a showroom for my art collection, I transformed a patrician house in Vienna’s artists’ quarter into a boutique hotel. It has always been my wish to create the surroundings in such a way that I personally want to spend my time there.

My philosophy is based on 3 components: supporting young artists, providing outstanding service for my guests and creating a fulfilling atmosphere and a high quality of life for my employees. This is my art of hospitality.

What he said about his attitude to his people made the sale for me and at the Alstadt Wiesenthal and I had breakfast when I asked him what he actually did to deliver what he said on the website. He started by saying that historically you do not find great people in the hotel business for reasons of poor pay, long and anti social hours. After being finance director for Wang in Eastern Europe he founded the Alstadt in 1991 and this is how he manages his team:

1. I employ more people. For 50 rooms I employ 35. At Accor in Vienna they manage 180 rooms with just 22!

2. I look for intelligence, languages and communication skills. They do not need a background in hotels

3. The recruitment process – everyone is involved – will they fit in? will they enjoy being part of the team? They join because they like the people and there is no politics!

4. Everyone, including me, works to the same rules. One of which is helping out whatever your job is. Our breakfast started late because he was serving guests himself.

5. Development. Every year in mid January, when business is low, they all go to a top hotel and study what they can do better. Cities have included Venice, Paris and Barcelona,

6. Alumni. When he sees real talent in the team which he believes deserves a bigger job he will introduce the individual to people in his extensive network of top hotels. There are ex Alstadt team members in the Waldorf in New York and the Bristol in Paris as a result

7. Health and Safety. Chambermaids have tough job with lots of bending to clean and change linen. He provides physio sessions for them

8. Customer service needs understanding and patience. He provides Yoga classes for the team.

9. Assessments. One to ones with everyone each year. No unions, no workers council ‘I am the workers council!’

What struck me about Otto Wiesenthal was that here is an individual who knows what really creates and maintains an Employer Brand which is distinctive, compelling and reflects the truth. What does he value about it? He says ‘our guests are here for 3 or 4 days, I am here every day! This is my social surrounding