Interview with ​Thierry Lavalley
Nataly Osmann

Thierry Lavalley, General Manager of the Grand Hotel Kempinski Geneva, President of the Geneva Hotel Association, on putting a dream team together and the identity of ‘Lady in Red’.

Nataly: There are many talented hoteliers and other managers, but you are a media person, everybody wants to take interview with you or take a photo, so how that came, that you became such popular?

Thierry Lavalley: I think, it’s only because I like people. So, it goes beyond my business. Of course, my business is to make my clients happy, my business is to make the best profitable business in my industry, but I think, that the number one and the golden rule of our business is the human relation or the human relation dimension. And I think, people are more and more forgetting that our industry is about people, and only people. So, if I look at myself, I am convinced that I will never forget this global statement, which is my number one golden rule. If you like people, people will bring exactly the same to you. So, clearly, if you want to be successful, there is no other rule, but the capacity and the ability to handle the relationship with the people. And I think I’m good in this and maybe it’s one of the reasons why I’ve been nominated to be the president Geneva hotel association.

N: So, the position that you take can effort only easy-going and charming person. That’s not easy! Could you tell me what requirements do you have for your employees?

T: It’s not that difficult. First of all, it’s not something that you learn at the hotel school, people have to understand this. I always say that when I hire people, I don’t look at resume. First of all, resume doesn’t summarize a personality. When I hire people for each single position in my hotel I spend a little bit of time. It’s very important to feel the person, to hire the talent! If you want to have the best people in your team, first of all you have to hire them by yourself, and you have to find something in them that will fit your needs in terms of talent, in terms of behavior, in terms of attitude. The specialization is less important. I will always be able to teach the bartender how to make cocktails. It will be impossible for me to teach him from A to Z the behavior.

N: So, when you hire person, you interview everyone of them, and pay attention to gained skills and other things. Do you remember there was the lobby boy in «The Grand Budapest Hotel” movie? He was the main person at the hotel. Who is the main person at your hotel?

T: We have a lady, she’s “the lady in red”. The lady in red is the lady, dressed in red, that everybody recognizes because of the way she’s dressed. She is somebody who is really in charge of our clients to make their stay as enjoyable as it could be. Everybody knows that when you go to the Kempinski, you see the lady dressed in red, she is there to help you, she is there to make your stay comfortable. It’s the number one position in the hotel, it’s even more important than the general manager. She is the face of the hotel. And she is extremely important, because she has the reputation of the hotel on her shoulders.

N: So, how the idea of the Lady in red came? Because it’s very romantic!

T: The idea came from a brainstorming sessions, you know that from time to time we do meetings, all of us. We wanted to stand out from our competitions, because every deluxe brand has its own signature moment. And we created Lady in red. I’m sure you saw Lady in red exactly facing the entrance of the hotel, super location, because the lady in red is not somebody that should be behind. And if you go to any of our 76 hotels opened right now all around the world you will see the Lady in red.

N: What was the most revolutionary decision at your work ever?

T: The first thing that comes to my mind right now is what we have been able to achieve in terms of green attitude. Our hotel in Geneva is the only hotel which has its own fisherman. We have our own cows in twenty minutes driving distance from the hotel, and we have our own milk, butter and some variety of cheese. We have our own honey, because we produce our honey with the bees on the top of the hotel. We have our own garden at the hotel, where we have our own vegetables and fruits to cover the needs of at least one restaurant, the Il Vero restaurant, for example. I believe in the local production, when you buy food you should not buy food that is too much far away from your hotel.

N: It’s very unique, especially at this time. But let’s suppose that you have a genius idea, but nobody from the colleagues is supporting you. What would you do?

T: I will try hard, if I really believe that my idea is probably one of the best. I will implement it, because I will be able to convinced my stuff always, because my stuff is my mirror, the good stuff is always a mirror of the general manager. So, I will have no problem to convince my stuff. I will convince the owner, because he is the one, who hired me, so if he hired me, he had full trust in me. I will find the right example to convince them, or I will ask for a trial period, I will say: “You hired me, because you believed in me. Give me three months. If in the end of the three months we fail – we will give up. You can not simply say “no”. I have experience and knowledge, you have trust in me, so give me a chance.”

N: What is the three key components of the ideal hotel for you?

T: The best hotel will always remain the hotel with good sleep, good food and good service.

N: All that people need.

T: Yes, and if it is possible, of course, but it’s less important: a good location. It’s really less important, because most people travel the world for good sleep, good food, good service.

N: What was the best hotel, excluding yours, where you have ever stayed?

T: People often ask me that question. It is in French Polynesia in the small island of Tetiaroa and the name of the hotel is The Brando, in honor of Marlon Brando – a famous actor. This is where you realize – that's paradice on earth! Really. I found it a couple of years ago.

N: I should go there!

T: I’m sure I will go there once again.

Where are we right now?


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