Schulze demands excellence from every employee. To make even the lowliest clerk feel important, he coined the motto, “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” In 1992, he led his company to win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the only hospitality company to earn the prestigious prize.
WS: How did you advance from dishwasher to president of a world-class hotel company?
Schulze: I’ve always believed success comes to those who create excellence wherever they are at the moment—right now. And to do that, you must have the knowledge to create excellence.
WS: That sounds so simple. Is it?
Schulze: No, because gaining knowledge takes time. Here’s an example: I used to work for Hyatt, where I was food and beverage director. One day my boss promoted me to general manager, which is the dream job of everyone in the hotel business. But I said, “I haven’t been rooms manager yet.” He said, “Oh, that’s not necessary.” But I knew I wasn’t prepared to excel as GM. I needed to keep teaching myself, so I insisted on becoming rooms manager. He agreed. A year later, he asked, “Are you over that now?” I felt I was ready, and I was named GM. Two years later, I became vice president.
WS: That was a big gamble. Had your boss moved on and the new boss left you as rooms manager for years, you’d have been stuck, right?
Schulze: Not at all. I would have gained knowledge to excel as GM, and I could go anywhere and know I could succeed in that role.
WS: Do most employees share your commitment to excellence?
Schulze: Some do, sure. They make it through each step, from forming a vision of excellence, then committing to it, then starting to take action. Where it breaks down is that only some people can focus on excellence over time and follow through. Others can’t do it. They find excuses.
WS: Why do they give up?
Schulze: Excuses protect their ego. I remember noticing when our new Boston hotel had low bookings in January and February. I called the manager and asked why. He said, “Here in Boston, the ice and snow make it hard.” I said, “I don’t want a weather report. Were the other Boston hotels empty?” For him, an excuse was an explanation. People like to hold onto excuses, live in the excuses and talk about them all the time as if to make them more real.
WS: But doesn’t everyone make excuses sometimes?
Schulze: Not the people who move up to become leaders. They can’t think, “Today I don’t feel good. I’ll slack off.” If you’re a doctor, you can kill someone if you make that excuse.
WS: It must have been lonely always pushing yourself so hard.
Schulze: I never felt alone because I created a theoretical board of directors of my life. I’d appoint people who inspired me with their values. They became a source of strength, a reminder of my need to be excellent. A dishwasher I worked with many years ago always influences me. He’s dead now, but I imagine him advising me all the time.
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