After graduating from Hotelschool The Hague, Ricco de Blank, Hotelschool The Hague Alumnus, worked in different job positions within the Hospitality Industry. Hotelschool The Hague interviewed him, asked about his career and what made him such a successful industry professional.
Could you tell us a little bit about your career so far?
I have had three positions after Hotelschool The Hague. My first one was at Disney, where I spent four years in both Florida and Paris. My second position was at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, where I spent almost 17 years, in various locations. I became General Manager at one of the properties at quite an early age and stayed General Manager for about 10 years. After Ritz Carlton, I joined Sun Hung Kai, which most people don’t know, but is the world’s largest property developer in real estate. We have hotels that we run ourselves, all based in Hong Kong, and we have partner hotels such as the Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, W, and Park Hyatt. We call them partner hotels, because we really want to partner with them. We want to learn from what they are doing, to be able to keep improving the total hotel portfolio. We also have serviced apartments, which fall under my responsibilities. Most of the hotels are located in Hong Kong and China.
What can students do to be as successful as you?
Oh well, success is a big word, I never see myself as successful. I think that you have to work really hard in the hotel business, especially in the beginning. I remember when I graduated, my friends went outside of the hotel business and immediately earned more than me, and some even got a company car. I became a dishwasher and management trainee in a restaurant, working seven days a week, even on holidays, getting paid a lot less. However, I really learned a lot, because the basis for your hotel business is made in those divisions. It became interesting once I became a General Manager, because then you really are leading people who have specialised individual talents, being an engineer, in Finance, in Human Resources. You are not the expert in those areas, but you can lead those people to perform better, to ultimately make your hotel perform better.
What was your specific talent before you became General Manager?
Well, let’s go back. I think already when I was very young, at my parents’ house, I was always the one serving the drinks when we had people over for a party or a reception. I really enjoyed that, I enjoyed serving people. And I enjoyed them saying “thank you”. That recognition of me delivering a service, ws really special, which of course I didn’t realise at the time. At a later stage, I realised that this is something that I really like to do. I don’t want to be a servant, I want to be a service professional. That takes people with love for the business, and love for people because it’s all about the people: how you treat your employees, how you treat your guests, how you treat your peers. It is very much a people’s business. If you are good with people, I recommend continuing in the hotel business.
Did you always know you wanted to stay in the hotel industry?
Yes, kind of. Back then, when I was serving at my parents’ house, I remember I watched this TV programme called ‘Hotel’. It was about this beautiful hotel in San Francisco, and the General Manager, Mr McDermott was driving a Porsche and he lived inside the hotel. I said: I want that job! It was a dream for me as a little boy, because I also liked cars. So I followed that dream. Luckily, I had good mentors, people who guided me. The journey wasn’t always smooth; I got fired a few times. My manager did hire me back though. I am very thankful for my great mentors who guided me, who helped me, and who gave me opportunities. When I thought I wasn’t ready, they said that I was and had faith in me.
Do you see yourself as a mentor?
I do want to give people a chance, I really enjoy that. If students send me a letter, saying “I’m at Hotelschool The Hague, I am looking for an internship and I would love to work in Hong Kong”, I always give them a chance. I will pass that letter on to the General Manager. The students have an interview, and I wish them good luck. I try to give them that opportunity. The students have to decide whether it is the job for them. They have to ask themselves: Can I afford an apartment in Hong Kong? Am I going to leave my boyfriend? I will help you, give you a little push, but you have to do it. Try to get the best out of your internship.
You manage many people. How do you inspire them, to be the best they can be?
It’s about trust. I think you have to have a lot of integrity. Do what you said you would do. Be very disciplined and try to make the right decisions. When you don’t, just don’t make the same mistake over and over again. Those are the qualities that I enjoy in people around me. I don’t want to work 15 hours a day, for 7 days a week and I don’t want to overwork myself. I do want to be effective and efficient. So, once you have those people around you, you have to set very clear goals. These goals should not be set by you as a leader but by the employees. This way, the employees are involved in the planning of the work that affects them, and they want to achieve, and they are driven to a better performance.
Do you think that the hotel industry is changing? Do you see a different future for the hotel industry?
Very much, yes. In the past, there were a lot more full service hotels, nowadays hotels are outsourcing a lot. For instance, restaurants are not part of the hotels anymore. Customers are changing, you just have to be fast enough to change with the customer. Reviews are so important, they influence the guests, making them book with you instead of the competition. Therefore, you have to look after the small things. How long does it take for somebody to check in? I remember, I asked the front desk years ago, what do they need to check in faster. Apparently, the printer was slow, a laser printer could save one minute. Done! Little investment. But the employees need to tell me that, for me to be able to improve.
You have lived in a lot of different countries. Could you tell us more about what was hard, what was easy, and what you enjoyed?
Yes. Everywhere, I think, cultures are different, languages are different. I am a very tall person, so immediately people are kind of afraid when I walk in. I try to sit down very quickly, so that I am eye to eye with people. Cultural differences are always a fact. But at the same time, everybody wants the same thing: they want to be treated with respect. If you treat people with respect and they really enjoy what they do, you can work anywhere. You just have to adjust a little bit to different customs. Adapt to those customs, try and fit in, but keep your own identity.
What did you take from Hotelschool The Hague that helped you in your career?
Many things! It’s interesting, I was having dinner with a friend of mine last night, who also went to Hotelschool, and he owns recruitment agencies. Big companies, such as KPMG etc. come to him and say: “We are looking for a leader for this division”, or “we need to have a CEO for that company”. And he asks what kind of people they are looking for. Often they say “You know what, we want those hotel school kind of people”. And I thought: what does that mean? It means they are flexible and enthusiastic. If I meet students, I always tell them to never lose that. That sparkle in your eyes, don’t lose that. Keep that sparkle; make sure that sparkle is an inspiration and motivation to other people. It’s contagious, so make sure you keep that always. Over time, you will get tired sometimes, doing the same job every day. But keep that sparkle, make sure you keep yourself motivated.
Did you keep that sparkle throughout your career?
I hope so. I mean in my life, in my marriage, as a parent, you want to make sure you do the best that you can.
Do you think that Hotelschool The Hague teaches students a certain mindset?
I don’t know what they teach nowadays, but it is a whole package. It is not just a thin road of specialisation, it is also your student life, and the other things that you do besides it. And that is so often overlooked. I have always had great students from Hotelschool The Hague, great interns. I remember the first time I gave a speech at Hotelschool The Hague, in 1991 or 1992. I hadn’t even graduated yet. There were about 6 or 7 students there, and that was it. The whole auditorium was empty, so I hired them all, gave them all a job. 6 months later, during my second speech, there were 89 people in the room. So you just have to give people a little bit of inspiration, a small push, to see what they want to do and inspire them a little bit. Before you know it, you have people interested.
Ricco de Blank, Hotelschool The Hague Alumnus
Are you interested in seeing more about Hotelschool The Hague Alumni? Then check out the 3rd Edition of our HTH Alumni Magazine, the ALMA.