The Austrian president of Hilton Middle East assumed his role in 2010
The open door policy of hotelier Rudi Jagersbacher
Rudi Jagersbacher is president of Hilton in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey and was previously described as one of the region’s most powerful hoteliers. An Austrian, he previously worked for London hotels The Savoy and Claridges before becoming general manager of The Langham Hilton and later the London Hilton on Park Lane. Mr Jagersbacher rose through the ranks to assume his current role late 2010, operating largely out of Dubai. Now 65, he lives with his wife Jane in Dubai Marina.
I’m a light sleeper, so get up 5.30/6am. I either go to the gym early morning or afternoon, try to be in the office around 8am. I go through my diary first, look at the week; priorities change and we need to be fluid. I get a financial report of the previous week for the region; I know by about 10am how we’re doing. It’s a big number but also an inconsistent number. I speak to the regional specialists. There’s a lot to look at from a development point of view. Where we operate compliance is very important.
We’re in Internet City, about 140 people working. My weekly update with internal and external comms; any issues from a health and safety or security point of view, any reactive discussion, would be done during these meetings. There are 163 hotels in the pipeline, signed deals across Middle East, Africa and Turkey. Everybody has an opinion what this/that hotel should look like - I will never overrule if you’re the interior designer or architect, but I have input. We have a lot of people focusing on development, then technical services; another team does openings, from an operational point of view, IT, legal, commercial.
I walk through the offices. Those I don’t make it to on Sunday I do Monday. I go to legal, finance, development, communications, HR, sales, marketing, try to see everybody. I want interaction, feedback. It’s important to get a feel of the business because later my VPs call and we have an hour reviewing the week, go through their region. I want everybody to understand where we are. If you’re responsible for Africa, you should know what Turkey is doing. We make notes, action points, and the following week come back to it. I don’t do presentations; I want them to talk to me, to highlight things. Depending on what is hot, I invite other people - one day the VP of finance or HR, it depends what the need of the business is. I make sure we’re all on the same page. It’s very collaborative.
Generally I leave around 4pm, go to the gym. Depending on the cycle of the business it doesn’t always allow that. We’ve got a multi-billion dollar business; four regions with four vice presidents in different locations, who report to me. I’m available 24/7. I’ve got an office (at home). I’ll be there until 10pm, on the computer. I’ve a house in Austria; sometimes I work from there.
We have almost 50 hotels open and in the pipeline in UAE. We’re signing deals. We have brand performance calls – an organisation that looks after the brands. It’s important we understand where we are. We identify areas where we want to be, where economically there’s sustainability, ensure our brands are in the right locations. We want to make sure we’re at the forefront, so we’re innovating, have new brands that address a particular segmentation. If there is a Hilton brand, irrespective of the model, it has to have the same service levels. We’re also concerned about where new customers are coming from.
We’re already planning for next year; from a commercial point of view we’re imbedding our thoughts and strategy, so we have meetings relating to this. I need to know from marketing, from sales, what are the trends. We have our programme Zero to Hero; we’re opening 20-22 hotels a year, what activities are they doing to make sure by the time we open we have some business. We have to be clued up, whether it’s good or bad. In human nature we only want to give good messages. You can make mistakes – but I need to be aware. My door is always open. I don’t want to be unapproachable – we are all team members.
I meet owners or owners’ representatives two or three times a week. We operate an asset light model. I plan to go to Beirut because we’re opening a new hotel, also meet people at existing hotels. We’ll have a business review meeting for Egypt while I’m there. I’ll have a daily running sheet of activities. We have senior executives flying into Dubai; they’ll meet owners, tour the hotels. It’s difficult to define a typical working week. You’ve got to break it down between internal and external. When I go to Beirut I might go on to Jordan or Saudi. We have groups that look after diversity and the Manager of the Future training programme, to bring young Saudis up through the hospitality ranks.
I also organise myself, focus on getting the balance right, and encourage you to manage your own time. I believe there’s only three hours that you can focus on the numbers – the rest is about planning, strategies, talking, and managing by walking around. It’s not possible to be creative and decisive when you’re not communicating properly. Define and focus. You need to be very specific and get your point across.
I spend an hour with my PA to arrange the following week, go through the diary, see the key things we can’t move. I like moving things because we have to react, have flexibility, but certain things you can’t. I want to be challenged – what are the issues and how can we deal with them? In terms of competitors I want to be number one; I want us to be the preferred hospitality group for an investor.
Tonight I’m meeting an owner – some owners are up at 7am. Different people have different patterns. We make sure we are satisfying your needs and our needs; therefore the relationship between our investors and us is fundamentally the most important aspect because if you are on a different level with your owners you have a problem.
Africa operates today and calls to the States are generally on Friday. You’re a leader of a business you cannot say ‘I can’t do it’. I like working on a weekend. I pick up phones to people.
I structure my business week and my weekend. On a weekend, generally, we don’t go out, contrary to most people. You will not find me in restaurants – I do this during the week; might go to the cinema and a nice restaurant afterwards.
Friday and Saturday I want some peace and to think. I have a lot of local friends; I wanted to learn the character, the fabric of the country where I live.
I will play golf, 6.30am. I have hospitality friends I play with. More gym, with my wife; there are times when we don’t see each other for weeks. At least two weeks out of the month I’m not here, sometimes three.
I love football, Formula 1. Sometimes friends come and watch football.