Behind the Scenes at a Luxury Palace
Tuesday 2nd October 2012
Behind the Scenes at a Luxury Palace
A day in the life of a General Manager dedicated to ultimate luxury guest experience
The senior project manager of the Hotel Innovations SMARTreport, Masha Polshinskaya has the chance to “shadow” Thierry Lavalley, General Manager of the Grand Hotel Kempinski Geneva from sunrise to sunset, to get a better understanding of the intricacies involved in being a top level palace director.
The shadowing begins before 8 am in TL’s office. He is already on the phone, negotiating with a famous personality, discussing the creation of an event. He puts down the phone and gives me a warm welcome. The first impression I have is one of a man of stature and elegance, from his style of dress right down to the quality of the watch he is wearing. When I comment on the beauty of the timepiece, Mr Lavalley explains that he in fact has a large collection of watches and thus chooses the one he will wear in relation to the people he will be meeting that day. It stands to reason; Geneva is the world capital of timepieces and the choice of the watch one wears here reflects one’s savoir-faire and is a delicate attention towards those one is dealing with. It’s also a mark of respect to locals, as Thierry Lavalley has managed to open his hotel up to the local clientele, allowing people who live and work in Geneva to be indulged in a real “Kempinski experience”.
We start with a brief rundown of the agenda of the day which is set to be a busy one, with 185 arrivals and 115 departures. The assistant manager outlines special snippets of attention to be dealt out to key clients, such as a Metallica album for the son of a star who adores heavy metal music, a special reduction on spa treatments for a famed Swiss lawyer, and chocolates and cards for others. Thierry Lavalley’s doctrine is to leave each one of his managers a good deal of autonomy on their savoir-faire: finance to the accountants, the sauce to the chef, the management of massages to the head of the spa, to allow the general manager to be totally dedicated to the promotion of his hotel and to permit him to listen more attentively to his clients’ wants and needs.
But the general manager is also the “interface” between the operator and the owner. This is why, from 9:30, we are in the office of the financial director to study the reports that are to be submitted to the owner. Mr Lavalley says the general manager is the true spokesman for the operator, in this case, the Kempinski Group. He must constantly convince the owner that in having chosen Kempinski, he has chosen the right operator: “I am the ‘face and the voice’ of Kempinski in the owner’s mind and my role is to ensure his entire satisfaction in this respect. We work here under a management contract, which implies financial engagements on the part of the owner, and it is essential that the GM be able to explain and justify exactly what his investments correspond to.”
10 am: Daily operations meeting. All the department heads are brought together: the sales and revenue manager, front office, housekeeping, human relations and property operations, who present their activity reports. My attention is drawn to a satisfaction survey that shows great progress has been made. But this is not the fruit of chance. It is due to a policy under which staff members react as quickly as possible to any guest issues and also to inform the client as soon as the issue is solved. “By nature I am eternally unsatisfied and we are constantly seeking creative ways to improve,” says Thierry Lavalley.
It is almost mid-day and we head for lunch with the Ambassador for Mexico in Geneva. Thierry Lavalley explains the object of his meeting. It is important to develop a network to create a “buzz” about the hotel among the world’s elite and to bring them to the establishment. It is effectively in Mr Lavalley’s genes to develop relations with the public and contacts with his clients. He has thus attracted to the hotel many artists and the leading community of Geneva. His road map had been perfectly planned from the beginning, allowing him to dedicate 100% of his time to this role of “Hotel Ambassador” in his own right while insuring the hotel itself functions like a Swiss watch...
After lunch, Mr Lavalley consults his emails. He admits he is connected 24/7… and checks his emails even in the middle of the night. Despite being available during the night, it is extremely rare that his team abuses this facility, but it’s nice for them to know that in case of incident, someone is always there.
3 pm: The “green meeting”. Mr Lavalley brings together a team to work on innovative solutions that make a difference in sustainable development and cost reduction. At a group level, Kempinski takes responsibility to actively reduce the ecological impact of their hotels, with a green inspiration programme engaging staff and guests alike.
4 pm: Mr Lavalley meets with advisors to discuss the choice of new uniforms for his staff. Even here, good taste is part of the job and helps ensure ideal working conditions for his employees.
The Grand Hotel is more than just accommodation. It is a true complex including theatre, shopping gallery, restaurants, bars and even a nightclub. The success story of Thierry Lavalley has, in two years, been due to the contact with people, allying the different players and entities. He has awoken the underlying potential of the hotel and put it all to music.
When asked about Mr Lavalley and how he runs the establishment, the head of theatre operations (who should be one to know), tells us, “The ‘music’ was already written, it just needed the right conductor to bring it together in a harmonious manner.”
After sitting through the evening’s performance, activities continue accompanying the artists who have come from Paris. Mr Lavalley confides, “These artists are archetypal hotel promoters. When they return to Paris, they will pass on the message that the Kempinski was the best hotel of their tour. The impact is colossal for us in terms of marketing.
The small hand of Mr Lavalley’s elegant Swiss watch has now passed 18 hours since the ‘day’ began, indicating that it is 2 am. My eyes are heavy as this cheerful and still elegant man bids one and all good night, still with a smile on his lips. He’ll be back in the office in just 6 hours’ time… But that’s life – ensuring the best, for the best!