Wolfgang Neumann, incoming CEO of Rezidor.
BRUSSELS—After Rezidor Hotel Group’s dramatic shift of focus from a European hotel company to a global player during the past two years, Kurt Ritter certainly was not going to let his retirement derail that momentum. He went searching for a successor with global experience; someone who has dedicated his life to hospitality and understands the nuances of managing hotels in various regions.
Enter Wolfgang Neumann, who has grown through ranks as GM, VP, senior VP and president of major worldwide brands.
Ritter, who served as CEO of Rezidor for 23 years, announced his retirement Thursday and introduced Neumann as his successor, effective 1 January.
“I’m very much an international hotelier; that’s what aligns me with Kurt,” Neumann told HotelNewsNow.com. “I’ve spent my whole life in the hotel business, and I know the business inside and out.”
Neumann has worked in hotels in the United States and throughout 11 European countries and has operating experience in most of the countries in which Rezidor plans to grow. He understands the importance of having a global brand in today’s business.
“This won’t be a revolution, rather this is an evolution,” Neumann said of his appointment. “The importance for us is to continue the asset-light growth strategy in emerging markets. We are growing very fast, we are a recognized global brand and now we need to focus on generating returns for our shareholders.”
Rezidor’s largest shareholder is also its sister company, Minneapolis-based Carlson Hotel Group. After Neumann joined Rezidor 16 months ago as executive VP and COO, he worked alongside Ritter in helping join the two companies and outline global, strategic goals moving forward.
“The partnership allows us to think and act globally,” Neumann said. “There is a consolidation in the hotel industry everywhere, and we want to really exploit these opportunities.”
For example, Carlson and Rezidor are sharing resources in the online territory to build a new Web platform. Neumann said the focus there will be on creating loyalty of customers to help “fight the battle with the (online travel agencies).”
“Fighting the loyalty battle to me is a critical one,” he said. “It’s all about globalizing the brand and communicating with the customers across the globe.”
Outside of that, Rezidor’s focus remains on creating more profitability for its owners and lifting earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization margins, Neumann said.
Changes at the top
Both Carlson and Rezidor will experience leadership changes at the top this year. In late August, Carlson appointed 15-year employee Trudy Rautio as president and CEO effective immediately after Hubert Joly left the company to lead technology retailer Best Buy.
Neumann assured the simultaneous changes won’t provide a challenge in reassuring stability to the companies’ franchisees.
“That’s just how things in life turn out,” he said. “Trudy’s work has been an instrumental part of Carlson’s growth strategy, and she worked very closely with Hubert. There is continuation at Carlson, and the same can be said at Rezidor. Kurt and I have worked very closely.
“There is no reason for concern,” he continued. “That is one of the great characteristics of both companies—we are very much long-term focused.”
Ritter, 65, was one of the longest-running CEOs in the hotel industry, leading Rezidor for 23 years before announcing his retirement. He leaves a strong legacy for Neumann to carry.
“He stands out among the CEOs,” Neumann said of Ritter. “I don’t think there is anybody that has the recommendation and success that he’s earned over the years—and I emphasize the word ‘earned.’ He built Rezidor; he has put his stamp on it.”
Neumann said he learned from Ritter that the fundamental focus of Rezidor is to “never forget this business is all about guests in the hotels and owners who largely trust in us to run their hotels.”
The guests come first, he said, and the owners come second. Neumann has grown to appreciate enormously the entrepreneurial spirit of Rezidor, particularly the fast-moving growth of the Radisson Blu brand globally.
“I’m incredibly grateful for him to have given me an enormous platform,” he said of Ritter. “We have a great team and that is what we have to build on now. It’s great that he stays on until the end of the year, and then we go into the next phase.”