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"My motto is ‘happy employees make happy guests’." Interview with Ralph Radtke Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul

In our Hospitality ON issue (No 308-309), we interviewed professionnals of the hospitality industry around the world. We present here Ralph Radtke's point of view and thoughts on his job, General Manager of Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul.

Could you tell us about yourself and your background?

I am serving within the luxury hospitality industry with almost 50 years of experience in such iconic hotels like Ritz Paris and Belmond Hotel Cipriani; and more than 15 countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe continents. Since 2011, I am the General Manager of the iconic Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul also the Regional Director of Kempinski Residences in Turkey. Previously, I was at the helm of Sofitel as a Senior Vice President managing a total of 15 hotels in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Israel.

In addition to my personal success awards I received from leading international organizations and media groups of the industry, such as “Best Hotelier” by the prestigious Worldwide Hospitality Awards, “Hotel Personality of the year”, “Top 10 German Foreign Hoteliers Working Abroad”, “Best Hotelier of the Year” by the other award organizations, I have put my mark on several success stories and awards received by the hotels and brands I have worked at. I am a proud graduate from one of the best hotel management schools in Switzerland – Glion and was the President of Glion Alumni association caring more than 13.000 members in 5 continents. I also attend high-level panels at international platforms as a speaker among my many other professional achievements and continues to inspire the industry and travellers alike.

Why did you choose this specific career?

I was born in Berlin to hardworking parents who owned one of the biggest textile factories in Germany and in all of Europe. As a child, I travelled a lot with my family and was fortunate to experience a variety of luxury hotels. Indeed, my father’s passion for cars, food and travel rubbed off on me. And because he regularly hosted soirees and events, I grew up socializing and meeting new people. This love for travelling the world, meeting new people from all walks of life, and discovering new cultures and traditions steered me into the hospitality business.

What exactly are you doing daily?

I start the day with organizing daily routine operational meetings with my executives. Following the morning e-mail and conference call routines, I start to meet with my guests around the hotel, see the operation on site. Since I also live at the Palace, I am the longest living person in here and normally I have an eye on everything. Planning and being an organized leader are my key formula. I have very experienced team in here and whatever I will be doing on hotel basis, I have a plan for every stage. Due to my regional role and being very active on Kempinski company, I also have my routine calls and meetings with corporate team and top executives. Last but not least one of my routines is to inspire people in here including guests and team through being active at the hotel and wherever possible meetings.

Do you have any funny stories or anecdotes that you are willing to share about your working experience?

A couple was getting married in the summer on the amazing palace terrace at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul. There was a beautiful wedding setup, and more than 500 guests were waiting in attendance to watch the ceremony. The groom had planned to surprise his bride by giving her a valuable ring in front of all the invitees just before the wedding ceremony and speech of the marriage officer, he got down on his knees and put his hand to his tuxedo’s pocket, but guess what? There was no ring! Shocked and embarrassed. He apologized to the bride and guests, and immediately, the marriage officer started the wedding to recover the situation. It was then I remembered that I had bought a diamond ring for my wife for our upcoming anniversary. I went to my room, got it, and gave it to the groom with a small note: You need to give this back to me otherwise I will not have a wife to celebrate my anniversary with. The groom immediately stopped the marriage officer’s speech and announced that he has found the ring in his other pocket! He got down on his knees, presented my ring to her, and thanked for her being his bride. After the wedding, he came to me to give the ring back, and thanked me profusely.

What skills/human qualities are necessary for this position?

Over 50 years in hospitality sector, I can sort 5 important subjects that have an important role for being a good leader: • Be honest. • Trust is good, control is better. • Listen more than you talk. • Be accessible. • Be a good communicator. Building and maintaining a strong relationship between hotel guests and team is very much important to move forward. Hotel team needs to know their guest’s profiles, styles, preferences to anticipate their needs by conveying values to them with a kind attitude.

These are the main subjects for me, and I am sure at the end, these efforts will reward you with more business. Beside of that you must create a positive work environment for the entire team. Listen to everyone’s ideas, trust in your team members, show your appreciation and be the accessible manager. That is the thing for me and me, all the time take these specific actions to build this kind of manner. To build a loyal, productive, and motivated employees I listen to them, value each of them and I talk to them. It is important for the employees to know that you listen and take in consideration of their opinions, concerns, and suggestions. Be approachable and let them know that they can talk to you in confidence whenever they need to.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of your work?

There are of course pros and cons of working in the hospitality industry. The perks of the job are more colourful than in most other sectors. So that is why many people opt for hospitality industry. Working in the hotel industry makes you more active, connected, allows you a great deal of freedom and mobility, as well as the rare opportunity to meet, service, and interact with people from all around the world. Meeting with many other people from all corners of the earth, getting know their culture, traditions, responsibilities, habits, sense of entertain and holiday any many other topics are one of the best things that you can see while you are working.

Concerning the disadvantages; of course, the working long hours early in the lists. Working in hospitality may include long hours, as well as the weekend, holiday, and late-night shift. Understanding and respecting the responsibility puts you in a great position to grow your own career and to help your employees enhance theirs. You must know how the deal with stress, must be problem solver, go-getter. In this sector you must take more tough and instant decisions especially if you are working the luxury hotel business. You must be on time at all the time and be always flexible.

A last word for people interested in your job.

My motto is ‘happy employees make happy guests’. I like to empower people and help them to go over what they think are their limits in terms of competencies and capacity. I always try to get people involved, get their ideas, and create a real team spirit accordingly. I can say that my management style is not top to bottom; but more horizontal. All talents should be empowered to achieve the same goal. We have a very dedicated team, and we invest a lot of time and budget in training to enhance competencies of people. We created our own personal training school: The Ciragan Academy. Our team members have dedicated and professional trainings to increase their professionalism and enhance their personal development. We want every guest to leave with everlasting memories and become an ambassador for Ciragan Palace Kempinski. We also want them to go home more intelligent in terms of understanding Turkish culture, history, habits, and lifestyle in this great country.

Don’t forget; “Leaders who pay attention to their employees’ feedback, concerns and opinions have relationships with their colleagues rooted in trust and respect. That kind of relationship fosters a sense of loyalty and commitment.”

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