Heimo Leitgeb is the new general manager of the Radisson Blu in Ethiopia. Leitgeb started in the industry at the age of 15, when he completed a cooking apprenticeship. That kicked off a lifetime in the hospitality industry, and travel all over the world, from the Bahamas, Haiti and Sri Lanka, to Indonesia, Oman and China, then finally here to Ethiopia. Over that time, he climbed the ladder from cook, to food and beverage manager, and then to general manager. He was also a hotel consultant, hired by owners and banks to help revitalise old hotels and launch new ones. His most recent position was as the general manager of the Radisson Blu Forest Manor Shanghai, a flagship property for China and Asia, a 439-room hotel with event and dining outlets that make it the first of its kind in the region. This is the experience he brings to the Radisson Blu Ethiopia, where he is also hoping to put his personal management style into practice to move the hotel into the future.
The hotel industry in Addis Ababa is booming, with many new local as well as foreign brand hotels. Radisson has already positioned itself in the market over the past seven years. What new things can customers expect?
I came here in November of last year, I looked at the new hotels which are coming up, like the Hyatt and other places. I said, “This is going to be quite a tough market.”
Then when I came to the hotel, I spoke to people, and built a picture of the situation and the labour market in Addis. This is what I did for the first two weeks. After two weeks, I thought I had some understanding, and I could see what needed to be done to move the hotel forward. I did this in other places already, and I thought I’d adapt it for here.
With Radisson, we have a service concept, which says “Yes, I can.” Basically, we train our people to know that we can do basically everything, because we have the knowledge and training, and we don’t say no to the customers. I have seen this “Yes I Can” for the last twenty years, but I thought if we really want to engage people and get them into the team spirit and help them in the service industry, we need to do more.
I’ve spoken to some of my team, not all of them yet, but some of them, and said “I want to add something to Yes I Can, which is We Care, and We Care for You.” We said we would like to get to know our colleagues in every department very well, because we care for them.
If we start to develop a culture like this, and we make sure that we really care for each other, it will be easy to care for our guests. When we are happy, we like to make the guests happy, and make sure they come back to us to get the same good service.
I am going to make sure that during the next couple of months, we are training and talking to people and talking to departments, and that we develop a culture that says we care for each other. We would like everybody to grow, and to be confident and happy in the job they are doing because there is an understanding within the team.
I think if we develop this, the guests will feel it. There can be another five hotels coming up, all with gold and marble, but they are not going to reach anything of the same magnitude as what we will develop over the years, because we will be working with each other.
Your experience over the past 49 years must have helped you develop your own unique management philosophy. Let’s discuss that.
My management philosophy is quite easy: You have to work with the people very closely. You have to listen to them and understand them, and then you will know how you can move forward. In all my years, I’ve worked in over 20 countries, regardless of what the culture is or what country people come from, when you are open and speak to them, and you are honest and hear what they are saying, you can have a very nice discussion, and you will see that you will find good solutions. If you make sure that at the end, everybody buys into it and supports it, you will be successful.
The [Addis Radisson] has been very successful since opening and has a good reputation, because of a very good staff. I also think people in Ethiopia are very friendly and nice. I think what we are going to do is to really support and work with them as one team. If you do that, you can have a commitment from everybody to move in the same direction.
There has been a rapid growth in the number of hotels. The Hyatt Regency just had a soft opening, and the Ethiopian Airlines Skylight Hotel was inaugurated by the Prime Minister. How is Radisson going to respond to such market dynamism?
This will definitely change the entire standard of hotels so far. The new hotels will bring new ideas and new standards. The hotels that have been here longer have to make sure that they keep up with those standards.
From my side, I am very confident. I have seen many things, and many places, and many hotels. We are going to be more innovative that most of the hotels here. I am one of those people that develop people. I am somebody who does not like to be second or third. Sometimes, you are not the most beautiful, or the nicest hotel, but you can be the most innovative, and you can be the friendliest, and more service-dedicated than anyone else, We are not afraid of the competition.
Are you going to consider revising room rates, or any other service charges, because when customers have more options, prices tend to go down.
At the moment, I don’t have any plans to revise prices. I will concentrate on providing additional benefits and services. Even if the prices are ten dollars or 20 dollars cheaper somewhere else, the guest will think, “Here, they know me. I’m like a friend here. I come in, the doorman knows me, the reception knows my preferences, the waiter knows what I like.”
What would clients benefit when theyhost their events and book rooms for their guests at the Radisson?
Anyone who books a room, or a meeting or a conference, will book it where they are confident that things will work. When a local business person or company, or the government books a guest into a hotel, they want to make sure that when the guest leaves, they are happy, because they don’t want to lose their reputation. We will make sure that when a guest stays here, the person will be grateful, because they were taken care of.
I think Radisson Blu has already established a good name in Ethiopia, and other African countries. We stand for innovation, but it’s a company that is down to earth, very involved in the country and the culture where they are.