ERIC DE NEEF, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT & CHIEF COMMERCIAL OFFICER, CARLSON REZIDOR
The Rezidor Hotel Group is one of the world’s fastest growing hotel companies. SPACE editor Can Faik talks to one of its key players, Eric De Neef, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, to discover the secret of the company’s success…
In this interview, Eric De Neef, Executive Vice President & Chief Commercial Officer at Carlson Rezidor, discusses group performance, the future of Carlson Rezidor and the hotel industry, as well as his unique style of management that is defined by years of operational experience.
Carlson Rezidor’s portfolio, with over 100,000 rooms either in operation or under development, includes the Quorvus, Radisson Blu, Park Inn, Radisson Red and Prizeotel brands.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Carlson Rezidor?
Before I joined the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group in 2011, I served as Managing Director for Accor’s All Seasons, Mercure and M Gallery Hotel brands in France. I was responsible for defining the strategy for the three brands, covering 325 hotels. My experience has endowed me with a unique level of operational experience for a Chief Commercial Officer, offering me a genuinely ‘native’ view of the landscape in which the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group operates.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
It is great to be part of an organisation that encourages an entrepreneurial spirit among employees, and I love the exceptionally high standard of operation and capability within the group that enables our lean structure to work effectively.
Additionally, I like the unpredictable nature of my job, which keeps me on my toes – I never know what a day may bring. My role is incredibly diverse – I currently lead the commercial strategy and all revenue generating activity across Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Carlson Rezidor. In setting the commercial priorities of the company, I am required to have oversight of most levers of the business’ sales, distribution and marketing functions including loyalty, e-commerce, branding, communications and PR.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
Balancing the competing demands of key stakeholders in the business is a great challenge and one which our unique ‘Yes I Can!’ culture directly addresses. We hire and develop the best people in the industry who reward us with exceptional performance, levels of service and commitment. Our retention rate of 87 per cent is the envy of other groups, but we work extremely hard for this to be the best global hotel group to work for and strive to remain one of the world’s most ethical hotel companies. The keys to this success are trust and empowerment of all our team members – leadership to grass-roots.
For our shareholders, we develop and operate strong hotel brands across key destinations in EMEA by delivering exceptional world-class services across our portfolio of hotels and resorts.
100 per cent guest satisfaction means everything to us. And when it comes to customer service, a one-size fits all approach is neither possible, nor what our guests demand. Our hotel General Managers require the freedom to respond to local needs in order to provide the best possible service to guests, which ensures that delivery is sensitive to the locality in which they are situated but always on par with the brands’ expectations and promises.
There is never a smooth year where everything comes together without a glitch, but ground-breaking hospitality should never be easy!
What makes Carlson Rezidor unique and what will the group have to do to stay ahead of its competition?
Our entrepreneurial approach, speed to market, innovative hospitality, pure breed of international brands, our personal relationship with our hotel owners and investors, our passionate team members and our unique Yes I Can! service culture sets us apart from competitors. Our track record since 1996 has shown that we are able to respond quickly to industry trends and exploit emerging markets; we are recognised as a leading hotel operator when it comes to design, guest satisfaction and loyalty, responsible business, safety and security and we have been gaining market share for the past five consecutive years with our award-winning approach.
I firmly believe – as did Theodore Roosevelt – that in any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is do the right thing, the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing, but the worst thing you can do is nothing. At times, our strategy has meant that we have been more exposed in the downturn of the cycle, for example Russia, where we were the first and fast movers to capture the growth potential. Despite the uncertainties and challenges, our strategy has paid dividends in places like Russia. Africa is another great example of moving first and fast. It has allowed us to establish quickly our vast network and has resulted in Carlson Rezidor being the largest hotel operator by market share in that region.
We take great pride in our Fighting Z-spirit. Never ever give up – is what truly defines our management style. As an international organisation, we respect the fact that the locals know best. Our commitment to building a well-oiled matrix team shows that we empower people at grass-root level to take ownership and drive the business. We are not afraid to make mistakes – but we take responsibility for our actions. We are quick-witted to acknowledge, learn and move on to finding creative solutions to any challenges that lie ahead. We don’t just say it for the sake of it but firmly believe that our people are our biggest assets and strength. Hospitality is after all a people’s business – it will always be.
How do you achieve a good work/life balance and spend time with your family?
Family has always been central to my life and with the travelling that my job requires, it has sometimes been difficult to manage the two. My wife Chantal has been there for me throughout and offers a great support both as a sounding board and to offer a different perspective. We have both worked hard to maintain a balance for us and for our children and to spend quality time with our family.
At home we encourage each other to leave devices to one side when we’re together, remain committed to annual family holidays and have always tried to keep weekends clear of work. My children tell me off when I don’t!