Wednesday , September 23 2020

"I spent 250 days a year at home"


Federico J. GonzalezImage copyright

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Federico has been on the move since leaving Madrid as an 18-year-old

The BBC's Boss Weekly profile profiles various business leaders around the world. This week we are talking with Federico Gonzalez, president of the Radisson Hotel Group.

Federico Gonzalez spends 250 days a year away from home.

But the 55-year-old Spaniard doesn't have to worry about finding a place to stay while spending around the world.

The head of the Radisson Hotel Group, at 1,400 locations, admits it can be a great distance for staff when writing somewhere.

"If the CEO comes in, it's a nightmare for them, everybody's trying to be nice, but in fact, it distracts them from helping other clients."

In top business for the last two years, a recent business trip saw him stay in St. Petersburg for three days, Moscow for two, Shanghai for two and Bangkok for one.

The only two cities where staff at the Radisson Hotel do not face deterrence from booking rooms are Madrid and Brussels, as it maintains homes in both capitals. Madrid is where he was born and raised, while the company is based in Belgium.

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Speaking at the May Fair Hotel in London, Federico says a good hotel should create lasting positive memories

Such a huge job suits Federico, who speaks four languages ​​and travels reluctantly to leave the "traditional middle-class home of Madrid" as an 18-year-old.

On a mission to expand his horizons while studying at Complexes University in Madrid, his journey began in the north of England in 1982.

"I came to Sheffield and Chesterfield on student camps," Federico says, sitting at the five-star Radisson's May Fair Hotel in central London. "Then I became a teacher of Spanish students coming to the UK to live with British families to learn English."

During that time, Federico acted as a guide, showing students throughout London. It helped him clear his English and eventually applied for his first job in the corporate world.

"I was 24, and I saw a job advertisement at my university for [consumer goods firm] Procter & Gamble [P&G], "he says." They needed Spanish and English, I got an interview. And when asked, would you prefer to work in finance or marketing? 'I asked them what marketing is. I did not knew! “

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From Disneyland style, Paris Federico learned about the "importance of remembering"

After a quick search, Federico chose marketing and soon rose through the ranks of P&G Spain. By the time he left the company in 2004, he had been head of its Portuguese division.

Then, he first returned to hospitality with a move to Disneyland Paris as deputy general manager. What has he learned from his days in the fraternity with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck? "I realized that it's all about the experience and the importance of the unforgettable."

In 2013, he moved into the hotel trade, running a Spanish business NM Hotel. He took over the top job at Radisson in 2017 and says he is still obsessed with the need to give customers positive memories.

"The shower is not a shower, it is [has to be] "A shower," says Federico. "It's about putting temptations into the room – chocolates that you can take home with you. Or, if one is alone in the room, one can only think "no one is looking, so I'll eat them".

"These are small elements that together with the location, the decor and the people make the experience unforgettable."

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Airbnb fuels demand for "non-identifiable hotels," says Alice Hancock of the Financial Times

But as the hotel industry faces numerous pressures, such as slowing down economies, environmentalists wanting to see less air travel and competition from Airbnb, what other ways can hoteliers stand out from the crowd?

"How do you differentiate yourself in what seems to be a very saturated market?" Says Alice Hancock, a freelance industry correspondent for the Financial Times,

"That's the problem that the whole industry is dealing with. If you look at big names like Marriott, it has over 30 brands. The idea is for each brand to attract a different segment of the market – luxury, budget, traveler and so on. The benefit for big companies is that they can have five or six hotels in the same radius, because they look different from the consumer. "

Ms Hancock believes there is still a high demand for hotel rooms and is reducing the impact of Airbnb. Although she says the home rental site has one definitive effect – it has increased demand "for hotels that do not identify".

This is part of the reason why hotel businesses like Marriott differentiate themselves. Radisson is no different, and now has subsidiaries of Radisson Blu, Park Plaza and Country Inn & Suites.

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Radisson's ownership changed last year when it was sold to a consortium led by Jinin Jiang International Holdings, a Chinese state-owned tourism company. Federico says Chinese owners give him the freedom to run the business.

"There is no work in a world where you have total control, unless you own the company, and not even then, because banks may control it," he says. "What matters is that you have very clear rules. Do I have the freedom to do what I want to do? Yes. "

However, there are factors outside its control, such as Brexit – which Federico says is "stable" for his chain so far. Radisson was also hit by a 2018 data breach that affected members of his loyalty and rewards scheme.

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Federico says the company's hotels are like having children

Federico was new to his job at the time of the cyberattack. "We apply the most rigorous procedures, but there are always mistakes and failures," he says. "We have implemented new protocols and it is important to do as much as possible and respond quickly, but no one can avoid that."

As the father of three grown children continues to visit numerous hotels every month, there is one thing he will not discuss – that he likes most.

"Hotels are like children," he says. "No favorite kid."

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