In Conversation with… Oetker Collection’s new CEO Dr. Timo Gruenert

From Le Bristol in Paris to Jumby Bay Island in Antigua, Oetker Collection boasts some of the world’s most exclusive hotels. And the group recently welcomed its new CEO Dr. Timo Gruenert, who took over leadership of the company on 1 May, succeeding Frank Marrenbach.

Dr. Gruenert began his career with the Oetker Group as Assistant to the Managing Partner in 2005 after receiving his PhD from University of Giessen with a thesis on Mergers & Acquisitions in corporate crisis. In 2009, Dr. Gruenert co-led the founding of Oetker Collection and has served as Co-Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer ever since. Over the past eleven years, Dr. Gruenert has overseen the steady growth of Oetker Collection’s hotel portfolio from four Masterpiece Hotels in 2009, to nine in 2020.

Despite taking the helm in challenging circumstances, he remains positive about the future. We caught up with Dr. Gruenert on what makes him get up in the morning to Covid-19 recovery…

Describe Oetker Collection in one sentence.
We operate exceptional hotels – true Masterpieces – with family spirit, elegance and genuine kindness.

What makes you get up in the morning?
The thought that, by doing the above, we create a strong emotional bond with our guests. Our hotels are places that people really care about, and that become a part of their lives. That may sound idealistic, but I know that this is indeed the case for many of our guests – and employees. Working for a company that can realistically achieve that and being surrounded by a team of passionate hoteliers who share the same values and goals, is extremely fulfilling.

A leadership principle that is very important for you?
Treat everyone the way you wish to be treated.

What is your earliest travel memory?
A three-week bus tour across the United States that went all the way from the West to the East Coast. I must have been around ten years old, but the experience was so poignant that I could fill pages writing down specific memories of that journey. Years later, when I was in high school, my father took me to The Breakers in Palm Beach. That must have been the experience that hooked me for the industry. The grandeur of that hotel was simply overwhelming.

You are taking the reins as CEO at an unprecedented and challenging moment. How will COVID-19 change the hospitality industry?
That is a difficult question. I guess we are all just starting to get a sense of what the long-term effects on the industry will be. Having said that, there is one thing I am sure about: this crisis has reminded a lot of people what is really important in life. Spending time in airports and planes is not; being able to spend quality time with the people you love is. My initial feeling is that we should see this as an opportunity for our industry. Qualities like sincerity and kindness will gain in value and building meaningful connections will perhaps become more important than “the next big experience”. I certainly consider our Masterpiece Hotels to be in good standing once we manage to overcome the immediate crisis.

Where are you headed first when travel restrictions are lifted?
Probably to Paris. The majority of our corporate team is based there, and I really miss seeing my colleagues. Afterwards, I think I will visit our two properties in the Caribbean – Eden Rock – St Barths and Jumby Bay Island. The region just recovered from Hurricane Irma in 2017, and I want to show my appreciation for the dedication that our teams are showing there every day.

What’s the plan for reopening your properties once lockdown restrictions ease?
We expect to reopen our property in Germany very soon, in Baden- Baden, the Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa, hopefully followed by another reopening in June with Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on the French Riviera.

What are you doing to ensure the safety of guests and colleagues within your properties once they reopen?
We are currently implementing a host of updates to our housekeeping, dining, and guest relations protocols. These will include new standards of cleanliness, amended hygiene procedures, and social distancing measures to protect the health and safety of every guest and team member.

To develop a safe new approach to hospitality, Oetker Collection has consulted our own in-house experts, as well as top senior executives in the disciplines of housekeeping, engineering, food safety and spa maintenance. Our teams across all departments are being trained in the new sets of standards taking hold.

How important is meeting, events and incentives business for Oetker Collection? 
Engaging with meetings, incentives, conferences, and events is a perfect opportunity to build the reputation of our Masterpiece Hotels and Estates. Indeed, it is very important for us and a great way to boost revenue at our properties and attract a constant stream of great professionals and worldwide business travellers.

And finally, your daily routine for a free Saturday?
I get up with our one-and-a-half-year-old daughter when she decides it is time, then go downstairs and make breakfast with her. We listen to nice music – my playlist, not hers. From that point onwards she makes the plan for the day and I am anything but the CEO, believe me.

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