Caterer Do you prefer being a public or a private company?
Kurt Ritter Being public is like having a torch at your heels that keeps you running. It's healthy, but it's different and, like everything in life, there are advantages and disadvantages. We get more press and are more respected as a business because we are more transparent. It's not that we were murky before, but we were not open to this level.
We've grown 20 to 30 hotels organically over the past decade without outside help, but now we have more access to capital and the opportunity to expand further.
But the negative of that is the loss of freedom. We now have a different life where we have to do and redo the "road show" every quarter, and everything is much more short-term and focused on share price.
Caterer What are you going to do with this new funding?
KR At the moment I have nothing up my sleeve - we are still scouting the market to see what is available. It's irresponsible not to look at what opportunities may be out there it's an obligation, otherwise the shareholders would wonder where I've been if I miss some golden opportunity. However, there's so much capital available in the marketplace and so few projects, it does create an unhealthy balance.
Caterer What's happening to the Missoni brand?
KR I didn't want to develop it bit by bit - I want it to be completely ready. We're 80% there now and are already inviting owners to come and see our demo model in Milan. Unfortunately, though, we can't let everyone use it, as it needs to be a clearly defined concept. The Missoni brand is very important, and we will stick with this design for around four years before generating a new concept with Missoni to keep up with the fashion changes. Sometimes I wish I could only do this project. It is very exciting.
Caterer Where are you looking to develop the Rezidor brand?
KR Places like Eastern Europe and consolidating our position in Russia, where we have a good position as we were the first to put a branded hotel there, and we want to capitalise on that early start. We plan to add 20,000 hotel rooms by 2009 and already have about 12,000 in the pipeline, so we are well on the way.
Caterer Why do you think there are too many brands in the marketplace?
KR I may be wrong, as many companies are very successful, but looking at all the brands out there, it just confuses me. Once I was told: if you can't describe it, you can't sell it.
The most difficult question is, why stay in a Radisson not a Hilton? That's when brand recognition goes head to head with location, and it's crucial that customers know what a brand stands for if they are to go out of their way to stay there.
I think people feel at home with our brands: we have a five-, four-, three-star and a lifestyle brand. It's my dream to develop a good two-star brand, as the competition is quite small, but the market is growing daily. Country Inn is very popular in the USA and we would like to grow that, and our Park Inn brand in Europe.
Caterer What do you think of the bricks and mortar split in the industry?
KR I think assets are better in the hands of those whose sole mission it is to look after them. If they are controlled by an asset manager, then that's their responsibility. Also, as an operator, if you have outside owners with their own criteria as well as your own to contend with, it keeps you sharp.
Caterer And, finally, will you stick with the new public Rezidor or look to pastures new?
KR I don't see myself stopping as long as the shareholders want to keep me. I am the longest-sitting chief executive globally, but I don't think I've lost that sparkle yet. So as long as I have my health I'll keep going.
When I took over I was young and green and had 18-19 hotels. Today we have 300, and along the journey it's changed a hundred times. It keeps changing, and that's the best part of it.
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