Breakfast with Michel Rey
The Baur au Lac is A Select member of The Most Famous Hotels in the World from its founding hour. It is set in its own park on the shore of Lake Zurich, a stone's throw from the Paradeplatz, the city's bustling financial district, and the world-famous Bahnhofstrasse!. Michel Rey is the doyen of Swiss Hospitality and became certainly one of the longest serving hotel general managers of the world. From 31. December 1969 until 2012 he was at the Baur au Lac, since 1982 he served as the general manager.
Good morning, dear Michel Rey. We are having a late breakfast at your beautifully newly refurbished restaurant Pavillon. In fact I should have breakfast with your wife and yourself. You are managing the Baur au Lac together?
You are right: My wife Viviane and me, we manage our property together, the traditional Swiss way, as a couple. Moreover we do share the same office.
Q. In cooperation with the owners mother, Marguita Kracht, your wife is in charge of the final touches when it comes to interior design?
Rey: Yes. With the exception of this Pavillon, which was designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon.
Light in every respect: the new Pavillon
Q. You are here since 1969, general manager since 1982: what has changed in the industry?
Rey: Hospitality is still the same, but booking habits have changed drastically. It is all very short notice today. If I’d look at my bookings two weeks from now, I should rather close down the hotel. Of course, in ten days we have a totally different picture. And in fact we are really doing fine.
Q. What's your motto in life?
Whatever you undertake, do it well.
Q. What do you want to have accomplished in the next ten years?
Read 587 books of my choice, play reasonably well the 2nd piano concert of Rachmaninow, find the mummy of Nofretete and win - finally - the British Open* (see 2009 Open – Tom Watson at the age of 60!!)
(Rey – all elegant Swiss understatement – wouldn’t mention it, but he was several times Swiss Golf champion including 8th at the 1976 World Championship in Portugal, he plays piano and has a keen interest in Egyptology)
Q. And your preferred breakfast?
At home with my wife (happens not often enough)
Q. We are sitting at the historic Baur au Lac, where many famous people stayed and sat before. Do you like this philosophical air of history lingering all over the hotel or do you consider such strong ties with the past as a burden?
I always had a faible for history and historic persons. Therefore I love, as you put it, this “philosophical air of history”, and I am sure many of our guests feel the same! It is in no way a burden but a great challenge: a responsibility towards our founders linked with the promise to continue their work in the same spirit whilst at the same time allowing for the changes and developments of our generation.
Q. Could you imagine a casual Friday at famous hotels (casual dress)?
It surely depends on the definition of “a casual Friday” if casual dress means smart, yes.
Q. How important is the hotel's history for you as a marketing tool?
When you run a hotel where the Treaty of Zurich* has been signed, the concept of the Nobel Prize has been conceived, Austria’s Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” held her banquets – to mention just three of hundreds – one cannot ignore this abundance of history in marketing.
Q. What was your “dream-profession” when you were a kid?
Symphonic Orchestra Conductor
Q. Which was the last show that really impressed you?
Children playing for children: some 30 children aged 6 to 12 years playing jazz in a brass band at the Baur au Lac charity function for the children’s hospital of Zurich. Their enthusiasm, rhythm and skill was absolutely outstanding and most touching.
Q. Do you fall in love with people or ideas?
Actually with both, as long as people and ideas are sparkling …
Q. When you start a project do you prefer enthusiastic partners or experienced ones?
I prefer enthusiastic people and partners on the whole. However, in practical, experience is always needed!
Q. If you had the choice, would you follow the same career or would you lead a different life?
Exactly the same career – I would not want to change anything …
Q. What would you never like to be changed at you hotel?
The ownership (the owners are the Family Kracht) and its philosophy.
Q. Is it too much or too little courage that sometimes makes you fail?
Probably too much courage, although I am normally a cautious person.
Q. What business journals do you read regularly?
Regularly, unfortunately none. But from time to time ... The Financial Times.
Q. Which hobbies are absolutely essential for you?
Music (essentially classic) and sports in order to keep fit.
Q. How many languages to you speak and which ones?
French, English, German, Italian, Spanish and (it’s not a joke) Swiss German.
Q. What was the most important advice you ever gave, and to whom?
To my wife to get married to me since this is the very best which could have happened to me.
Q. For the same budget, would you rather afford the smallest room in the best and most famous hotel of a destination or the best room in a lower-class hotel?
Louis XIV said “le luxe c’est l’espace”.
Nevertheless I would rather go for the smaller option because of the refined atmosphere.
Q. Your preferred view is sea/lake-side or mountain-side?
Certainly the sea- or lakeside view. According to the one I enjoy being at home.
I cannot think of anything more challenging than being GM of my hotel.
Q. When you visit other hotels what do you observe/judge in the first place?
The friendliness and competence of the staff.
Q. What would you like your best friend to say about you at your funeral?
I hope to live longer than all my best friends. Seriously? Well: “He has been a jolly good fellow”.
Introverted or extroverted? Extroverted!"
Q. Can you tell my readers about your greatest sports triumphs?
No, that’s too far behind … It was part of my former life, in a way.
Thank you for your time; and finally a few quick ones:
Black&white or colours Black and white
Furs or synthetics? Furs
Electric or wet shaving? Wet
City or countryside? Both, at its appropriate time
Reading or watching? Reading
Tea or coffee? Coffee
Cats or dogs? Dogs
Skiing or snowboarding? Snowboarding (I have never tried!)
Open air or inside the music hall? Music Hall
Introverted or extroverted? Extroverted
* The Treaty of Zurich was signed by the Austrian Empire, the French Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia on November 10, 1859. The agreement was a reaffirmation of the terms of the preliminary peace of Villafranca, which brought the Austro-Sardinian War to an official close. It represents the birth of modern Italy. The Austrian and the French delegation were both staying at the Baur au Lac. Negotations took from August to November 1859.