Your connection to Badrutt’s Palace Hotel goes back more than a decade. How did it begin?
After I graduated from École Hôtelière de Lausanne, I worked for Four Seasons, first in Paris and then in New York and San Diego. When I was thinking about my next career move in 2008, a friend back in Switzerland told me that Badrutt’s Palace Hotel was looking for a Food & Beverage Director. It’s the sort of opening that doesn’t come along often so I was delighted to get the job.
Then you moved to the Far East?
If you work in hospitality, you tend to move a lot in order to gain experience in different management styles and cultures. So, after four wonderful years at Badrutt’s, it felt it was the right time for a change. My wife Vanessa and I moved with our baby daughter to the Far East for a three-year stint. I managed the Aberdeen Marina Club, an exclusive private members club in Hong Kong, before taking on an operational role at Ritz Carlton Hotel Group, overseeing all its hotels in the region.
What brought you back to Badrutt’s Palace Hotel?
While considering my next move, I sought the advice of the former managing director of Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, Hans Wiedemann, with whom I had kept in touch. He said: “Why don’t you come back to Badrutt’s as general manager?” So, in 2016, we returned. Two years later, I was appointed Managing Director, responsible for overseeing all department heads and ensuring the smooth-running of the entire hotel.
Richard Leuenberger with Patrón
What do you think makes Badrutt’s Palace Hotel so unique?
The stunning setting and the sense of magic that you feel as soon as you step inside the hotel. It feels like you are far away from everyday life.
And the guest experience?
Of course. Most of our guests come back again and again, so we understand their needs and preferences, whether it is their favourite aperitif or table in the Grand Hall, or the smallest details, such as the flowers in the room or the hot water bottle at turndown service. It allows us to deliver an exemplary and unique experience to all our guests.
How do you combine tradition with innovation at the hotel?
We are a traditional hotel with a history that spans more that 12 decades. We stay true to our roots and maintain the style and spirit for which we are renowned and loved. At the same time, my job is to evolve and innovate our offering so we are always relevant to our guests and at least equal in the experiences we deliver compared to other top hotels around the world.
What does it take to manage an award-winning hotel?
I think passion and the desire to achieve excellence in everything you do. You also have to live and breathe your role as a host.
The Leuenberger family with Lake St Moritz in the background
Can you tell us a little bit about your family?
My wife Vanessa is Puerto Rican and studied at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University in the US. We met at The Pierre hotel in New York – she headed up catering and I was responsible for banqueting. We have an eight-year-old daughter, Penelope, and a five-year-old son, Robert. They go to the local school in St Moritz. We are lucky that they are multi-lingual: they speak to me in Swiss German, my wife converses with them in Spanish, and when we are all together we speak English.
And your dog?
We have a much-loved labrador called Patrón, named after the tequila brand. We brought him over from Hong Kong. Guests will often see me walking him in the mornings or evenings.
How do you balance family and work life?
It’s difficult when you work such long hours, but I make a real effort to spend time with my family whenever I can. When I’m working I’ll often meet up with them for lunch. And, if I want to see the children during the day, I’ll often find them ensconced in the Kid’s Club, which they love.
Finally, what do you do between seasons when the hotel is closed?
I am still working but we have the weekends to ourselves and love to spend it outdoors and in nature. Often we’ll go hiking with the kids. We recently did a 10-kilometre walk to Corviglia, which takes you to an altitude of 3,000 metres. We love being out and about in the mountains although it's quite a change for my wife who is more accustomed life at sea level!
Published August 2019
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