By Thomas M. Loarie

BOOK REVIEW: Steve Jobs Copied Horst Schulze’s No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best

September 17, 2019
Column: CEO Learnings

Horst Schulze was at age five, a boy with a dream. He wanted to work in a hotel.

The rest is history. He went on to be the founding president and COO of one of the foremost brands in the hotel industry, the Ritz-Carlton. Under his legendary leadership, Ritz-Carlton became the first and only hotel group to win the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award…and they won it twice.

He has since founded the Capella Hotel Group which again raised the bar in hospitality, offering an “ultra-luxury” guest experience in Europe and Asia. One of the Capella hotels on the resort island of Sentosa, just off the southern coast of Singapore, hosted the historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in 2018.

Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise is Schulze’s story of how he transformed the hotel industry by changing how hoteliers viewed public they served and equally important, how they viewed their employees – “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

He started in the hotel business at age 14, at a time when working in hotels was like being a garbage collector. Fortunately, he had a mentor, Karl Zeitler, who set high standards and provided encouragement. His start was akin to starting in the mailroom but with time and upward mobility, he grew to understand the mechanics of running a hotel and hotel guests. He went on to gain a mosaic of experiences at top hotels like the Switzerland’s premier hotel, the Bellevue Palace, the Plaza Athenee in Paris, London’s Savoy Hotel and on Holland America cruise ships.

Schulze learned that what the customer wants may be seemingly self-evident, but it barely scratches the surface of what they are actually looking for. He was obsessed with studying his customers and had no use for surveys, focus groups, or benchmarking. Guests he learned needed to be taken care of, needed to know all is under control, and they are respected and even honored.

This led to Schulze’s three universals for serving customers. Customers want:

  •  A product or service with no defects
  • Timelines
  • The person with whom they are dealing to be nice to them

The Ritz-Carlton insists that customer service is everyone’s business. To make this point, employees at attend daily briefings where they share customer service stories. They are also empowered and urged to solve customer problems, so much so that they can spend up to $2,000 to fix the problem. One of the shared stories was about an employee took a plane to return a computer left behind by a customer who needed it for a very important presentation.
To achieve excellence, Schulze did not “hire” employees but “selected” them. The success profile for Ritz-Carlton employee included the ability to cheer people up, handle conflict resolution, and by being inspired by a dream.

Excellence Wins Wins includes a ton of Schulze’s insights gained over decades – his four supreme objectives when running a company or organization; his three kinds of customers and now to lose them; the fine art of handling complaints; what to share with new employees (this is what drives us and more); the key attributes of service excellence in the hospitality industry (what is our zeitgeist?); the eight key questions for anyone wanting to create a sustainable business or organization (how are you going to let the customer customize the experience); his essentials for a truly great company; the Malcolm Baldridge Award; and Benedict’s Rule as the path to customer service excellence. 
Schulze concludes that regardless of your profession, the people we serve are all the same. They are all people who want us to meet their needs – and we know we must do so if we are to stay viable in today’s busy, interconnected world. The identity label does not matter. The inner desires and feelings, the values in the interests of the person are universal and central.

Excellence Wins is a must read whether or not you are involved with BtoC. Schulze’s philosophy is rooted in hard-earned insights and has been adopted broadly across industries globally… and most famously, is the core operating philosophy for Steve Jobs’ Apple Store.




Thomas M. Loarie is the CEO of BryoLogyx, a rotating host of THE MENTORS RADIO SHOW, and a senior editorial advisor and columnist for Catholic Business Journal. He may be reached at

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