December 28th, 2010
08:51 AM ET

Human Factor: Horst Schulze

Hotelier Horst Schulze defines excellence as continuously improving. That's what has motivated him to overcome the hurdles of growing up poor, battling a deadly cancer, and for opening small boutique luxury hotels all over the world. He tells his story here:

Born during World War II in a German village, having food and a bed were luxuries. Christmas was no exception. As a child I would receive the same gift re-wrapped, year after year. It was opened on Christmas and then returned to the attic in early January after my birthday.

As a young child I would tell my parents that I wanted to be an innkeeper. The irony was, I had never stepped foot into an inn. After all, as my parents explained, hotels were for important people. We were not important. However, I knew it was the innkeeper who always had a hot meal for dinner and a soft bed at night, so my goal remained. Today, I am the Chairman and C.E.O. of the West Paces Hotel Group, a premier hotel management company and consulting firm. The path I've traveled has been, and continues to be, filled with ups and downs. From professional challenges to battling cancer, the question I ask myself is: Have I struggled well?

I left home at 14 and got a job bussing tables. From there I worked my way up, training in some of the foremost hotels and restaurants. I continued to be told that I was not one of these people. They were special and I was not, but this did not deter me. Before creating West Paces, I was the Founder, President and COO of The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company. During my tenure, I was named "Corporate Hotelier Of The World" by Hotels magazine and the company won the coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Award twice (in 1992 and 1999). Additionally, the company was continuously voted "best hotel company in the world" by convention and trade publications. I have learned that I am important- but no more important than each of my employees. I am extremely grateful for my time with the Ritz, but am even more excited to take hotel service to another level with Capella Hotels and Resorts and the rest of the West Paces family.

While on paper all of this reads as glamorous, nothing was achieved without commitment and resilience. My fight with cancer proved to be such a test. In 1994, I was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive, sarcoma. I could not imagine leaving my wife and daughters. Relinquishing my treatment to the doctors was simply not an option. After all, it was and is my life. I took it upon myself to research the best options with the highest success rates. After much research and prayer, I embraced a treatment plan of surgery and the macrobiotic diet, instead of the conventional chemotherapy. This battle gave me a new perspective on life. It caused me to appreciate the world around me, recognize that there is a greater purpose and embrace the higher power. Today I sit on the board of "Cancer Treatment Centers Of America," because they understand the importance of keeping patients connected and empowered.

Another lesson I have learned is not to allow my dreams to become derailed by 'reasons.' In the end, "it's too hard" or "the timing is wrong" are simply excuses created to protect one's ego from failure. It is essential to have purpose in life and in everything you do to strive for excellence.

A dishwasher at one of our properties reinforced this concept. Mr. Setu was both exceptional and professional at his job. One day I asked him, "why [he] was so dedicated?" His answer, he was "not working, but creating excellence." This idea is something I am constantly striving for.

Excellence is a doctrine central to my professional tenants. In fact, I am most proud of the feedback I've received from former employees, who thank me for contributing to their belief systems and consequent successes. Recently, I ran into a gentleman I trained many years ago. He explained that he had taken my teachings and applied them. Fourteen years ago he was a banquet server. Today he is the general manager of a fine hotel.

Of course my family is of vital importance to me. My wife is a source of pride and inspiration. She runs a non-profit, (Plan A Foundation), that works in conjunction with West Paces in a program called Fragments. Fragments takes the extra food from our hotels and provides it to those in need. In this way West Paces is helping to fulfill a greater purpose and for me life has come full circle.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.