INNOVATE

Cover Story – Interview with Wolfgang Lindlbauer, Global Discipline Leader, Retired

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September 22, 2016   |   By Mike Raven with Celeste Dinos

coverThirty-one years ago, Wolfgang Lindlbauer got the opportunity to work for Marriott International, and it stuck. Today, a week before his retirement, he is the Global Discipline Leader overseeing all key global operation disciplines including food & beverage, event management, engineering, spa, online retail, supplier diversity and sustainability.

Prior to assuming this role, he served as the Senior Vice President, Food & Beverage Design & Development, leading a team whose work touched all of Marriott International’s 19 brands in 80 countries, from restaurant and menu design and food safety, to innovations in event execution, service and brand standards.

Wolfgang has worked throughout the U.S., Middle East and Europe in various food & beverage and operation positions at Marriott branded hotels and corporate headquarters. Before returning to Marriott International corporate headquarters in 2008, he spent seven years as the Regional Vice President Operations for Continental Europe, responsible for food & beverage, rooms operations, brand standards and new hotel programming for Marriott International, for the region.

Celeste Dinos, IMI Agency’s Vice President of Operations and I sat down with Wolfgang for an hour-long interview. The following are the words of one of the true icons of the business.


Wolfgang addressing the 2016 Global Beverage Partners Meeting.

Wolfgang addressing the 2016 Global Beverage Partners Meeting.

Mike: You have worked in different locations all over the world in your career. What was your favorite location to work in?

It’s difficult to say. There were a couple of locations I really enjoyed for different reasons. I would say three places stick out among all of them. Probably the first one was Oman, Jordan. Back then, about 30 years ago, we were one of the few hotels in that market. I really enjoyed diving deep into the Arabic culture. In Jordan, people are very hospitable and they invite you into their family. I still have some local friends in Jordan. There was a lot of pride in Jordanians, the Bedouins, and even with the Palestinians.

We just did amazing things at that hotel and we became the personal catering hotel for King Hussein and Queen Noor back then. It was just very special – if you drive up to the royal palace and they know your car, the gates open up.

We did three weddings for children of King Hussein: his son Prince Abdulla, Prince Faisal and Princess Aisha, so that was really neat. We did functions for the Prime Minister and such. We did a lot of wild things, like dessert safaris. In terms of creativity, what we did with that hotel in three and a half years was just fun and the team was amazing along with the locals, so that really stuck out.


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The second place was Dubai. Back then, the JW Marriott was a hotel where we were new and had the best rooms product; but with F&B, we didn’t have a reputation and it didn’t really work. But then, everything we touched turned to gold. We had a 350 percent increase in sales in about three years, and we got an extension through the owner for nine more F&B outlets. By the time we were done, 65 percent of the revenue came out of F&B and again, that hotel was so successful. The F&B really drove the success of the hotel. That was about 17 years ago.

The other place I really enjoyed was my first regional job in Europe. I was Vice President of Europe. To have 27 countries – to get exposed to all the variations between Kazakhstan, Beirut, Norway, Spain, and then the central regions, like going into Germany or Austria, Switzerland, France, and then into Russia – the diversity in all that was just really, really fun. And what you could do with a team of 100 operators and 100 hotels, and what you can actually get going for that amount of hotels – that was the first time I experienced something like that. It was very rewarding and I loved the diversity.

Mike: How many languages do you speak?

Only two: German and English. Also some “kitchen” French and some bad Arabic language – that’s about it.

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Mike: You drink fabulous wine all over the world. Do you have any favorite varietals you enjoy the most?

I frame (that question) up differently. Over time, we change up our preferences. I remember my first time in America – I loved the Chardonnay. Can’t drink an oaky Chardonnay anymore but then when I was in Europe, I was exposed to Portugal and drank some of the Albariños and some very crisp whites that you can’t find over here. I thought the value and quality were just amazing. I had the opportunity to be in Georgia and drank wine from one of the oldest wine regions in the world; I think about 8,000 years ago was the first viniculture. I had some amazing reds from their local grape varieties. I still love a great Cabernet. I love crisp whites: Sauvignon Blancs, I like Grüner Veltliner, some of the old Müller-Thurgau, which is now coming back in several regions with different twists. So, Burgundy is always a treat, but I think it took awhile for me to like Burgundies or beautiful classic Italians, New World wines. Less of Africa and New Zealand, except the Sauvignon Blancs. There’s no one particular one.

Mike: You started as a bellboy as a kid. So many times people of your generation start from the bottom up. It must give you respect for all aspects of the business, all the way from the housekeepers to the general managers. Do you agree with that?

I think if you don’t demonstrate by doing it yourself you will never be taken seriously. I think you need to lead by example. Regardless of what it is – making a bed, going into the dish room, or cleaning a toilet – if you’re not ready to do it yourself, you can’t expect it from anybody else.

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A display of the history of Marriott International at the headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland.

Celeste: Do you think this generation that is coming in now feels that same way?

I think it’s interesting. I think expectations are changing and the speed in which people learn is different. I think the new generation has abilities, which I never got because I didn’t go through that type of schooling. It’s the whole thing about strategy, collaboration, how you really immerse yourself into a subject and do the research. I would say it depends how you sell it to them: If you can sell it as part of the research and part of that immersion, I think you will find people who understand that.

I think young people have a lot of passion. They’re highly motivated by the second meaning behind something and I think those people who are serious actually take the time to do deep dives, and I will question if you have to work three months in housekeeping to understand it. But I do think people who are serious recognize the benefits of really understanding those pieces. I think traditionally it took too long of time and our generation was probably taken advantage of by having those people as cheap labor too long in certain places. A culinary apprenticeship may be different, but to my earlier point, three months in housekeeping is too much. There is nothing they can’t learn in housekeeping in a week or two.

But I do think the people that understand the business and are smart enough, they will take the time, but the amount of time needing to be spent has changed dramatically. I think now you can learn in six months what you could learn in two years in the old traditions, with the exception of things like culinary, which is highly technical and part of the experience is to do things one or two hundred times. Even a good bartender needs to be exposed to the pressure, the speed and everything. Your interest will drive things faster than in the old school.

I talked to Dawn Sweeney of the NRA and she said we have about five or six million young juveniles in the U.S. who have no education whatsoever, and they don’t even get an interview. We, as the hospitality industry, could be actually the ones that take them in. But they lack the basic skills to even get a foot in the door. So, on one side, we are always looking at the universities but I think there’s a huge gap, particularly in the U.S., for not having trade schools. I believe this is a huge opportunity where we could make gigantic changes in the industry, especially in the hospitality, restaurant-bar.

Mike: Having trade schools?

Yes, and I’ll take it one step further. Trade schools were done a long time ago. What does a trade school look like today?

Mike: A junior college, you mean?

See, I think people learn differently today, especially the young kids. So a good example is what we are doing with Lobster Ink. After 30+ years in the industry, I’ve never seen a training program like what Lobster Ink does, where basically everything is built on a digital platform on the iPhones. To a degree, you as the trainee have your own campus, like your own university in your pocket. As a bartender, you can learn about Scotch for example, and get a certification, accreditation and add it to your resume. And on top of it, now they learn all those great bourbon drinks, how to do a Manhattan and demonstrate to their supervisor. And I think today, in a time when resources are so tight and time is so tight, it’s crucial to be able to link into a training platform that I can customize based on my needs. Bartending is one example. You could argue the same thing around culinary. I believe, in the future with the careers shifting, if there is some learning platform there in the digital world, a person can get very quick training ready for any knowledge they need to grow their career further.

Wolfgang Lindlbauer and Mike Raven in the test kitchen inside Marriott International’s headquarters.

Wolfgang Lindlbauer and Mike Raven in the test kitchen inside Marriott International’s headquarters.

Mike: Over the last few years, Marriott has been carefully observing the generational shifts in travel preferences. How have you adjusted to the preferences of the new Millennial generation?

That’s a loaded question and not an easy one to answer, but I will. There are about eight or nine trends that we researched with Millennials around the globe. From those eight or nine, we think five or so are particularly important to the restaurant and bar industry. So, let’s take one example: social media – it is how people connect with the thinking of food and beverage, how those people learn about it, how they talk to each other about what’s cool and what’s not. How they communicate is changing the ball game. It’s not anymore the concierge that people go to in the hotel; those kids are on their smartphones finding the hottest restaurant and what’s the coolest bar. So that behavior is changing everything.

We talk a lot about Millennials but I think Millennials, because of their social media connection, show how younger generations adapt faster to these technologies. I’m a Boomer but I pick up the same traits; it just takes me longer than my daughter. I’m learning with her, or from her, with the mobile device – how I order, how I perceive service in the hospitality industry, what other options I have available to me, Uber versus a taxi. Regardless of where you are, that one thing (mobile devices) is changing everything for us. It’s changing what customers expect, it’s changing the understanding of what’s local and what’s unique in a restaurant versus plain vanilla, and it’s changing also the way they want to be educated and learn. My attention span is different – if I can learn something in a three-minute video, why would I go through textbooks and reams of paper and, frankly speaking, forget. In this case, I press a button and it’s right there again.

Mike: So it’s not so much the Millennials as it is just the way the world works now, right?

I think they are the catalyzer for the whole thing; they’re the first. And it will be generation wide, but it doesn’t mean it’s only unique to one generation. I will call it the next generation customers. It’s not so much age related as it is behavior related.

Mike: What is CANVAS all about? Does it apply to the previous question?

Think about those changes in customer expectations, right? We looked at where the Millennials go in big cities and what do we offer, and what we saw was a vast difference. We also saw that a lot of those outlets done by this new type of thinking had very different investment models. It wasn’t flashy $1 million dollar restaurants; it was sometimes very simple but it was concentrated around a distinct point of view: What is it and what do you get there? It was usually driven by somebody who really cared and it was done with shoestring budgets.

We basically asked ourselves if we could do something like that. We started a global food & beverage incubator in four continents; every continent gets to pick three locations, each receiving $50,000. Let’s put a protective shield over them so as not to have everybody rip them apart before they start walking, and then let’s see what happens. We gave them very little rules, very little direction; we just observed everything they were doing. Some hotels did something, some regional teams did something, sometimes it was external, sometimes it was internal, but it was amazing the amount we learned. And now of the 13 we launched originally, three we had to kill immediately, two we had to adjust and eventually they died, and some other ones also. Eight are still in operation today. Now we have another 13 new ones coming. So what that did also is it gave permission back to hotels to actually be allowed to do different things. They were allowed to test, allowed to take risks, allowed to do something on their own. It’s starting to spread like a little fire; more and more people pick it up and it’s really, really cool.

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Celeste: Did you have a favorite of the first 13?

Well, the first one that opened is probably one of the most intriguing. I couldn’t call it my favorite because there are so many unique things to all of them. I love a lot of them for different reasons. But I think the one I like is Roofnic in London, because it’s now open for the second season. So, quick scenario: There is a hotel in London, corner of Oxford Street, a six-floor walk-up through a metal door, basically on a sidewalk in London, no elevator. It is 2,500 square feet; they put a picnic on the roof and called it Roofnic – with AstroTurf, Euro pallets, a bar from eBay, they just got it going. It got 600,000 pounds in five months of revenue. It was wildly successful. We had lines of 90 percent young people – customers we never had before. And then, we closed it down for the season and re-opened it again, but instead of re-opening Roofnic, they opened Notch. In Notch, they put a little greenhouse and Asian-inspired food; the cocktails were suddenly in little fish cans. So imagine, you get a Manhattan in a fish can – you pull the ring, you open it, you get a glass with a huge ice cube in it, you pour it over and there’s your Manhattan. So they needed to come up with really unique ways and it’s even doing better than last year.

In the old days, we would have said, “This works! Let’s do 20 of them.” In the new world, they say, “It’s boring, it’s a year old. Let’s do something new.” That way of thinking – not putting rules and restrictions on it – is changing everything. I just love it. And think about it: We built restaurants to last for 10 or 15 years. We should be building restaurants to change after 18 months, with minimal investment.

Mike: It’s the new speed of business. Do you want to talk about the Gold Standard?

Sure.

Mike: It started in ‘91; it has been the model for many different chains throughout the world. What does the future hold for that? Is it stable? Will it change?

Well, it always will change. Obviously I will not influence the next change, but just think of us, we might have 32 brands*. Right now we have 10 different programs for 10 brands; we won’t have 32, I can tell you that. I think the importance is, with that many hotels, we need to think about the platforms that power them.

I think we have some of the best partnerships and relationships in the industry and I would say that shows through our Global Beverage Partnership meeting every year. The amount of resources and commitment we put in there – what I hear from our partners is, it is better than anybody else does. And I believe that is how you gain true partnership. And we think if we share, we get it back. Through that, I think, we have some amazing programs as of lately, and I think this is really a bit of the future. We will probably have four or five programs and then you highlight different promotionals or different activities in the different brands. Think about what we did for Renaissance with Punch, for Marriott with the Bourbon Society. There will be different things like that for other brands. But some of the others pending probably will be similar. Number one, it’s a lot of effort for our partners, as well as for us. At the end, I believe the true success is in which platform you use, that it comes to life when it faces the customer. And I think that’s where the future lies.

Celeste: Talking about what you’ve said, “platforms that face the customer,” I hate to use the word “newest” but everyone wants to put out iPads for wine lists. I almost find that cumbersome. What do you think?

I think it’s going to be short-lived and die soon. I think that the consumers are educated to the use of their own device; they bring their own content. I want to bring my own content and use the screen to display what I have. I don’t want to be inconvenienced learning how to use every single device; I can’t be bothered with it.

At a restaurant, I think it will always be the interaction between the waiter and the customer that will be the reason I go there. Otherwise, I think I’m going to go to the Blue Aprons or to Seamless, and have my food brought (delivered). To me, the experience of dining out is the service interaction and having a waiter or great bartender and a great chef interact with me and educate me and bring that experience to life. Think of your last good bar visit. If you had a great bartender who really knew his product, with beautiful garnishes, beautiful glassware, who had this craftsmanship – that is an experience I will pay $15 a drink for. But if I go into a hotel bar, plain vanilla experience, wrong cherry in my Manhattan, poor ice, the drink is diluted after three minutes – there’s a real downer. I believe the customer recognizes the difference.

What we need to do is have platforms for how we educate all those thousands of employees, with all the turnover and everything. That’s what I mean when I talk about the platforms; that’s what needs to change. And the thing is, it goes back to our partnership in Gold Standard. Each partner is spending a ton on education and getting to all our associates. If I have 90 different brands in my portfolio and each brand does their own stuff, even if it’s only 15 or 20, how can I hold my associate accountable that they are doing the right things? It’s impossible; I can’t hold anybody accountable. And everybody does his or her own stuff, just like we used to. So I think the opportunity is for the industry actually to build something where everybody sits on one platform. We wanted to do that in Marriott, so we put everything in My Learning, so now I can hold 3,500 bartenders around the globe accountable. They learn how to prepare an appropriate Manhattan. I can do that today. Then think of the power of being able to push messages out, new trends and things, to all those associates within a week or two.

Celeste Dinos, Vice President and Partner, IMI Agency, Wolfgang Lindlbauer and Jason Patrick Lawrence, IMI Director of Account Management, Marriott International, at Wolfgang’s retirement party.

Celeste Dinos, Vice President and Partner, IMI Agency, Wolfgang Lindlbauer and Jason Patrick Lawrence, IMI Director of Account Management, Marriott International, at Wolfgang’s retirement party.

Mike: I was reading an interview with Bill Marriott, from back in 2014, where he said, “We’ve got to be cool.” My question is, how cool does the chain want to be? As a Boomer, I still like The Ritz-Carlton, the Renaissance, and the JW Marriott experiences. Are you going to keep those signature hotels the same way they are for the most part?

Let me ask you, Mike: Do you like to go into a Ritz-Carlton Grill Room from 25 years ago, some of which are still out there today? You enjoy that, but would you like the quality of a Ritz-Carlton, with a luxury experience and service levels, but a new, relevant, nice restaurant?

Mike: For me, I think I’d rather have the second choice: a new, relevant experience. But I still appreciate the traditional style.

The thing is, brands need to stay relevant because even The Ritz-Carlton consumer is not okay with what we used to do. So, a Ritz-Carlton may not be cool, but it is a sophisticated and very experiential experience. But when you come into The Ritz-Carlton in Lake Tahoe from the ski slopes in your ski boots, you have an outdoor barbecue with fire pits and you can sit there in your ski boots. You couldn’t say that’s cool but those Ritz-Carlton guests love that.

Mike: Well, that’s pretty cool!! (laughter)

Right? So, if cool is relevant for that audience and what they want to experience, then maybe The Ritz-Carlton is cool. It certainly doesn’t need to be dusty, old, outdated, and uninspiring.

Mike: Great answer.

Mike: Moxy hotels – how is Moxy doing? Has it turned out to be a little hotspot?

We just opened the first two in the U.S. There’s only one in Europe and one is coming on. I think it will be amazing. I LOVE it! Just imagine, you walk into a hotel and you can’t find the front desk. All that’s there is a bar.

Mike: It’s heaven!! (laughter all around)

So the great thing is, is it something for everybody? No, but is it an awesome experience? I think so, yes. It doesn’t need to be for everybody.

2016 Marriott Gold Standard Partner's reception benefiting CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees)

2016 Marriott Gold Standard Partner’s reception benefiting CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees)

Mike: You don’t hear much about the Edition chain, but what a beautiful set of hotels there is in that grouping.

Edition is hand-curated – we don’t put them just anywhere; they will grow slowly but each one is a jewel. And they will continue to be.

Mike: Just beautiful, and in all the hottest cities in the world.

You can’t put them everywhere; you have to be selective and curate them. They are an exceptional experience.

Mike: What’s the future of the classic chains like Fairfield Inn & Suites Marriott, Springhill Suites and Courtyard? I have a feeling you’re going to give me the same answer you did with The Ritz-Carlton.

They need to evolve. There are different economy models out there and they’re not necessarily urban brands or suburban brands but they share markets. They have a different purpose to some degree. Some of them are long-stay hotels but if you stay in a Residence Inn, it’s wonderful; you have your little kitchen and all that. Fairfield Inn is similar, in a different price tier. A lot of those hotels are starting to add bars because the customers’ expectations are changing. The little retail market is offering different products, and adjustments are made for different room generations, which fulfills the requirements of those customers. So, the hotels need to be staying current. As breakfast trends change, the breakfast needs to adjust. We believe there is a need for those different brands in different segments and price tiers.

Mike: You recently did a Masters of Craft promotion/contest with the winners receiving an invitation to attend the recent Global Beverage Partners meeting. How did that program work out for you?

That was an interesting one. So, let’s call it CANVAS for partners. We threw an idea out. We saw our customers wanted a lot of new items that were local or limited editions not available everywhere, which had great stories. So we wanted to know what was out there. I think we had three weeks for the whole thing, so we basically had Jason (Lawrence) from your team (IMI) arrange a couple of competitions, and I think we got over 100 submissions. I think around 50 were cleared, with all the details we asked for, to be judged. We picked the top 10 and we invited them to join the meeting. Needless to say, the traditional partners took a bit of a back seat on that. But I personally believe I owe it to our partners to show them some trends and expose them to what is going on in the industry and what our customers are expecting.

I think some of them are getting the message because I know that some of our partners are coming up with very unique products with limited runs and limited editions, and we don’t allow every hotel to have it. The best hotels need to earn the opportunity to get some of those things. Now, we have stories to tell, we have unique experiences for our customers, and I think our partners, again, benefit from that. On top of that, we selected several of those, which are now listed as optional, in addition to the core program. In local markets, a hotel might be able to get something that was done a couple of miles away that they had not been exposed to before. So I do think that we need to stay relevant. We can’t ignore trends and I saw it as a good way to wake some of our partners up and some of them actually are very appreciative. Some others might not be, but I think they will get it.

Mike: Environmental issues seem to have ebb and flow to them. Every other year or so, everyone starts talking about being “green” and then you don’t hear about it for a while. Then they start talking about it again. Is it still front and center as an objective, to be conscious of waste and consumption?

Let me look at it the other way around. Do you think that we, as the soon-to-be largest hotel and lodging operator in the world, can afford not to?

Mike: I would say no, you couldn’t afford not to.

There you go. I think consumer concept is driving that agenda. And I think people who bear the cost try to squash it but it comes back. Squash it – it comes back. The more customer exposure it gets, and the more companies and consumers demand it, the more it will come. Look at just what has happened to certain food types, like sodas. Customers are more and more educated to everything. Suddenly you have handcrafted sodas, sodas with fewer sugars, sodas that are done organic – that happens because of consumer demands.

I’ll give you another example. I was in a BMW showroom six months ago. BMW talks about sustainability and they built those new electric cars completely out of carbon Kevlar; everything in it is sustainable. Then I go to the coffee station – and get a Styrofoam cup. I had a discussion with the general manager; he didn’t understand my point.

Mike: He didn’t?

No, he didn’t. I said, “Well, think about it. In the meantime, I will go visit other BMW dealers.”

Mike: Hmm …

I’ll share something else with you. A couple of years ago in Europe, people started taking the packaging from items at the cash register desk, ripping it apart and leaving all the excess packaging they didn’t need on the counter. Thousands and thousands of people did that. Guess what happened? They reduced the packaging to the absolute necessary in those stores because they were drowning in garbage, since none of the customers were dragging this stuff home and filling their garbage cans with it at home.

Mike: I have such a thing with plastic bags at the grocery store. If I forget my reusable sacks, I watch them put one item in one bag, then I rearrange everything and the bag girls and boys look at me funny. The say they are trained to put certain items alone and others together. I tell them I understand that, but if laundry soap happened to get on an egg, is the egg ruined? No. Everything goes in one bag. When we were kids there were no such things as plastic bags. Everything was wrapped in paper or put in a large paper bag that was recycled along with everything else, the Coke bottles, milk bottles – everything. They make such a big deal out of recycling now; we did it without thinking about it, and it was just the thing to do. Hopefully it will return to that way.

There are supermarkets opening in Europe now – just a matter of time before they are here – that carry only bulk products, you bring everything (to carry them). Everything is bulk. It’s coming, and the neat thing is we are actually working with the industry on some of the food waste. I think minimizing food waste will be one of the largest trends in the next 24 months, globally. There are too many people with nothing to eat and we are throwing food out. I know we are working on it, along with the American lodging industry and probably soon the National Restaurant Association. I think it is our social responsibility.

Mike: As far as giving away leftover food is concerned, it’s mostly legalities that stop things like that from happening, isn’t it?

No. Actually, that’s an internal excuse. There’s a Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that actually lets you do most of it. People just like an excuse because it’s more work and effort, and yes, it does cost you some money, but it’s the right thing to do.

Mike: I think this question has already been answered, but how has the proliferation of Internet-based programs affected the industry?

Changed everything. Turned it on its head. It’s the speed at which everything is communicated. I think for chefs, life was easy (and for bartenders). But now the customer knows all about the latest trends – the level of education of the consumers is incredible. It changed the game for all of us.

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Mike: Tell me your elevator speech for a new hotelier. What would it be, for a young guy or girl coming up in the business?

If you don’t love it, get out of it tomorrow, while you still can. (laughter) If you love it, and you’re sane, enjoy the ride of a lifetime.

Mike: Everywhere I read something about you, I see this quote: “Someday, somebody much smarter than you will work for you. Teach that person whatever you can, pass it on, and it will come back to you someday.” Has it?

Many times, many times. People who have worked for me that became successful have crossed paths with me later. Sometimes they say to you and remind you, “Remember when you told me this?” That makes a world of difference; that’s what our business is all about.

Mike: So you’ve never been afraid to help people all you could, all along the way and be afraid of them coming back and being your boss, or something like that?

No. And I’m not afraid to share things for the industry. I think we have a lot of the same battles together. It is so much more difficult for one of us to change that mindset, so I think those are examples of how good things come back. Take the F&B Star Report – they wouldn’t have existed if they hadn’t teamed up with all the other hotel companies. And for the first time in history, hopefully our owners and asset managers will understand the importance of the F&B business. I think in the next couple of years, it will change how they look at the evaluation of the entire hotel. Today, someone looks at 60-65 percent of the revenue, because F&B is seen as a cost center, an amenity. But if I say, what is the opportunity for the entire hotel and how can I drive its success, it changes the way I look at it. And the reason I want to share those things is because I think if we all work together as an industry, we can change the mindset. And I do believe that the business needs to change a lot. And if we look through the same old metrics, we won’t get there. I believe in sharing with partners, and some of the things with competition because it benefits us as an industry, and then with individuals.

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Marriott Gold Standard Beverage Partners Meeting at The Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort, Naples, FL.

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Mike: You’re getting ready to retire. I assume you’re pretty excited about that.

I am.

Mike: What’s the first thing you are going to do?

First, I’m going on a 10-day vacation to Europe. Then we come back and put our house up for sale. Then I rented an RV for 80 days and I’m going to drive with my wife and our dog through the United States, before we relocate to Europe.

Mike: So you are going to go back to Europe?

Yes, I’m going back.

Mike: Germany?

We’ll see. Somewhere.

Mike: Are we going to find you back in the business somewhere over in Europe?

I will do something, but I want to do something different. I don’t know what yet. I have a couple of ideas and I need to take some time to figure out what I want to do. I will continue to have some fun, don’t worry about that. (laughter)

Personally what I have a lot of passion for is around the whole education thing in this industry. There are no trade-learning programs, call it apprenticeship, whatever it is. And I think the opportunity is huge,
not just in the U.S. where you have so many uneducated people. I can’t get an education if I don’t pay $50,000 a year, really?? This is so principally wrong!!

Mike: I have a daughter who’s starting medical school and just to apply to a dental school, it costs her thousands of dollars – just to give them her applications. Just an application!

See, this is just so wrong. Instead of an apprenticeship, okay, I go a week to school and I learn looking over the shoulders of somebody four days a week. I learn and learn and learn. It might take me two or three years to get there. I think a lot of this learning can be done through digital formats. Let’s say, here are your base courses, now you need to demonstrate that you can do that. This company, Lobster Ink, they built everything on this because they come out of South Africa, where there’s no infrastructure.

Wolfgang Lindlbauer, Innovator, Marriott International

Wolfgang Lindlbauer, Innovator, Marriott International

There are some brilliant innovators out there today and to me, it’s between the industry and the beverage suppliers to align. We want to go to one platform of learning education. What we can do as an industry between our partners, the National Restaurant Association and the restaurant and bar and hotel business, what we could do for millions of people in North America and in Africa, Russia, and lots of other places, is amazing. We can change the industry, instead of getting all those people with foul attitudes that don’t appreciate having a job because they only do it until they can do something else. There’s no pride! If you want to be a service professional – say, a true waiter – in Europe, you go to two years of school. But then you know how to filet a Dover sole, you know how to flambé a steak, you know the chemical reaction when you are pickling, or this or that – they have that knowledge, they have that pride. They can take customers through journeys. You can do that today through other means. And I would say if there’s one passion I have, that’s a huge one: to help people who don’t otherwise get a chance. There is so much staff turnover, lack of education, lack of career progression and lack of seeing the future, instead of asking, “What is the future for me?” We can answer that for millions of people. That, to me, is big. That might be one of those ideas I’m after.


Wolfgang, Best Wishes for continued success and impact in the industry.
Prost (cheers)!

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About the author

Mike Raven

Mike Raven is the Managing Editor of in the Mix magazine. He has over 20 years of experience in distributor management in Florida with Southern Wine and Spirits, Premier Beverage Company and was the CEO of Lion Wines and Spirits.