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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Outstanding Companies Come From Outstanding Employees

A role model in many aspects, Laura Gutierrez lives and breathes excellence.

Published: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - 11:49

Ritz-Carlton employees are passionate, disciplined, and fanatical about their jobs. Over the years, much has been written about the extraordinary customer service you can expect to receive from these bastions of performance excellence. Employees are always seeking to deliver spectacular service, while looking for ways to make the guest experience memorable. Hotel employees operate on the premise that nothing is impossible to satisfy the wants, needs, and expectations of guests. When approached by a guest it’s almost as if the employee automatically says, “Yes”, before a question is even raised by the guest.

What makes the experience so genuine at a Ritz-Carlton is that the employees foster the same courteous attitude even when they are not working. The work ethic that separates Ritz-Carlton service from other hotels is embedded in employees and it carries over into their private lives. There is no onstage or offstage personalities. The staff is always “on.” And their focus on service does not end when they leave the confines of the hotel.

Employees are involved in numerous community events, thus bringing their special brand of magic to other organizations. One employee who epitomizes the face of the hotel’s service is Laura Gutierrez of the Dearborn, Michigan, Ritz-Carlton. Gutierrez is typical of the employees at the hotel and her involvement in community events and her leadership skills illustrate how she and her team live the “Gold Standard” in every aspect of their job. Within the Gold Standard is this guiding precept:

The Ritz-Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.

Gutierrez is the area human resource director for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and is headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan. She has been with the hotel since its opening 20 years ago in the capacity of human resource director. Over the years, her talents have been recognized by corporate management and as such she has assumed human resource responsibilities for the Cleveland, St. Louis, and Philadelphia properties of the hotel.

Family involvement

On the weekends Gutierrez and her family can be found at various racetracks in the country, where her sons and husband, David, are involved in top alcohol fuel racing. Her son, John Paul, is an accomplished racer and Gutierrez is always there to cheer him on and act as his race crew.

During Detroit Lions football season, Laura and David can be found in the Eastern Market parking lot as they host a huge tailgating pregame party for hordes of their friends and family.

Commitment to the human resource profession

Her responsibilities at the Ritz-Carlton naturally include the hiring and training of staff, but it goes far beyond that. As a member of the senior management team, she is the cheerleader for the hotel, often arranging events for the employees, which has had a dramatic positive effect on keeping morale high.

Gutierrez knows and understands that recognition is a key part of keeping morale at a high level and in that regard she never misses an opportunity to wish an employee a happy birthday, or recognize a wedding anniversary or a company anniversary. In addition, she often does this by giving that person tickets to a sporting event, a concert, or a restaurant in the area.

Each month, all the employees who have distinguished themselves by providing excellent customer service and who have been given “First Class” cards for their work are entered in a drawing for various prizes. This is another project that she established.

She is involved in similar activities at the hotels in St. Louis, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.

Organizational success

Earlier this year, because of an abrupt change in management at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C., Gutierrez was called upon to handle the human resource responsibilities. There are hundreds of human resource employees on the staff of the hotel, but Gutierrez was chosen for this important assignment because of her talent in interacting with staff.

In my opinion, no one else could have done what she did. She balanced the workload in D.C. with her responsibilities in Dearborn and the other locations in Cleveland, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, and consistently handled all her responsibilities flawlessly. While in D.C. she interviewed and hired new staff, and raised the level of morale to a higher level. When she left D.C. the entire staff signed a letter thanking her for her kindness and her professionalism.

Contribution to community

Natalie Salazar, age 12, was a champion figure skater who began noticing pain in her legs while preparing for a regional competition as a step toward the Olympics. The condition was ultimately diagnosed as a type of cancer known as osteosarcoma. Her chemotherapy treatments were unsuccessful and at age 13, Natalie was told she was going to die. Her biggest regret was that she would never be able to go to her high school prom. Natalie’s eighth-grade teacher attended the same church as Gutierrez where Natalie’s story was told. At Gutierrez' direction and planning the Ritz-Carlton employees leaped into action.

Gutierrez and her team hosted a prom in the hotel’s ballroom attended by 18 classmates and seven of Natalie’s championship ice skating team members. A dance floor was installed along with a myriad of lights and streamers. Laura’s son John Paul donned a tuxedo and was Natalie’s Prince Charming for the evening.

Natalie was only 13 when she lost her battle on September 20, 2007. The seamstress at the Ritz-Carlton who had made Natalie’s prom dress also made the dress in which she was buried. Then on October 22, 2007, which would have been Natalie’s fourteenth birthday, Gutierrez had the chef prepare a cake described to her by Natalie the evening before her death and the hotel employees celebrated Natalie’s birthday and kept her memory intact. Laura continues to keep in touch with Natalie’s parents.


As I said at the beginning, with her talent and organizational skills, Gutierrez is able to focus on family, work, and community without anyone feeling neglected. Obviously, she is an exemplary employee. But remember, she comes from an exemplary organization. That's no coincidence, because, in the end, an organization is it's people. And when you hire outstanding performers like Gutierrez you can't help but be world class. 


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.


Ritz Carlton Employees

This is a great story, and one that is not the exception where this hotel chain is concerned. Many years ago I conducted training for the Ritz Carlton and, as the trainer, I was required to fully understand the company's Credo. One of the perks of the training was being able to stay at one of the hotels and I saw first hand the anticipation of the customer's needs.

Bill, however, the MORAL of the story is that the MORALE of employees is critical to the way they conduct their work. The distincition in the spelling of these two words is important, and a quality issue!

Phillip Morgan

Morale buster

Thanks for the correction. We have fixed the error.