We were pleased to interview Walter Junger the Founder and CEO of H12, who became a Finalist for Corporate Hotelier of the Year 2017. Read on to find out how he went from an aspiring football player to a hotelier.
I was born and grew up in Salzburg, Austria. As a fan of sports, I would spend my time playing tennis, skiing and even football, with the dream to become a professional one day, which I guess was just not meant to be. I always had the desire to travel when I was young and was specifically fond of China. I vividly remember reading a novel about Shanghai that really interested me, and even at the mere age of 13 I told my mother that I was going to move there when I was older. She stroked my hair and said ‘yes, yes, yes dear’ with a smile on her face.
My interest in hospitality started shortly after with a passion for creating exciting and unique experiences for my friends and family. I would often cook and then decorate our dining room table with menu cards and flowers from our garden, imagining it to be a beautiful expensive restaurant. I couldn’t afford to go to such magical restaurants and thus it made sense for me to become a hotelier and restaurateur and create these experiences for others to enjoy.
When the time came, I took my first step and graduated from Tourism School Salzburg with a major in Hotel & Tourism Management. Two years later, I began my career in hospitality where I worked for international companies such as Westin, Shangri-La, and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Whilst working in South Carolina at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel, I overheard a conversation between the VP of F&B and the GM talking about the first Westin hotel set to open in Shanghai. This gave me hope, a potential goal to aspire to. In 1998, a dream became a reality as I was given the opportunity to opened the Portman Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai, the first Ritz-Carlton in China.
In 2012, I later moved on to conceptualising, designing and eventually opening the art and lifestyle H12 in Carinthia, Austria, which I am a proud owner of. From barefoot luxury wildlife reserves in Africa, to hot spring spas and urban resorts in China, H12 has successfully bought 11 of the most iconic art and lifestyle hotels around the world.
2. Can you share with us what you feel has been the most valuable part in your career development to date, that has enabled you to get to where you are today?
Working for some of the top hotel brands gave me the foundation for my entrepreneurial ambitions. My role at Ritz-Carlton as a VP & Regional Director of Europe and South America provided me with such valuable experience as I was essentially managing hotels across four continents.
I think it takes passion and desire to make people happy, and a base to become a successful hotelier in the luxury segment. Besides a love for lifestyle related topics such as food, wine, cigars and art, relevant education and an apprenticeship in the hospitality industry is a crucial foundation for success. A mentor of mine was the CEO of Ritz Carlton, Mr Horst Schulze. He was not afraid to give young people the opportunity to grow into senior leadership roles and was always supporting those who had a passion for service, which is one of the things I have continued to teach at H12. Business is not the result of having marble floors and crystal chandeliers, instead it’s in our team delivering highly personalised and kind-hearted service.
Another valuable part of my career development has been overcoming challenges, they are vital to our personal progression. Moving from working in a big organisation to starting your own can be daunting to say the least. I think the most important thing is finding the right team of people whom you can share your dreams, ideas and visions with. Creating a new brand requires ambition, imagination and persistence. I was lucky enough to find the perfect people who have joined together on our road to fulfil our company’s dreams.
3. Congratulations on reaching the finalist stage of The Hotelier Awards 2017. How are you planning on leveraging this opportunity to inspire the younger generation to work harder at developing their career in the hospitality scene?
Well, the younger generation is the future of the industry, helping and guiding the hoteliers has always been a key success of H12. Earlier this year, I was invited as a speaker for the Hospitality Student Initiative (HIS) Conference 2017. HIS is an organisation founded by a group of students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I shared my thoughts and stories in order to give them a vision on how to become future leaders. I really enjoyed talking to them and sharing all my experiences and expressing how fortunate we are to work in the most amazing industry. My personal motto is “Put service first and success will follow!”