Torsten Richter brings with him over 25 years of hospitality experience in London, New York, Thailand, Bali, the Maldives, and his hometown of Baden-Baden. Though this is his first posting in Bangkok, the German native previously called Thailand his home from 2004 to 2011, during which time he spent over three years as a resort General Manager in Khao Lak, and before that nearly four years on Phuket where he worked through the F&B ranks to a Hotel Manager position. Now, he is the General Manager at SO Sofitel Bangkok
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in your role?
The most challenging moment in my whole career as a GM was when I had to restructure my whole operations during the 2009 financial crisis within a month. The pressure was immense as this happened during my early days as GM. We had just come out of a rocking high season with record high revenues and service charges with the team cheering at the top of Mount Everest so to say, and suddenly you are hit with one of the most drastic measures.
Can you share more details with us?
I will not go into the specifics on that as it was not only professionally challenging, it was also hard on me personally. Speaking metaphorically though, take the principle of a ship sailing in the storm, it was too heavily loaded and would have sunk if no actions were taken. I had to throw some weight into the water in order to keep 90% of the ship afloat. I took solace in the fact that even though I could not save all, I managed to save 90% of the ship. I will always refer to this as one of the toughest times in my career.
What’s the most challenging thing in running a hotel?
I think there are 2 equally important challenges in running a lifestyle hotel. First of all, you need to keep innovating to stay relevant and on trend. We are the flagship of SO Sofitel worldwide. Our goal is to be the trend setter and a leading innovative hotel in the lifestyle segment rather than a follower.
The second equally important challenge (and opportunity) is in retaining and driving business into our restaurants and bars for not only our in-house guests but also for outside guests. It is no longer 15 years ago when people went to hotels to find great dining experiences. Travelers are now exploring bars and restaurants outside the hotels they are staying in so our competitors are no longer limited to our counterparts but have expanded to include standalone restaurants and bars in the city.
What do you like most about your day in your hotel?
(Laugh) What I love most is that no days are ever the same. It is colorful, it is vibrant, and it is what I love most about my job.
What has your experience been like being here as a GM? How do you feel about the team, the operation— what inspires you most about being here?”
I chose to be here initially because of the brand, the hotel itself and its DNA. That was my first attraction. It was what the brand stands for. We only have 4 SO Sofitel Hotels worldwide, kind of like being a small fish in a massive pond that is Accor. This is where the opportunities lie. As the SO Sofitel brand is expanding, and being the flagship hotel, we are able to have the flexibility in being creative and injecting a lot of growth into the brand that is now expanding and will continue to do so worldwide, taking it to the next level.
I also have a big pool of talent which consists of highly educated, creative, engaged, and smart people. This combination is amazing! All of us in every way can creatively give input into what is next for SO. We can grow together.
Are you a “lobby GM” or a “Numbers GM”? – And what is the importance of being a Lobby and /or a Numbers GM
I believe in a balance between the two. As a GM, you have to be able to analyze the numbers to set priorities in achieving your performance goals, and I do look at those numbers every day. It is important to understand what drives your revenues and your costs and where you can make a lasting impact. However, am I the guy who is going to look at them 10 hours a day and only sit in my office? No, I’m not.
Of course you have to look at the numbers because that is how your hotel performance is measured but this does not take absolute priority over your guests and team. Our job is to connect with our guests and team every time, 24 hours of the day to make sure that our services are personalized and we are giving our guests the top notch experiences we are known for and have a team which feels empowered and engaged.
I connect with so many people at our hotel so there is a balance to it all. Let’s put it this way, I’m a GM who looks at numbers in the lobby. I could be there with my laptop looking at my reports but I’m also engaging with guests and my team there.
How do you manage to always be energetic and positive?
My simple recipe is sports. I love to challenge myself to see how much I can do or accomplish, both at work and in my personal time. I like to drive my own boundaries beyond what I thought I’m capable of, and once I hit that goal it’s the best feeling there is, and so saying I have completed 4 Ironman races to date. Besides, by nature I am a very positive person, all thanks to my parents.
What was the darkest moment in your career?
For me personally, the darkest moment in my career would be the experience of the devastating tsunami when I was in Phuket. I wasn’t a GM then but it hit everyone including me pretty hard. I am sure you remember that day.
Have you ever been given any advice that proved not to be true?
I had great mentors in my career, 4 to be precise. They have always kept an open door for me and have always been my resources for advice and shared experiences which were wise and truthful and have never let me down.
If you could turn back time, what would be the one thing you would have changed in your career?
I wouldn’t change a thing. I am happy where I am. If I could add though I would invest more time on further studies as I believe education and knowledge bring new perspectives and why not, you are never too old to learn!
What are your preferred sources when it comes to learning about hotels?
I look at various online hotel company pages, and international hotel and restaurant magazines to follow the trends; besides that I also follow hotel development firms for updates such as hotel projects in the region. Financial and trend setting forums partly related to hotels have also proven to be a great resource.
What kind of marketing tools do you find to be effective in PR & Marketing in the hotel world today?
I am a believer in the power of digital marketing, whether it be Instagram, Weibo, LINE, Facebook; meta-searches like TripAdvisor, and dining guides such as Michelin and Gault Millau to name a few.
If you were a superhero, who would you be and why?
I don’t like to look at myself as a superhero. In the traditional definition I am not one. My team is the superhero and I like to look at them and think how can I give them the support and resources that they need? If you imagine the organization chart as a hierarchical pyramid, I would be holding mine upside down. I would be holding my people up with two strong hands to support and empower them both in professional and personal development with tools, equipment, opportunities, or any resources which they may need to realize their potential. That is how I look at it. So if I have to pick a character from any ‘superhero’ comics, I think I would probably be “The Thing” from Fantastic 4 (chuckle).