homas Noll is the President of his own company, TN Hotels & More. His company assists investors in developing hotels & resorts and in managing or consulting hotels as well as representing international hotels from around the world on the Russian market. Since beginning of 2013, he has also under taken the position of Managing Director of Fine Hotels & Resorts at Krasnaya Polyana Sochi, Russia.
Thomas Noll has more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry – over 19 years of which he has been in the position of General Manager of luxury hotels, such as Corinthia Nevsky Palace Hotel and the Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg. He is a passionate and determined business executive and a brilliant entrepreneur. The strength of Germanic tribes is in his blood. He does not let anything stand in his way once he makes up his mind to go for what he wants. It is obvious that he expects those who work for him to be just as passionate and performance-driven as he is. He expects 100 percent delivery; anything less is unacceptable. At the same time, his enthusiasm is contagious. One cannot help but to admire his conviction and dedication . . . .
ine Hotels & Resorts is a sister company of Rixos Hotels and Sembol Construction. This is a brand new destination that will serve to accommodate more than 5,000 international Press members during the Winter Olympic Games 2014. The Olympic Games will be held at the city of Sochi, which is one of Russia’s biggest resorts, often called the “Pearl of the Russian Black Sea”. After the Olympics it will be a new destination focusing on active summer and winter sport and spa holidays and on Mice market. Total number of rooms available will be 3400, consisting of 1500 apartments operated as hotels, a Marriott Hotel, 4 non-branded Interstate Hotels, a Swissotel, a Capella Hotel, a Solis Hotel, a Rixos Hotel, 2 large destination Spas, a shopping center with Rooftop Aquapark, a Media and Congress Center.
In 1985, you graduated from the Hotel School Poppe & Neumann in Konstanz in Germany, with a diploma in “Kuechenmeister” (Kitchen Master). Later, you started your career as a chef in Comino Hotels in Malta. How did you become interested in the hotel business?
I was born in a small village with only 800 citizens near Konstanz, in Germany. It was a great place for a young boy to grow up. Originally, I wanted to be a policeman. I saw one of the TV programs about restaurant business and it featured a German chef who lived on an island. I wanted to become a chef on an island on the sea. As soon as I passed my training and exam as a chef, I found my first job on an island. It was one of the smallest Islands, Comino, a sister island of Malta and only nine local farmers lived there. It had only one hotel – a bungalow village resort. It was a great experience for me. In addition to practicing my skills, I also learned all kinds of sports, from windsurfing to diving, tennis and horse riding.
You have 20 years of experience working as a GM. What have you learned from being a GM in the luxury hotel sector?
Actually, we are doing the same thing whether we work for a three-star or five-star hotel. We have to make our guests happy. In the luxury sector, you can’t just look at what the competition is doing. You have to look into yourself. You have to be creative continuously. You can be the best hotel if you manage or strive to deliver the basics 100 percent of the time. This means, coffee must be hot and Champagne must be cold. It is like flying a commercial jet – you can’t fly your passengers safely with just 90 percent performance. Would you accept anything less than 100 percent from a surgeon who operates on you? Why should we accept this in the hospitality industry?!
You were the Regional Managing Director of the Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg from 2005 to 2010. You brought this hotel into the world of the greatest hotels and resorts. What was the single most important contribution you’ve made to achieve such an impressive result?
Bringing a hotel to the top and make it famous takes creativity, strategy and great people.
I was the official founder of the Xmas Market in St. Petersburg. When I first came to this city, the winter period was rather boring. I started the Xmas Market which seemed mission impossible with the red tapes in Russia. But we did it! It has since become very popular and an annual event in the city calendar. I started a charity for an orphanage. Both President Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have attended the event. Because of their presence, the publicity we received was enormous. We collected three million Euros for charity by auctioning off paintings done by famous personalities during the Christmas market.
I also increased our hotel’s revenue dramatically by increasing the rates substantially due to improved service levels and new service ideas, by adding fairy tale experiences, i.e. a Riva boat on the canals of St. Petersburg, a fine chocolate factory, the largest luxury limousine fleet of any hotel in Europe, etc. etc. We created many themed suites such as i.e. Amber Suite, Tchaikovsky Suite, Stradivary Suite, etc. Each suite is designed with its own identity and featuring original historic furniture that we carefully restored.
You are now the President of your own company. Having to build your own company, what are the most challenging issues?
As an hotelier for a big company, you live in a golden cage; you have the backing of legal, finance and technological departments. When you are an entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily have all the backings. Also, in Russia, business is difficult because of corruption and bureaucracy. But it’s a good experience because it makes you stronger. Today, I am so much more experienced and stronger doing business in Russia.
For many years you were a hotel executive and now you are an entrepreneur. What is the biggest difference between the two?
Personally, I have always been my own boss, as a chef, as a department head and as a GM. As an entrepreneur I have more freedom to do other things.
Want to read more?
The full interview with Thomas Noll has been published along with 43 other interviews with successful hoteliers in Dr. Lily Lin’s book “Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers”.