As we celebrate 40 years of innovation and excellence this year, who better to reflect on where we’ve come from than the person who has helped keep the school running the last 30 years?
Meet Christian Konrad, Operations Director at César Ritz Colleges Switzerland’s Brig campus. Christian first began his career as a chef on campus before moving his way up to director where today he manages everything from food & beverage, housekeeping, and maintenance to create a wonderful environment for students.
We asked him a few questions about how he built his career in hospitality and what it’s been like working at César Ritz Colleges Switzerland through the years.
I wish I could say it all started by helping my mom in the kitchen and that I always dreamed of becoming a professional chef one day. The reality, however, is that I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was young and my decision to enter hospitality was more coincidental.
My first apprenticeship was as a chef in a small family hotel in the Black Forest in Germany when I was sixteen. Eventually, I went on to study hotel management in Berlin, but that only happened many years later, once I knew I would likely stay in the hospitality industry. In 1993, through another coincidence, I heard that the school – previously known as HotelConsult – was looking for a sous-chef to work at their campus in Le Bouveret. I’m not even sure I knew it was a school at the time. I think I assumed it was a hotel! However, after visiting the campus, I decided that I was up for the challenge and here I am – still with César Ritz Colleges almost 30 years later.
I decided that I was up for the challenge and here I am – still with César Ritz Colleges almost 30 years later.
In the beginning, my main role was to run the school’s kitchen and teach students some of the basics of food production – this was long before Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland was founded and kitchen experience was part of students’ hotel management education. Then, as the school evolved, I started teaching the food & beverage courses before becoming executive chef, and then later food & beverage manager. I moved to the Brig campus to open the 225-room student accommodation building, Themis & Xenius, in 2008. And eventually, became the campus’ operations director.
I am fortunate that during my long career at César Ritz Colleges, I’ve always had opportunities for new and different challenges, and this is reflected in my current work as well. No two days are exactly the same. Some days I spend hours in the office doing budgets or meetings, and other days I’m involved in food & beverage, housekeeping, maintenance…anything needed to keep the campus in good working order.
My favorite part of my job is definitely the daily contact I have with the students. I also love the interactions with my colleagues and just the sheer variety of activities I am involved with. Sometimes it makes my job quite challenging, but also hugely fulfilling.
My favorite part of my job is definitely the daily contact I have with the students.
I think a strong alumni community is a great benefit for students as well as for us staff. Since our school is relatively small, we end up getting to know one another fairly well and become this kind of big, international family. And like any other family member, I try and see them again – sometimes for a quick coffee during work time, or for dinner at their house with their own family or even at their wedding.
I try to be open, listen to what is going on, make sure the environment is safe and comfortable, and work hard to make everything run as smoothly as possible. I often think back on what I wanted and needed as a student and consider how I’m addressing those desires and needs among our own students.
I often think back on what I wanted and needed as a student and consider how I’m addressing those desires and needs among our own students.
I am proud of students who struggled for various reasons – personally or academically – during their studies and managed to persevere and graduate. It’s always a special moment when I see a student who went through a difficult season during their time with us walk up on stage in their gown with a big smile and proud of what they’ve achieved.
Even though technology is evolving rapidly in our industry, I believe we will always rely on people and their experiences and skills. However, I do see a shift towards more localization and greater efforts in sustainability, which are both challenges and opportunities.
I’d say to remember that an education in hospitality is about far more than the technical skills you will acquire. You will learn a great deal about human nature, service, communication, troubleshooting, and the importance of being flexible.
You will learn a great deal about human nature, service, communication, troubleshooting, and the importance of being flexible.
These are the types of skills that can be applied anywhere, which is the reason why our alumni can be found in all types of positions and industries. For many of our alumni, these other skills – like customer relations and people management – were actually what gave them an edge over others in the job market. So, I’d advise students to keep an open mind and focus on learning as much as they can. It will pay off later.