Eugenio Pirri today leads operations and culture for Dorchester Collection, one of the world’s most renowned collections of hotels, including iconic properties such as Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris and the Beverly Hills Hotel.
He has a fascinating story of building a career in hospitality, which informs his unique perspective on operations leadership today.
Eugenio’s role today
Eugenio’s role as the Chief Operations and Culture Executive for Dorchester Collection is unique among other operations leaders.
“It’s a role that previously didn’t exist in this way in our company,” he told me.
“Throughout my career, I always saw chief operations roles having a huge financial focus. That seemed to miss the point because culture is what actually drives performance.”
Eugenio’s focus today covers everything you may expect of an operations leader: ensuring each hotel is working at peak performance and delivering on the Dorchester Collection vision of being “treasured by guests, cherished by employees, and celebrated worldwide.”
“Of course, there’s a financial element and the service and engagement elements are paramount; however, how you set up a role and how it is seen by the organization is going to determine its success on so many levels. That’s why we set up my role as we did.”
The journey to chief operations executive
Like many, Eugenio’s start in the hospitality industry wasn’t planned.
At university, he had “a little bit too much of a good time,” he told me, and his parents weren’t willing to continue allowing me to ‘live that lifestyle’. He needed a job and therefore, got a job cleaning hotel rooms, which was never his plan originally.
“To my shock, I loved it! I didn’t really mind making the beds and cleaning the rooms. But it was the camaraderie of the housekeeping team and how I felt being a part of that team that felt so good. I was 18 at the time, and these mostly 40 and 50-year-old women took me in as a son and would even cook meals for me occasionally. I thought it was so amazing how they were doing a very rigorous job, but at the same time were there to support each other. That sparked something inside of me that changed the way I viewed working in hospitality.”
While that housekeeping job only lasted for six months, it made a big impression. He wanted to learn other aspects of operating a hospitality business though, so took on roles with progressing responsibility from food & beverage to engineering to finance.
“All of this before I was 23. In five years I had worked across the business but still didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I was lucky to have a great mentor who asked me ‘What do you like about the job you like the most?’ For me it was easy: I loved the people. He asked if I had ever considered human resources, but the first thing that came to mind was that they were not a department that aligned with me. They just fired people, right?”
Eugenio now looks back and laughs about how limited this common misconception is, and is grateful for his mentor who encouraged him to try a role in HR, which he did by becoming an HR coordinator.
“After a while, I thought to myself, ‘I should have always had this job. I loved it and promised myself I would never do HR as I thought it was traditionally done. I wanted HR to be the operational department that it could and should be.
“HR had a job to do. We were responsible for the success of the hotel. If the people were not doing the right things, we would never deliver the right guest service, and we would never make a profit.
“All of the decisions I was making were always based on operational decisions which meant caring for the employee and in turn they would care for the guest.
“It was also always my desire to make HR profitable. I always looked for ways to do that, whether it was through training programs or partnerships.”
Over time, Eugenio worked his way up to increased responsibility, overseeing one hotel, then a couple of hotels, and then all of Europe for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
“I loved it and it was amazing. We became one of the best-performing regions for Fairmont, with very high engagement scores. It was just a wonderful experience for me.”
It was then that he got a call from Dorchester Collection, which led to conversations and eventually his taking a role in the company.
Since taking that role Eugenio has achieved a lot, including opening an external training academy, which is now a profitable million-pound+ business on the side for Dorchester Collection.
“I’ve reached my goal of making HR a profitable operations unit for the business.”
A hybrid approach to operations-HR leadership
For years, Eugenio heard HR leaders say they “need to have more of a voice” or “a seat at the table,” which never made sense to him.
“How can you not have a seat at the table when you’re responsible for the most expensive part of the business – the people and hence the payroll – which define your brand on service levels, on loyalty, on building relationships?
“I’m definitely not a shy, quiet person. I had a voice whether they liked it or not and I always used to say, do your job like you’re not afraid to lose it.”
“There is a responsibility when it comes to taking care of people. If you see something that’s not right, you have to say it. And if you see something that’s not going well, you have to try to fix it.”
Tracking guest happiness
Part of Dorchester’s operational vision is to be cherished by guests and I asked Eugenio how he tracks performance in this area.
“We do a variety of things when it comes to the voice of the customer via our Customer and Guest Experience teams. As an example, we use the Gallup organization to survey our guests after they check out. Our surveys are very focused on emotional needs. We worked with the Gallup scientists to develop questions that truly ask questions that matter to the guest and are going to elevate our brand versus just making us feel good about the fact that we delivered a coffee on time. That’s table stakes. If you’re not delivering the coffee on time, then you’re not delivering on your vision.”
An example of these types of questions is: “Did we deliver a perfect stay?”
“Many of our guests visit our hotels because they want to be around like-minded individuals. You may go to the Beverly Hills Hotel because there’s a certain clientele there that maybe you want to associate with. So it becomes about whether we provided the opportunity for you to be with like-minded individuals or connect with them.
“This is why the work of understanding what you stand for as a brand is very, very important. We operate legendary hotels, which means three things:
- “If you come to our hotels, we want to build a meaningful relationship with you.
- “If you come to our hotels, you will experience a certain way of life. We don’t define what that life is, because for everyone it’s a little bit different.
- “If you come to our hotels you are in an environment that is legendary because you’re in the surroundings where legendary things happen and could be part of that.
“If you understand your brand as well as this, then you want to understand if people see that as well – and you have to ask the right questions to ensure you’re delivering on your brand promise.”
The role of technology
For Eugenio, technology plays a role in delivering service quality and operational excellence worthy of the Dorchester Collection brand.
A guiding principle here is making the technology guest-focused instead of what the brand used to call “room-focused.”
“We’ve spent quite a lot of money creating technology that puts the guest at the center of our operations. This technology centralizes a guest profile from multiple systems to show their preferences. So as an employee, you can just walk around with your phone and tap the name of a guest in our system and it tells you everything you need to know about them. It gives the power to every single employee, whether you are a room cleaner to a general manager who just met a guest, to instantly know that they’re here with their children or they have a dog or whatever the case may be.”
“It was really, really important that everything centers around the person, not the technology. For us, technology is an enabler to provide the service. We’ll never be a company that will bring in any technology that will take away from the interaction.
“We define innovation in our company as anything that gives time back to the employee.”
“Three seconds on this thing and two seconds on this one and 30 seconds on this one gives you 35 extra seconds to talk to the guest and that’s what the guest is going to remember.
“When you think about your technology strategies, ask yourself why you’re doing something. What is the purpose? Don’t just offer an app because everyone offers an app. Is it really going to enhance your brand?”
While Eugenio has reached his goal of making People and Culture (HR) more for Dorchester Collection, he’s more excited than ever for what’s ahead and the opportunity for combining operations and culture leadership.
“I’m heavily focusing now on the emotional needs of our employees because of what happened in the world through Covid, and the fact that hospitality got a bad rap during the past few years.
“Ultimately, we are working to create long-term loyalty in our employees, and I find that journey really exciting.”
“I love hospitality and can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve been fortunate enough to get some amazing job offers from companies outside of hotels but I just can’t imagine doing anything else. This business is fascinating to me.”
Eugenio’s closing advice comes from what he’s learned over his own career so far.
“Find a company and a role that you love and will enjoy long term because the rollercoaster is there. You’re going to have good days and bad days, but if you really love what you do, you’ll enjoy the journey.”