Interview

“A BOSS HAS THE TITLE, A LEADER HAS THE PEOPLE”

By Kevin Plein & Lionel Moïse

You can be very successful and a good human being at the same time. Egon von Foidl, inspiring CEO and leader of Courtyard Marriott Paramaribo is an example of that.

Six years ago, Egon von Foidl came to Surinam. He tells us how it all started.

“It was a very interesting story. I was living well in Miami, not having to work and enjoying what I was doing. One day, an individual came to me and asked if I wanted to meet someone who is involved in a hotel in Suriname. I said I don’t know, educated myself a bit, and said ok,” he added. “If you guys fly me down here for the weekend, I’ll take a peek. I arrived late on a Saturday at 1 am. The next morning, I put on my running shoes and walked from here to the Tropicana Casino. When walking around it reminded me of my time in Africa,” said Von Foidl. “I saw a lot of the same components. The hairstyle of the ladies, sitting on the floor and selling fruit. I found it quite interesting. The next day I said I wanted to meet the employees. I looked at them and knew that I could do good because my whole life I’ve strived to inspire people, do good to people and to give instead of receiving. A couple of weeks later I started.”

Von Foidl has developed an employee-centered management style over the years and has this advice:
“Give trust and responsibility to people who can and will. Listen to your people, identify talents, and use them. Give the right example, communicate and dare to make decisions,” he said.

During our meeting in a conference room at the Courtyard Marriott in Paramaribo, he took us back to 1985 to explain where his management style came from. In that year he was appointed as president of the prestigious Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington D.C. He suddenly realized that he was quickly becoming a serious player in America’s capital. He was friends with President Ronald Raegan who often stayed at the hotel. Also, he was invited to the White House for lunch several times and well known among the movie stars and celebrities who stayed at the Ritz when in town. While he made meaningful connections, the glamour wasn’t satisfying. It wasn’t the reason he got into the industry.

“I concluded that the person I turned out to be, was motivated by materialistic things”

I was driving a Porsche 911, sat in limousines, had a two-star penthouse and was hanging out with the President of the United States. One day I woke up and looked in the mirror and said- “Who are you?” That is when I concluded that the person I turned out to be, was motivated by materialistic things. By power, by ego. I quit the next day.”

“You have a choice who you want to be”

Instead of the glitz and glamour of DC- he instead traveled the world to places where he could make a difference, and where people needed help. He wanted to be an influencer and mentor.
“That gave me ten times more gratification and pleasure. More than money and all the toys that I had,” he said. “You have a choice who you want to be, and I decided that I want to be a very humble, caring and highly respectful person. That is my mantra of how I live.”

“At 5 am I already feel like a million dollars”

The (working) life of Von Foidl is highly structured around discipline. “I’m a little bit of a Richard Branson type. I live a very regimented life. Every morning, I wake up at 3 am and go to the gym for two hours. At 5 am I already feel like a million dollars. He listens to no music while working out to use this time as a sort of meditation. After the gym, he sits on his balcony with a double espresso and looks out onto the river as the sun rises. At this moment, he reflects himself- “My life is good. I’m a millionaire in life. So I come to work with that attitude.”

“I don’t believe in titles”

At the Courtyard Marriott, he takes his employees very seriously. Von Foidl doesn’t see himself as “the” boss. “I don’t believe in titles. In my office, there is a big sign that says: A BOSS HAS THE TITLE. A LEADER HAS THE PEOPLE. “I am a daily leader who wants the best for his employees,” he continued. “How to train them, looking for opportunities for them, setting goals and mentoring them. That is how we work here.”

Shot by: solidefotografie


“For me, the employees come number one”

The Courtyard Paramaribo has 120 employees, 140 rooms and is financially the most successful hotel in Suriname. Von Foidl points out the real success comes from personal connections.

“An example. WhenI walk past (the front desk), they hug and kiss me every day. We have a close and physical connection. Thereby, it doesn’t matter if you are a dishwasher or a CEO. You are treated equally.” His relationship with his employees is centered on human values. They are one family. “Some stories of employees that I’ve heard would break your heart if I told them to you. You would cry like a baby,” he said. “Over here we give them the opportunity to turn their lives around. We give them more money so that their children can go to proper schools, that they have proper clothing and they can afford a holiday to The Netherlands for example. It all comes down to the people who work for me because for me, the employees come number one. It’s not about me. I’m just a guy who guides.”

Within the next two years, he will be working with his team for a complete renovation of the hotel. “If you would come back at the end of 2021 you would see only the similar outside. From the inside, there will be a complete renovation of rooms, bars, etc.”

 

“This is your home now”

We switch to his vision on the national football team of Suriname and the relationship (similarities) between him and the head coach. “One day I was introduced to Dean Gorré. He told me he was going to be the head coach and told me something about his history. He wanted to stay in Suriname longer during his time as head coach. So I said to him: this is your home now. In the last 4 years, he’s stayed in our hotel for free, as well as the players of the national team when they have a game.” Von Foidl and Gorré are friends and spend a lot of time together, as they both live on the property. While they are in completely different industries, there are parallels with their people management style. “I saw an incredible improvement of the team with Dean Gorré from a moral and disciplinary point of view. Dean and I talk a lot about leadership. How you motivate your people and how you get the best out of somebody. He applies a lot of that into his coaching. Dean deserves incredible credit for what he has done in a very short period and he is a wonderful human being,” said Von Foidl.

The players have risen under the wings of Gorré and his loyal technical staff. Many came from the lower ranks in football and developed themselves to a higher level; playing international games and set down a masterpiece by qualifying for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2021.

 

“Make them heroes in the country”

Von Foidl points out that Suriname has to embrace the team and be proud of the strides they’ve made. “Suriname, as a country, didn’t embrace the players and their success enough in my opinion. There are not enough credits for the national team. You can open a newspaper and you can see news about FC Barcelona and other clubs. But occasionally if you are lucky, you’ll see a blip of the national team,” he said. “Feature the players one by one. Make them heroes in the country. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (UFC Fighter) was celebrated as a superstar when he came back to the airport in Suriname. Maybe we can do it also with our football players once in a while?

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