Rudi Jagersbacher first entered the Power 50 in 2011 at number two, following his appointment to his current role in January of that year, a position he sustained in the 2012 Power 50 ranking.
Now, after three years of strong growth and a record 12 months with 19 new properties signed — a first for Hilton Worldwide as a company within a 12-month timescale — Jagersbacher rightly takes the top spot in the Hotelier Middle East Power 50 2013.
Rudi Jagersbacher, who in 2014 will celebrate 40 years in the hotel business, joined Hilton Worldwide in 1974 after graduating from hotel school in Austria and has held senior leadership positions at The Savoy and Claridges in London, as well as general manager positions in flagship properties such as the Langham Hilton and the Park Lane Hilton — all iconic in their own right.
This was followed by vice president roles in London, Dubai — which involved a three-year spell as VP for Hilton Worldwide MEA — and Brussels. But it is in his current role that Jagersbacher has really shone, making the company a force to be reckoned with in the region.
The numbers speak for themselves: over the past 12 months, Jagersbacher has overseen the opening of seven hotels and signed 19 new properties.
In the Middle East specifically, four hotels opened; Hilton Sharjah, the first in the emirate; Hilton Alexandria Corniche in Egypt; the launch of luxury brand Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah and the recently converted Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi.
The highly-anticipated Conrad Dubai Hotelier is assured will follow this month. Of the 19 new signings, only two are outside of the Middle East/Egypt region, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE the key growth markets.
Looking at the total pipeline, for the Middle East and Africa this stands at 62 hotels, representing more than 20,000 rooms and all expected to open within the next three years. More importantly, 80% of this region’s pipeline growth is in the Middle East (including Egypt).
Both STR Global and Viability Management Consultants rank Hilton Worldwide as the chain with the largest and most active hotel pipeline in the region; indeed, according to Viability’s research into five Gulf cities on pages 56-61, Hilton Worldwide leads by a significant margin with 8211 rooms planned in Dubai, Abu Dhbai, Doha, Riyadh and Makkah alone until 2017. The forecast for the remainder of 2013 and 2014 is particularly strong, with 18 hotels due to open; 15 in the Middle East and three in Africa.
This is where Rudi Jagersbacher stands out against his competitors in this year’s Power 50; growth is very much still focused on the Middle East, predominately the GCC and Egypt, rather than emerging markets or Africa.
Considering there are already 62 hotels in MEA, 44 of which are in Middle East and 16 of which opened under Jagersbacher’s tenure, the fact there is still so much potential for the group to grow is testament to this president’s ability to scout out opportunities and secure deals. Indeed, one of his achievements in Dubai alone was the removal of areas of protection clauses with current owners to enable further expansion.
One of the focal areas now seems to be establishing the group as a leader in the luxury space as well, with the debuts of Waldorf Astoria and Conrad in UAE flagships for the group — and proud moments for Jagersbacher personally.
“As we seek to introduce our luxury concept into the region, there was a particular highlight when we opened the UAE’s first Waldorf Astoria in Ras al Khaimah on August 1,” he says.
“I was delighted to note we have seamlessly combined true Waldorf service, which is reminiscent of those core values of a pre-eminent luxury experience, with a range of specially tailored features to honour the best of Arabian culture. It was a proud moment.”
But as we know with the Power 50, it’s not just about portfolio, pipeline and properties — however special they may be.
Jagersbacher is responsible for 18,000 team members working in Middle East and Africa, some he notes in “testing and challenging locations”. In addition, he’s already focused on recruiting the same number of colleagues again to service the hotels expected to open by 2017.
“Before the end of 2014, we expect to hire the first wave of around 5000 new team members in markets as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE to Chad and Burundi in central Africa,” he reveals.
“We have a very strong brand in the industry and our aim is to become the number one choice for guests, owners and team members alike. Equally as important, are our efforts to be a good corporate citizen, and making a meaningful contribution to the many local communities in which we operate. By way of example I will lead our Global Week of Service initiative for MEA this October, which will see team members from across the region give something back.”
Jagersbacher is also a founding member of the Hilton in the Community Foundation — a grant-making organisation that fundraises to support disadvantaged children.
Far more than a figurehead, next year will see Jagersbacher truly reach the top as he attempts to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and raise US $100,000 to help provide clean drinking water for children in Africa.
How he finds the time Hotelier is not sure, but the mission surely reflects the determination of character that has made Jagersbacher so successful in his professional life and we wish him the very best of luck!