Eva Ziegler – Global Brand Leader of W Hotels Worldwide

Creativity Meets Business

By Caroline Cox

Meet Eva Ziegler – the global brand leader behind W Hotels Worldwide. Ziegler keeps the design-driven company on the pulse of cutting edge trends and is working to expand its loyal customer base by marketing W Hotels internationally – the brand plans on doubling their number of hotels by 2012. Her sharp business savvy paired with her creative eye make Ziegler an innovative thinker determined to skyrocket her brand into an international powerhouse.

Here, Ziegler talks to PINK about how she manages a global team, keeps her company relevant, and what it’s like working on the creative side of the hospitality industry.

PINK: What’s your success secret?
Eva Zeigler:
In my pre-professional life I was an athlete. I started with basketball then I tried out tennis professionally. Certain things I learned as an athlete, like the attitude of believing in yourself and working hard for success, are very fundamental to my professional career.

PINK: What’s the best business advice you received?
Early in my career, one of my mentors basically hired me for my attitude and personality. His mantra was, “I hire for attitude and then I train the skills. If you have the right attitude, you can learn everything.” That attitude is something I [look for] when I recruit, hire and work with people.

PINK: How would you describe your leadership style?
On one hand, I practice a participative type of leadership that is very inclusive. However, I also adapt my style to different situations. When there’s urgency and a decision has to be reached, then I say, “That’s the way we go” and am strict about what’s needed. You have to be flexible with your leadership style.

PINK: How do you motivate your team?
It starts with having a clear vision and clear objectives for different people so they know their responsibilities and what they have to achieve. You also need to ensure that, while working, you reward and recognize spontaneously throughout the year, not just during mid-year review or a more planned feedback session.

PINK: As a brand leader, part of your responsibility at the W is to define a vision.  What inspires you and helps you create that?
I was fortunate because the W was founded in 1998 with a very distinctive concept. My responsibility now is to help it grow from a U.S. phenomenon into an international powerhouse. The international transformation of how to make a U.S.-centric brand into a globally relevant brand is part of my task. Lately, we’ve been working with edgy design teams to create innovative interiors like DJ booths and pieces of furniture that double as works of art.

PINK: How do you stay on-trend for an international audience?
We are doubling our number of hotels from 25 to 50 by 2012. When I first looked at the hotels, I was stunned by the design approach and the interior look and feel. I thought to myself that, with this transformation, we could be a key player in the area of design. We then started to say, “Fashion is an outlet of expressional design,” so we planned a fashion show in New York during Fashion Week that will showcase a new approach to our brand. We brought in fashion and accessory designers to develop items based on the hotel design approach. The W was always the backstage lounge and now we are going from backstage to center stage.

PINK: Was it important for you to be in a position where you could use both your creative and business mindsets?
Understanding that creative side, plus operations and finances, you have to always find the right level of compromise so it’s not creativity for creativity’s sake but for inspiring people in a relevant manner that is also executable.

PINK: What is the most challenging part of your job?
From a global perspective, I can set the vision, the framework strategy and the tools, and then it’s up to the staffs to make it happen. I can’t personally be in every hotel making it happen. Making my team an extension of my vision is absolutely vital to being successful.

PINK: How do you manage the Life/Work balance?
Sometimes it just takes planning. I can always make time, I just have to not make excuses that I’m too busy. I get up in the morning very early to get in an hour of running. Sometimes I can’t plan how the end of the day will go, so that’s one way to ensure I have time for myself for a portion of the day that I want. I’m constantly striving for a better Life/Work balance.

PINK: How else do you relax and rejuvenate yourself?
I practice some kind of sport pretty much every day. In the evening, now that we have our office in New York, I meet friends so we can relax our minds and not talk about work. I love to walk in New York, so I often walk home and by the time I get there I am quite “chilled out.”

PINK: What’s your favorite sport?
I’m Austrian, so I love skiing. I recently went skiing in Chile, which I had never done before. I also love sailing and windsurfing. On a more daily basis though, I’m a big runner.

PINK: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I love to sing, but only in the car by myself. I switch on the music very loud and I sing. I am a very passionate singer, but only in my car.

PINK: How do you define success?
Success is when I can see that whatever I’m doing has a positive impact on people’s lives or business performance. It’s all about leaving a trace and making lives somehow better.

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