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  • Stefan van Heerwaarden

Statler BI: tribute to hotel icon

“The guest is always right”

A customer recently asked us, “Where does your company name actually come from?” This is a question that certainly deserves an answer. The fact that the name Statler still resounds in hotels every day is a nice tribute to the icon in the hotel business. Say Statler, and you say hospitality, innovation, and quality. Founders Stefan van Heerwaarden and Maarten Diepenmaat tell the story of this extraordinary American entrepreneur.

How do you find a good name for your business? Some get a Eureka moment in the shower or during a run. “Our story is a little less exciting,” Stefan begins. “The USALI handbook was on the table. While searching for the origins of this international accounting system, we stumbled upon Statler's name. He was chairman of the committee of hoteliers that introduced USALI in 1926. We use this system with fixed general ledger accounts, so you can easily compare and benchmark. We looked at each other and thought: This is it. Maarten continues: “We must confess that his name didn't ring a bell right away. Isn't that terrible? Because Statler is the hotel pioneer of the last century, if you just look at the history. By now we know all the ins and outs of this extraordinary man and his empire. We are proud to have named our company after him. Made up for lost time, I guess”, he laughs.

Ellsworth Statler was entrepreneurial and creative. His formula for success led to a hotel empire that set the standard for the concept of hospitality.

The life of Ellsworth Statler, born in 1863, reads like a boy's book. From 13-year-old bellboy to a celebrated hotelier and multimillionaire. That the path didn't always go smoothly is part of the deal. At the Hotel McLure Statler held all kinds of positions and worked his way up to manager. He was ambitious, entrepreneurial, and dreamed of owning his own hotel. This required money, so he threw himself into several businesses. He opened a lunchroom and a restaurant, among other things. A good school of entrepreneurship and a stepping stone to real work.

Statler started two temporary hotels - each with over 2,000 rooms! - at major exhibitions. It gave him a financial base and confidence from lenders. He built his first permanent hotel in Buffalo, New York. The Hotel Statler (later Hotel Buffalo), had 300 hotel rooms with running water and private bathrooms. A unique feature for the time. Statler, by the way, did not go for opulent luxury; he wanted to offer his guests a decent hotel room at a reasonable price. He used all the space efficiently, but opted for innovation and comfort. He was the first hotelier to install a radio, TV, built-in cupboards, and large mirrors in the hotel room. Statler demanded top performance from his employees, with the motto: “the guest is always right”. This was balanced by his commitment as an employer. Statler was a pioneer in his job and pension security.

The successful formula led to a hotel chain with branches in New York, Boston, and Detroit, among other places. After Ellsworth Statler's death in 1928, his company built more hotels across America. In 1954, all seventeen Statler Hotels were purchased by Conrad Hilton for $ 111 million. It was the largest acquisition in the hotel industry and the world's largest real estate transaction.

The Statler hotel in Buffalo, NY

Stefan sampled the Statler atmosphere in New York himself.

“True, during my first trip to the US I stayed at Hotel Pennsylvania. That was once the largest hotel in the world. I was there with my father and two brothers: an unforgettable experience. The stay was truly ‘Statler-like’: you were welcomed as if you were the first and only guest in the hotel. It's been a while, so I can't remember if I saw many innovative gadgets. But the hospitality was top-notch and very professional.”

Do you see any common ground with Statler BI?

“Ellsworth Statler dared to innovate and that appeals to us. He really was ahead of his time. I'm not going to compare ourselves to an icon like that. What we do share, however, is our drive to help hotels take a step forward. It shouldn't be about collecting figures behind a desk, but about what you can do with them. Statler BI provides professionalization in your company. A Daily with graphics, a handy forecast tool, and clear reports. We still often see people working with all sorts of Excel lists. That can be better and easier. We ensure that the data is automatically available so that managers can focus on improvement.”

Maarten, does improvement also mean renewal?

“Within your own operation, there is always room for improvement. More insight into the costs and where you can capture turnover gives you a lot of flexibility. But there are also examples of new concepts in the hotel business. I'm thinking of our client Zoku, who has made ‘meeting’ its spearhead. The hotel is a place to live and work, where events or workshops are also organized. You create, as it were, a social life within a hotel. You can have lunch, work on your laptop, or play table tennis. There are many open spaces where you can easily speak to people. It's enormously popular, so the concept is catching on.” Stefan nods: “This is of course more specifically aimed at long stays. But the fact that a bar, reception, and restaurant are becoming more and more intertwined is something we see at several hotels. The staff can be deployed flexibly, which is interesting from a cost perspective. For the employees themselves, it is also fun. You have a lot of contact with guests, and you are not on your own “island.” 

Back to Ellsworth Statler for a moment. At the age of nine, he went to work. His training consisted of experience from daily practice. The best school to master the profession, he thought. The American was a self-made man for good reason. Meanwhile, the call from the hotel world for professionalization was sounding. In 1922, the Cornell Hotel School of Administration launched the first bachelor's program in Hospitality Management. Statler was skeptical at first, but he soon moved on. He was impressed with the program that prepared students for the hotel profession on all fronts, from guest experience to financial management. His Statler Foundation funded education, research, and hotel facilities with many millions of dollars.

What role does Statler BI play in professionalisation?

“First of all, by collecting the right data and providing clear reporting. We follow the USALI standard, the accounting system for hotels, which was set up by the Hotel Association in 1926. It provides clear insight and makes it easier to compare results between departments,” says Stefan. “I started my career at NH Hotels, where I was introduced to this reporting method. Yet I saw, also at other employers, that a lot of the work was done manually in Excel sheets. There must be a better way, we thought. You don't want to spend all day collecting figures, you want to spend all day analyzing them. During his own studies at the hotel school, Stefan - looking back now - did miss that. “The USALI system, with all its options for analysis and benchmarking, was not discussed. While it is so important to learn how to run a hotel financially.” Maarten nods: “We also have ideas for making Statler BI available at the hotel school. Students will then have a tool that works well. Contacts have been made, so I hope it will work out.”


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