Luis Riu: “Félix Casado has been the Riu family’s eyes and hands in the distance”date_range 18 November, 2021 question_answer 4 Comments
In our company, we have always been sure of two things. First and foremost, that we must lead by example, starting with the Riu family. This applies to all areas of our lives and work as it is linked to values such as effort, integrity and respect. Secondly, that we need to be surrounded by a good team, by people that are committed, support you and help you grow.
Most importantly, as the company grows, these trusted individuals should become your eyes and hands from afar. These are the people that have truly experienced the company’s philosophy and make sure it is passed on to employees the world over. Without them, RIU might still be as big as it is today, but it would definitely be a little less “RIU”. The greatest exponent of this figure has a name: Félix Casado. Today I would like to recognise the work of our Atlantic Area director, who has been with the company for a whopping 48 years.
Félix Casado and the Riu family: a relationship of trust that has been going on for almost half a century
Félix joined RIU in 1973 when the company had less than 600 employees. Nowadays we have almost 30,000, and he has directly trained many of them. “When I’m presenting the budgets, I start by talking about our beginnings. I remind everyone where we have come from, and explain the history of RIU, so they can understand not only where we are headed, but above all how we are going to get there”, says Félix. In fact, of all his time at the company, his best memories are from the beginning when he worked alongside the family, including Mr. Juan Riu and Mrs. María, my grandparents, and even yours truly, who he met when I was still very young in the reception of hotel Sofía.
We fondly recall how my mother’s arrival was the best moment of the night shift. “The nights were long, but when we heard the sound of Mrs. Pilar Güell heels and smelt her perfume, we knew that it was nearly over”. My mother arrived to organise all the housekeepers, arrivals, departures, sheet changes, etc. at around 5 or 5:30 in the morning in all of our hotels.
Félix is like a living book of the hotel trade. He knows more about the company’s operations than anyone else, and that is really saying something as we are all in the same business. He has been with the company throughout all its different stages and has worked his way up to the top from his beginnings as a reception assistant. He is a man of action and you will always see him on the front line, whether we are dealing with openings, closures, new destinations, new products, refurbishments, protocols … the list goes on! He can take on any kind of project, but first you have to convince him that what you want to implement or change really needs to be that way. Once he is by your side, you have the most loyal ally you could wish for. He is the most disciplined, meticulous and efficient person I know. His team will always follow him because he knows so much and has earned their respect by always being there for them.
Felix Casado is a reference in the development of the RIU group in the Canary Islands
Most importantly, his work has set the bar in the Canary Islands. His first step was in the Riu Palmeras, which represented a big jump for him for several reasons. Firstly because it was his first position as hotel director and, secondly, because he was coming from Playa de Palma in Mallorca, where all our establishments were smaller, 3-star, seasonal hotels. He moved to Gran Canaria in 1988 and planned to spend two years there before moving back to Mallorca … but 32 years later and he is still there.
It was a great challenge for him for many reasons. To start, the mere act of travelling to the island was very brave of him because he was terrified of flying. “The first time that Mr. Luis Riu Bertrán took me to the Canary Islands to see the Riu Palmeras, it took me three days to recover. It was awful. Everyone went to Fuerteventura and left me in Gran Canaria to recover because they felt sorry for me”, explains Félix, who still cannot laugh about the story to this very day.
But putting this anecdote to one side, Félix had gone to a destination where the hotel operated year-round and there was a very strong commitment to quality. As an example, he remembers that at this time “the idea of hosting was introduced, with the figure of a director that is much closer to guests, going from table to table and spending much more time with them. Nowadays this is normal at RIU, but at the time it was a big change”.
From Cordoba to Mallorca, an example of effort and improvement in the hotel industry
Félix lived in Mallorca with his family. In fact he moved there from Cordoba first, and then his parents and siblings followed him. They were originally from Nava de la Asunción in Segovia and moved to Cordoba when they were very young. His father sold pine nuts and one year he went to the fair in Seville and then in Cordoba, and it went so well that he decided to stay there. He became very popular in the city and was known as “Pablito el piñonero”, referring to his job as a pine nut seller. Félix is moved when he remembers those years. “He would sell pine nuts at markets, at bullfighting events, at football matches … he saved up until he had enough to put a deposit down on a flat, and then my siblings and I moved there from our village with our mother. He sent us all to a good school and continued to work really hard”.
Everyone that is acquainted with Félix knows he is a big fan of bullfighting. He is always using metaphors related to this sport, but not many people know where his passion comes from. “My first job was as a bellboy in the hotel El Cordobés in 1967. It was owned by the bullfighter El Cordobés, who was the Ronaldo of bullfighting at the time. He was very famous. Before people went to visit the city’s tourist attraction La Mezquita, they came to see his hotel, which was decorated with traditional bullfighting outfits and posters. It was a 3-star hotel but it was very luxurious for that time and it had 5-star services. That was how I got into the trade, but I soon realised that I couldn’t move up the ranks there”.
A career that began as a bellboy at the El Cordobés hotel
As a person who knew exactly what he wanted, he spoke with a customer that had hotels in Mallorca and agreed to call him in spring at the start of the season, and the rest is history. At that time lots of young people went to Mallorca to work during the tourist season. There was not much work and going to the island was a good opportunity for many young people. In fact, my grandfather Juan Riu visited villages, especially in Asturias and Jaen, in winter to find young people to work in our hotels. He went to the village pub and sat there having a drink, watching everyone and chatting with them, and he ended up finding the team he needed.
“In 1970 I went to work at the hotel Honderos as a reception assistant, which was quite the promotion from my job as bellboy in Cordoba. We travelled there by boat, they gave us a room and food because there just wasn’t enough accommodation in the area, and you earned more from tips because salaries were so low at that time. I met my wife at this hotel, where she worked as the housekeeper. Since then we’ve only been apart for a few months when I moved to Gran Canaria.”
The first opportunity at RIU, by the hand of Luis Riu father
To start working at RIU, one day Félix went to the hotel Riu San Francisco, which was the first RIU hotel in Palma, the place where the history of the entire chain began, to talk to my father. This is also where another of RIU’s long-time team members, Rafael Expósito, started working at RIU. He asked for a job, not as a reception assistant but as a receptionist. My father told him that he would take him on, but that he had to start at the bottom. So, working in the same position but with the promise of moving up the ranks, Félix joined the chain. He started out on the reception at the Hotel Obelisco. “Luis Riu told me that you can carve out a career with hard work, and that turned out to be true. What I didn’t realise at the time was that my career was going to be quite so long!”, jokes Félix.
I can remember the reception at Hotel Obelisco as if it were yesterday. My father’s office was just behind reception and he would appear suddenly at any time. At the time we all worked together: my grandparents, my parents, and the company’s long-standing employees like Jaime Palmer, Guillermo Marqués or Antonio Balaguer. “We worked well together”, says Félix. “There was a completely different mindset. Work came naturally and you just got on with it. There was a lot of comradeship. I talked with everybody and tried to learn something from them”.
Hard-working, serious, ambitious and a great trainer at RIU: that’s Félix Casado
Some things never change and Félix has always been a very responsible and organised man — qualities that we can also see in his work. He was courteous with guests but used his words and gestures sparingly, and outside of work he acted in the same way. He loved being with his family or playing sports, and he wasn’t one for going out partying. All of us younger people that worked together in those years became a great team, and today some of them are long-standing employees of the chain such as Alejandro Sánchez and Pepe Moreno.
When he agreed to go to Gran Canaria, it was because he knew the future was there, and also because my father never took “no” for an answer! Félix was very hard-working but also ambitious, because nobody takes on more and more responsibilities if their sights aren’t set high. “Many of our colleagues preferred to stay in Mallorca, at least during winter to take it easy for a few months”, says Félix.
In his case, he has been taking on more and more over the years and is now in charge of 35 hotels. “I was able to do all of this because my wife, Mari Carmen, stayed by my side. She had to leave her job and her life behind so I could take on the challenges I was being offered. It would have been impossible without her support”, explains Félix, whose face still lights up whenever he talks about his wife, even after all these years.
I remember one day in the Riu Palmeras when Félix was really down. He had been in Gran Canaria for about a month and he was very sad and missed his family. I told him to buy a ticket and pay his family a surprise visit for Father’s Day, and that’s exactly what he did. Félix has since told me that he often remembers that day. “Luis saw that I was down and offered me exactly what I needed at that moment. That’s why I’ve tried to do the same when I’ve been in charge of people, to be sensitive and flexible when they need me to be”, he explains.
An example for the new generations of the Riu family
Félix Casado is an example for the new generations that are beginning to occupy positions of responsibility within RIU. Today, his two children, who also work at RIU, are aware of their father’s hard work and what it meant to move to the Canary Islands and start a new adventure at that time.
Luckily, my children Naomi Riu, group chief financial officer, and Luis Riu Rodríguez members of the fourth generation of the Riu family, have been trained by him. They have seen and learnt from the man of action that heads up operations in the Canary Islands, the Peninsula, Cape Verde and Morocco, a list that will soon include Senegal. According to his birth certificate he is ready to retire, but his attitude and strength lead us to believe just the opposite. When he does decide to take a step back, he will leave a team of well-trained professionals, but for now Félix Casado still has a lot left to give, and not from the sidelines; he will be right in the thick of the action.
Fdo. Luis Riu