Luis Riu: “Today I pay a small tribute to my mother, Doña Pilar, a shining example of strength, talent and kindness”date_range 1 June, 2023 question_answer 4 Comments
I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but she’s so modest she’s been resisting a little bit. I couldn’t be happier that she’s finally agreed to be the protagonist of one of the articles she so loves to read. Today we discuss, from my perspective, my mother, Doña Pili or Pilar Güell; the person in the family that all staff and suppliers remember with the most affection. She has made an enormous impression, and not because of who she is, but because of how she is. Because of her strength, her capacity and her kindness.
Pilar Güell: meticulous, accurate, kind, and an indispensable part of RIU’s history
“I liked my work so much, I was happy, I loved to chat with everyone, to learn from them, and it costs nothing to be nice. I’ve always said as much to my children as well as to my grandchildren: we need people, we wouldn’t get very far on our own, and in order to keep them at your side you have to treat people well”, she says.
It’s a maxim by which I also try to live. I hate the ugly atmosphere left by an argument, so I try to avoid them or resolve situations immediately. It costs very little and the benefits are enormous. Although I also think it’s a question of character. “When I was younger I was very lively—now I’ve become more calm”, she says, laughing, and it’s true that for her 87 years she has an amazing energy. We are alike in that way, although she says that I’m funnier than her. “Luis always makes us laugh”. What else would she say, she’s a proud mother and never skimps on praise. “Obviously, Luis is extraordinary in my eyes. He has vision, taste, he’s meticulous”. It’s not in bad taste to include that if it’s her saying it, is it?
Doña Pili, her expert eye reviews all of RIU hotels’ construction projects
We’re both meticulous. For many years, and until she retired, she helped build the hotels. Doing very diverse tasks depending on how advanced the project was. From revising the quality of the tiling, to the tiniest details of cleanliness or décor. “If you look, you see it. The fundamental thing is to look. I have always tried to look with the customer’s eyes. For example, I would get in the bathtub to see what the customer would see. And if the finish on the tiles or the taps wasn’t perfect, it would give the impression of poor quality. I’ve made more than one foreman get in the bathtub so that they also see it with their eyes”, explains my mother, and it’s a perfect example of the level of detail at which she worked.
“I always looked a lot at the paintings a as well. There was one time when I drove a foreman crazy because there were several tiny paintings in the rooms. The builders work with the levelling, which is fine, but if the roof is slightly sloped, the picture looks crooked. You have to look, take a step back, sit down. It’s simple”. She is able to remember endless anecdotes, hotels and projects in this way. She says she doesn’t have favourites, that she feels at home with all of them. She likes the ones that have beautiful views, like the Riu Palace Maspalomas, but she can’t pick just one. “When you work to build them, each hotel is like bringing up a child, and the day when it opens is enormously satisfying. In total I was present at more than 60 openings”, she explains with pride.
If it had been up to her, she wouldn’t have retired in 2007 when she did. “I fell on the Riu Santa Fe site and broke my patella. Although I recovered very well, my children wouldn’t let me go back after that”. She explains this with sadness. What she forgets is that a short time afterwards, the first day on holiday in Riviera Maya, she fell again and hurt her wrist as well, and the most sensible thing to do was to step aside. Even so, she can’t help but get excited when she thinks about work. She remembers all her colleagues with so much affection, especially all the staff that have worked with her.
Pilar Güell’s great qualities are her capacity for work and organization
But she wasn’t always on site. During the first years at the Hotel San Francisco she and my grandmother María made a plan to share out a whole host of tasks. The first year at the hotel they had a washing machine, but it didn’t rinse. The two of them had to rinse the clothes, put them in the centrifuge and then hang them up. They sewed curtains, sheets, bedspreads, tablecloths and napkins themselves. But they also manned the bar or reception, as well as Housekeeping. “We were a family and we all worked together. We would be doing one thing, then we’d take on another job, you’d add in another task, and as it was really gradual, you didn’t notice”. She explains her enormous capacity for work like this, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. And it doesn’t matter how much time goes by, she still says today that she “isn’t an expert in anything”, and that’s why she has always been conscious of what she could learn. From some aspect of cleaning by a housekeeper to plumbing carried out by a technician. At the end of the day, she ended up with impressive technical knowledge about everything.
Pioneer of RIU’s housekeeping system
The company grew quickly, first with the expansion of the San Francisco hotel, and then with the opening of new hotels. She sums it up like this: in winter we did the building work, or general cleaning, and in summer it was General Housekeeping. And so that’s how she, who has always got up very early, ended up specialising in cleaning. For years she took on the organisation of every housekeeper’s work in all the hotels in Palm Beach, which ended up being ten. “For each housekeeper I would prepare a sheet of paper that I’d leave in their cleaning trolley. With a system of symbols to indicate whether the room needed refreshing, a change of bedding or was being vacated (and therefore needed deep cleaning). And also which needed to be done first, according to the day’s arrivals.” An innovative system that she invented to speed up her work and that is basically still used today, now converted into a computer programme called Housekeeping.
It’s impressive to think of the volume of work she was capable of taking on. She has always shown enormous vitality. A natural capacity to work and to motivate. She has been a key part in the creation of the company that is RIU today. In those first few years when everything was still to be done, she established very solid foundations for the systems of work that have been implemented in every hotel since then. But, she underplays its importance. “You just naturally take on first one hotel, then two… and you keep adapting and organising almost without noticing. It’s different if someone starts from zero in the company and suddenly they have to take on your work, that is very difficult. But to me it didn’t seem so much”, says my mother.
Her work routine at the RIU hotel always began very early in the morning
Her shift would start very early. One of my fondest memories of my first years working with RIU is the night shift on reception at Riu Bali. The night is very long, from 11pm to 7 in the morning. Until 2am or thereabouts it’s nice because there’s movement, people coming and going, chores and calls. But between 3am and about 5.30, there’s nobody around. You’re alone. You are like the guardian of those who sleep. So when my mother arrived, between 5.30 and 6am, depending on where the shift started, it was a joy. She would turn up with a smile and her perfume, and her arrival signalled that day had arrived and finally the night was ending.
She didn’t always do it this way. “When you lot were little, I waited until you left for school before going to work, so I arrived around 8.30am. And when you came back I went home to be with you until bedtime, and then I went off to man the bar whilst you stayed with your grandmother. I could do it this way because we lived next to the hotels”, she remembers. And if she talks about us, she can’t help saying we were very good children. “Yes, you and Carmen were very good. You never caused any real problems, apart from the usual that come with adolescence. I have always trusted you both a lot”.
A leader of Human Resources management within the RIU hotel chain
From what my mother says, she intuits a lot of her business knowledge. What is now explained on Management Skills courses, she did instinctively. For example, how to give good feedback, how to correct, establish objectives and give rewards. “Of course, if someone does things right you have to tell them, so that they know that their work is appreciated. And if there is something wrong, it should always be discussed in private, never in front of other colleagues or bosses.” It was always important for her to talk to her team about specific situations and, if possible, directly with the persons involved so they understand what is needed from them. For my mother, kind and fair treatment has always been a key principle. And people have acknowledged that with much affection and admiration. In fact, the housekeepers really trusted her and consulted her not only about work matters, but also about personal issues too.
And we should also underline her ability to notice talent. A good example is when she recommended to me that I hire José María Sanchis, who now directs RIU’s Technical Consultancy department for America. He was then working for a kitchen-fitting company and my mother said to me: “Luis, this boy is very good. If he’s around, things get done and get done well. He’s a hard worker and I think he’d be ready to go with you to Punta Cana”. I listened to her, and 30 years later he has become my right hand man on all the projects on the continent.
Construction supervisor for RIU hotels in the Canary Islands, Punta Cana and Mexico
She often remembers that I was away for much longer than my sister. On finishing my degree in Barcelona, I went to work for a year in Marbella. When I came back, I very soon went to the Canary Islands and five years later to Punta Cana. Carmen also studied and balanced the final two years in Barcelona with work away from RIU, but since then she’s always been closer to my mother. Because of this it was such a joy that my mother accompanied me on the Canary Islands projects. She came and stayed for months, doing so much to make sure it went well: assuring the quality of the buildings, cleanliness and décor.
The Punta Cana project was also an opportunity to live together and have her close to me. And a joy for everyone that she could also be with my children Luis, Naomi and Roberto who were all born over there, with little more than a year’s gap between all of them. Over there she worked very closely with my wife Isabel, who learned an awful lot from her. Isabel specialised so much in cleaning and reviewing details that she ended up knowing more than my mother in certain aspects. She’d had, without doubt, the best teacher.
People in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Jamaica still ask me about Doña Pili today. They remember her with a lot of affection. Everyone was astonished by her energy and enthusiasm. Multiple people have been embarrassed to admit they found it tough to keep up with her pace. Her and Ramón Arroyo had a kind of unwritten challenge to see who would get up earlier. Although if Ramón gets up first it’s difficult to keep sleeping, because he whistles and sings as he goes down the corridors.
This also makes me remember other bets that are still made today on site. Sometimes, when I find a fault or a niggle I hear groans, it’s because they’ve been making bets! And the person groaning had bet that I wouldn’t see it. It happens to me a lot. And my mother, she had this kind of eye as well.
Pilar Güell, a professional and personal role model for the entire Riu family
My mother says that she has never been one to think about the past or to worry about the future. She is a person who focuses on the present. Another life lesson. What she recommends to all of us today is to pursue well-being—that has been a maxim in her life. A philosophy that’s perhaps behind this great capacity she’s had to dedicate herself to her family and at the same time to be an essential part of the company.
And if you ask her about any difficult project, she’ll remember some anecdote like that stony-faced manager she had to deal with in Fuerteventura, or the difficulty on the Chiclana site when the rains turned the terrain into a quagmire that was almost impossible to walk across. But she underplays them. They are problems that come up and that you have to solve to keep going. And if I ask her if there’s anything she regrets, or would do differently, she finds nothing to complain about. “Everything is a product of the specific moment and circumstances. No, no I wouldn’t change anything”, she reflects.
Mother of a family, entrepreneur, worker, friend. My mother is an admirable and admired person. Straightforward and direct. Humble and gentle. She says that she’s very proud of us, of how far RIU has come, of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But the reality is that it is us who feel great pride. This article is too short really to explain everything that she has done and who she is. But one thing we know for sure, and that is that we have had the best mirror in which to see ourselves. Both as people and as professionals. Thank you Mamá for everything!
Fdo. Luis Riu